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The future of the workplace is changing—and so are the tools to support it

Business leaders have always championed productivity and collaboration among employees, but those qualities have come to the forefront in the COVID era. In just two-and-a-half years, workplaces have been radically redefined to include hybrid or fully remote environments. This dramatic shift requires not only flexible and nimble strategy, but also the right digital tools and innovative devices to empower team members to work from anywhere.
Carly Okerfelt, global category leader of Lenovo’s Future Computing business, discussed both strategic planning and tech innovations for a transformed workforce during a panel sponsored by Lenovo and Intel at Fast Company’s annual Innovation Festival in New York in September. Here are three key takeaways from the event.

1. COVID FORCED A MASSIVE CHANGE TO OFFICE LIFE IN A VERY SHORT PERIOD.

Business leaders are well aware of the innumerable ways the pandemic has altered the nature of work. But it’s important to take a step back and recognize the context: what a true anomaly this period has been in a space that is otherwise far slower to evolve.“Over the past two years, the way that we work has changed dramatically—[arguably] more so even than the previous 10 years,” Okerfelt said. “People have to rely on technology to be able to get work done even more so than before. The whole culture of where we work and how we work . . . is even more critical now than it was pre-COVID.”

What’s more, organizations may do well to strip that “pre-COVID” mindset from their strategic planning for future workplace tools. “Meeting with a lot of our customers around the world, a majority of them say that they plan to stay hybrid, whether it’s two to three days a week or . . . just as needed [to come] into the office,” Okerfelt added.

2. AUDIO, VIDEO, AND CONNECTIVITY MUST BE SEAMLESS.

Reliable connectivity and consistent audio and video are the lifeblood of hybrid work, but as anyone experiencing a frozen video call knows, tools that “just work” are not necessarily a given.

“Three years ago, none of us really did video calls,” Okerfelt said. “Now, having a great camera connection is critical. We’ve all been on calls when our Wi-Fi starts to go out, and that is detrimental to your work [and] hinders your productivity. You also don’t have a great presence and appearance to the person that you’re talking with.”

Lenovo recently demonstrated the power of strong connectivity through its Work for Humankind project, which brought volunteers from around the world to work from a truly remote locale: Robinson Crusoe Island, off mainland Chile. Using advanced technology at Lenovo’s cutting-edge WFH hub, participants worked their main jobs remotely, while also helping the planet by supporting local restoration and sustainability projects.

“Whether you’re working from an island, or your role is traveling around the world as a salesperson or consultant, you need to be able to have that reliable connection to be able to work from anywhere,” she said. “That’s not even a ‘new’ normal—it’s just normal now.”

Although it’s tempting to dive headfirst into considering which innovative, next-gen technologies to implement, leaders must first ensure a solid foundation with modernized devices and dependable connectivity.

3. INNOVATIONS LIKE FOLDABLE DEVICES AND AI ARE POWERING THE NEXT GENERATION OF WORKPLACE TECHNOLOGY.

That said, there are plenty of cutting-edge innovations for leaders to get excited about. “Hardware and new innovative form factors [are] going to continue to evolve in the next couple years,” Okerfelt said, citing Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Fold. The recently updated generation of the world’s first foldable PC, which first launched in 2020, can lay flat like a tablet with a 16.3-inch screen or sit upright like a laptop by attaching an external keyboard, and then be folded like a book to a more portable 12-inch size. “In the future it could be rollable PCs; it could be dual screens; it could be so many other devices that can reimagine [the] PC.”

As for software, artificial intelligence is powering several new features, such as a webcam that brightens a dimly lit video participant—or darken their background to hide a messy room. Some Lenovo devices have “human presence detection” that turns the screen on when the user is looking at it and dims when the user looks away, saving battery life. A security version of this feature can lock the screen when the user looks away, ensuring sensitive information isn’t left in the open for passersby to view.

The sheer number of innovations available may be overwhelming at first, Okerfelt noted, adding that business leaders should focus on the core business and what will help an organization’s specific workforce work better. “There’s always new technology coming out, and so [it’s important to] evaluate: Are there new options that will help enable my employees better?” she said. “Will this make me more productive and help me gain more revenue or reduce expenses?

“There’s not really a one-size-fits-all based on the new workplace because everything has changed so much,” Okerfelt concluded. “Each business needs to identify the right tech solutions for the next phase of their workplace and workforce transformation.”