Okay, enough with the nostalgia. It’s time to look forward! We asked the Oceanic Managing Director at Acer, Darren Simmons, about the high-tech future of work – and how to prepare for it.
The days of working nine to five are long gone. Technological advancements mean the traditional office as we know it could also be extinct in the future. The rapid growth of cloud-based collaboration and communications tools means a physical office can now be easily replaced by a digital one. This will lead to greater workplace diversity and work-life balance. Acer’s objective is to support Australian businesses who will need to adapt to the shift to a remote workforce.
Imagine being in another country, yet feeling like you are sitting together in the same room with a colleague. Virtual reality has the potential to transform business collaboration and communication even more profoundly than video conferencing did 10 years ago, or email 20 years ago. The same applies to mixed reality technology [the merging of real and virtual worlds]. You’ll be able to shake hands, make eye contact, pick up on non-verbal cues and flip through a 3D document together.
VR and MR will also transform the way businesses train their staff. [At the moment] customer service training requires teaching employees about body language, appropriate tone of voice and how to handle dissatisfied customers. These skills can be difficult to master if the learning is all hypothetical, but [virtual reality technology] will allow companies like Acer to create immersive environments that simulate real-life situations and revolutionise training.
Although Acer’s office is in Sydney, I’m actually based in Brisbane. In order for Acer to compete and keep the best talent in the years ahead, we know we must be flexible in our work arrangements. We rely on cloud-based working environments and collaborative tools to enable our people to work together seamlessly, whether they’re in the office, working from home, or working in another country. Employees want to be rewarded for results, rather than the number of hours they [physically] clock in the office.
Data is an invaluable source of business insight. I spend a significant amount of time travelling for business, and being able to access real-time business information on the cloud, instantly, from anywhere, has significantly aided my productivity. I can obtain and use data to inform the company’s strategies and decision-making, from anywhere! The proliferation of automation tools and calendar apps has been invaluable to managing my time more effectively.
Will robots take over our jobs? Ultimately, AI and machine learning have the potential to disrupt any industry that stores data. [Also] telemarketers, taxi drivers, journalists, factory workers, doctors and accountants are just some of the roles that could be impacted. However, I think the advancement of AI will likely be more about taking away repetitive jobs and automating processes to make existing jobs more efficient. The human element will always remain an integral component. We need to learn how to use [new technologies] to free us up to focus on creativity.
It is said that Gen Z and younger will work in jobs that don’t even exist yet. Drone managers, virtual reality developers and self-driving car mechanics could be sought-after jobs in the future. Another interesting role could be a human technology integration specialist. As technology, particularly AI, grows increasingly sophisticated, businesses will need to learn how man and machine can work together most effectively.
Education is a major focus of our business, and one of our personal passions is instilling STEM [sciences, technology, engineering and maths] skills in Australian students from an early age. Australia is behind other countries in these skills, which will be critical to the jobs of the future. Acer partners with a number of primary schools to allow them to provide STEM education in dynamic and interactive learning environments.
The potential applications of mixed reality in education are limitless. Students will be able to take virtual field trips to ancient Greece as part of their history class, or explore space from a first-hand perspective without leaving their classroom. They’ll be able to step into the human body as part of their science class, or dissect a virtual animal.
In 50 years, my role at Acer could look very different for whoever holds it. The real challenges over the next decades for Acer, as well as the technology community, governments, businesses – for all of society – will come not from the pace of digital change, a process which is inevitable and unstoppable, but from how we all prepare for the transformation it brings to the way we all live and work. Who knows, maybe the future Acer MD will be managing a team of robots.