From the Futures in Focus podcast

Our concept of work – what we do, how we do it and where we do it – continues to evolve tremendously. This is being fueled by digital transformation, the changes businesses need to make to stay competitive in the mobile-centric marketplace.

Mitel CEO Rich McBee sat down with Michael Gale, co-author of the bestselling book The Digital Helix, to discuss the future of work. As part of the Futures in Focus podcast from Forbes Insights, Rich looked ahead to the future of phones and the challenges of advanced machine interaction. He also discusses how the communications technology advancements of today will shape the future of work in years to come.

Let's step forward ten years from now, Rich. Walk us through what you think the future of work looks like and feels like.

First, I think there's still going to be a telephone, but it will be very different than it is today. There will still be a lot of people working at desks. But the real question is, "Where is that desk or workspace likely to be?" The need to communicate and collaborate is still the same.

So, if you think five or ten years out, the phone will be much smarter and more like a mini communications and collaboration unit. Also, it will leverage all the technology and enable seamless communication and collaboration, anywhere, any time.

All of this new technology will enable seamless communications and collaborations. Today it’s with people, both intercompany and intra-company. In ten years, it’s going to be with people and things, along with access to data, which is exactly what digital transformation is.

How do you think a phone is going to look different?

Well, you might be wearing it, as the work of the future is going to be very mobile and nomadic. This way, work will be going where you are, not a place you have to go to. So if you think about what is needed, it is going to be access to a lot of data with seamless connectivity.

Also, the phone of the future is going to know a lot about you. It's going to have an embedded IoT ability to say, "Rich just came into the office. He likes me to prioritize these voicemails and he wants his environment to look like this." The key to the future is collaboration and communications all brought together.

Do you think the types of work we do and how we do it will radically change?

I really do. What's going to happen is artificial intelligence, IoT and big data are going to do a tremendous amount of work that you couldn't do as an individual. Then we will have AI managing the data coming in from 1,000 sensors. The human is always going to provide judgment at the moment where it is needed. This means people and training will focus on increasing our technical savvy to make us relevant in the future.

An example is in the fast food industry, which has a big problem of food spoilage. Much of it is caused by workers not closing the door to the refrigeration unit. So one fast food franchise came to us looking to monitor those doors. They wanted to know when doors are left open for a set amount of time and how can they see the temperature inside the unit.

Before, they sent someone to go check it every hour. Why do that when a sensor can do it continually? It can also trigger an alert on a mobile phone or in an app when that door has been left open way too long, and then they can take action and prevent spoilage.

Where are you starting to see very embryonic changes in the future of work today that you think could be even more impactful in ten years’ time?

I think one big area of focus is in customer experience. Today we're doing things with Google, specifically in the area of AI, to enable seamless conversation between a person and a machine. This technology can solve your problem without you ever talking to a human and without you even knowing you are talking to a machine. This brings the full breadth of technology to bear while accessing massive amounts of data about you.

We've all been in a situation where we call into a contact center and get passed from person to person and wind up starting over each time. We have working prototypes where we can see that whole stream of conversation. This way, when a customer needs to be elevated to another person or device, they can see the entire conversation and see what you've been told or not told quickly.

Do you see any sort of challenges or natural barriers with this level of machine interaction?

How much is too much? I think that is going to be the issue. It's like that for all of the great cyber capabilities. Our side of it is that you're dealing with people and you're dealing with their private information. We need to talk more about how we're going to secure all of that information.

We need to make sure that experience is not penetrable, but it is still the experience you want. In some parts of the world, you're not able to monitor systems or keep any data unless I give you permission. So, in a seamlessly connected global world, we're going to have to rationalize through that.

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