SXSW 2016 in Review: The Most Important Workplace Trends

March 24, 2016

This year’s SXSW interactive conference was as intriguing as ever. I have been avidly following all the news that’s come out of this year’s event to spot the biggest trends. Many exciting topics were in focus, but how will they likely impact the workplace?

Developments in tech inevitably lead to developments in the workplace. We just need to look to Mobile technology as a recent example of this.

Adoption of new technology is increasingly vital for companies wanting to be successful.

Our CEO, Andreas Koenig, recently spoke at the NZZ X.Days conference, with the central theme being the importance of digital transformation within companies.

Trends at SXSW highlight this too.

SXSW Interactive 2016 trends

For a quick overview, the key trends from SXSW this year, along with their potential impact on the workplace are:

Virtual & Augmented Reality will have a big impact. VR and AR was evident everywhere at SXSW. It’s likely to soon make its way into our workplaces, and change the way we interact with software, coworkers, and the environment.

IoT will enable people to accomplish more. The focus this year was less on the technology powering IoT, and more on how it will affect the way people interact with other people, things, and their environment.

Diversity in the workplace must keep improving. There is a great deal still to be done in the way diversity in the workplace is nurtured. However, the benefits will be enormous. Collaboration and a culture of openness will be key in reaping the rewards of diversity.

Wearable technology will improve productivity in the workplace. Smart watches and glasses look set to continue their dissemination in the workplace, and will improve productivity in input, tracking, and use of information.

Transportation will get us places faster and with less involvement. Not only will transport be connected to the internet, but it will be faster and more automated. We will have more time and opportunity to focus on productive tasks.

Trend #1 – Virtual & Augmented Reality

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are undoubtedly two of 2016’s biggest topics.

It is no surprise then that a great deal of the coverage and interest to come out of SXSW this year was from the brand new VR/AR Experience.

Billed as a hands-on exhibition, featuring a selection of the best new Virtual and Augmented reality technologies, it didn’t disappoint.

As a bit of a gamer myself, I’ve been closely following Oculus’ plans to release the much anticipated Rift VR headset later this year.

And until recently, it had mainly gained interest from sections of gamers, like me, excited about the gaming possibilities VR opens up.

However, what was evident at SXSW this year was the breadth and depth of VR’s possible applications.

From NASA giving a VR guided tour of a giant 300 foot rocket, to treating disorders and physiological difficulties, to Gatorade loading people into a virtual version of a real-life location in the Fuel Lab, there was something for everyone.

How will VR and AR affect the workplace?

We are on the cusp of having the first widely available and affordable VR and AR technology. And we’re beginning to see the enormous potential this field has in a wide variety of uses.

This technology will undoubtedly change the workplace.

How would collaboration change if remote workers were all able to sit in a virtual meeting room?

Will our workstations look the same if we’re plugged into a virtual environment, working with documents, programs, and files in a 3D virtualized world?

How will workflows and knowledge distribution change if we are able to call upon AR to help us diagnose and fix a technical problem out in the field?

That last question is exactly what specialists such as Atheer Labs are looking to answer by pioneering AR devices in the workplace. TeamViewer is excited to be active in this area by integrating into the AiR platform.

VR/AR is an exciting trend to follow. The way it will impact our workplaces is still unpredictable; however, what’s certain is that it will. From enabling deskless working, to complete virtual office environments for remote workers all over the world, to maintenance workers collaborating with experts in the field to more efficiently fix equipment, the opportunities are only limited by our imagination.

IT is becoming more predictive in nature, and will require an exceptional support infrastructure to enable us to work.

Could we be entering the world of deskless workers? Quite possibly.

Trend #2 – Connected everything / Internet of Things

Although not in the spotlight to the same degree as VR/AR – IoT and connected devices were evident throughout the conference.

In fact, many panels were devoted to the ongoing questions surrounding IoT.

Namely, the question of how to ensure all connected devices can easily interact with one another? As well as, how can makers of Things work with the developers of IoT platforms?

Not easily answered, unfortunately.

There was also a focus on how IoT will play a role in shaping our personal and professional environments in the future.

In general, the trend this year was less about the tech itself, and more about how it’s going to affect our everyday lives.

How will IoT affect the workplace?

One trillion devices and objects could be connected to the internet by 2025.

The Internet of Things could affect everything in the workplace. From the amount of data we’ll have to work with, to how we interact with the office building and the furniture within it.

Smart lighting, heating, and air circulation that is able to react to our needs and specific conditions could all make up part of our normal workspace.

Resulting in improved health, concentration and output. Not to mention general happiness.

Taking care of manual tasks

The Internet of Things and connected devices will also empower the workforce, in that it will be able to take care of many tasks we spend our time and thought energy on at the moment.

Entering data, looking up the fastest routes to meetings, re-ordering office supplies – all tasks which IoT may in the future take care of for us.

A major challenge to the adoption of IoT is in its current cost to implement.

Add to that the huge challenge of finding a way to use the vast amount of data IoT will produce effectively.

And lastly, IoT provides a significant challenge to IT departments to provide support.

Trend #3 – Diversity

SXSW this year also saw a huge emphasis put onto diversity in tech.

The Online Abuse Summit also attracted a large amount of interest, highlighting the difficult question of how to make the world we live and work in (digital, and real) more open and inclusive to everyone.

Further panels discussed unconscious bias, and how it limits our ability to succeed in the workplace. While others looked at building inclusivity into the fabric of company culture.

A large number of panels also examined the challenges we face in developing a more diverse tech workforce.

One common conclusion was that we must overcome the challenges we face to diversity in the tech workforce, not simply for diversity’s sake, but because of the fact that we all succeed and benefit from diversity.

What does tech diversity mean for the workplace?

Intuitively, we know that diversity in the workplace is important. Research from McKinsey backs up this feeling showing that more diverse workforces translates to a better company performance.

As our workplace becomes more diverse, each of us will need to focus on collaboration to maximize the benefits we can reap.

Key benefits to diversity in the workplace are the new dimensions it provides us with in terms of knowledge, perspectives, and creativity.

Open mindedness, communication processes, and collaboration practices will be key.

Trend #4 – Wearables

Whereas until now wearable tech has been almost exclusively a fitness accessory or gadget, it is now maturing and expanding in application.

Although SXSW didn’t see too many product launches for wearables, it instead provided a glimpse into the types of discussion, research, and development which the industry is now able to engage with.

And the second SX Health & MedTech Expo showcased many examples of innovation in healthcare with wearable tech.

How will wearable tech affect the workplace?

IDC predicts that 110 million wearable devices will be shipped by the end of 2016, with 38.2% growth over the previous year.

Combine that information with a study by Salesforce from last year, that found that wearables are becoming seen as a strategic platform for improving business performance due to increased productivity among employees.

Through this, you can start to build a picture of how influential this trend might be in our daily work.

Salesforce’s research highlights the speedy adoption rate of smartwatches in the workplace.

In particular smartwatches are already being used by employees on business trips, who can utilize smartwatches to quickly log information into CRM systems via voice recognition.

In the future, retail staff may also be able to make use of customer information to provide a more personalized shopping experience.

Smart glasses could be used to improve productivity in any number of in-office, remote work, or in the field situations.

It’s also not unrealistic to wonder whether wearables will also form a platform for which we can expect our IoT environment to interact with.

Trend #5 – The Future of Transportation

SXSW 2016 gave us an ever closer glimpse into transport of the future, building on previous landmarks such as the 2013 Keynote session by Elon Musk (CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX) and 2015 Keynote session by Lyft co-founder Logan Green.

At this year’s event, Google opened up about the progress and learnings it has made with its self-driving car project.

Meanwhile, other panels explored what self-driving cars will mean for the cities we live and work in.

Also discussed was the much hyped Hyperloop – a passenger carrying pod that can be fired through a tube at hundreds of miles per hour, soon to be tested in Quay Valley, California.

How will transportation in the future affect the workplace?

From what was on show at SXSW, it’s clear that transportation in the future will be faster and more automated. We’ll likely have more time on our hands to focus on other things.

This could mean being able to work comfortably during a commute while your car drives you from your door to the office, or having your commute so short that more hours of the day can be used productively.

With any luck, frustration due to commuting traffic will be consigned to history. As will heated debates about parking facilities.

A fast, reliable internet connection will enable us to join our company’s virtual office environment, taking part in meetings or collaborating on projects from literally anywhere in the world.

What are your thoughts on SXSW 2016?

Many of the topics to come out of SXSW this year align very neatly with our predictions for 2016.

Were there any key topics you think I’ve missed? Or any other ways you think these topics will affect our workplace? Let me know in the comments section below!

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