“The future of work” is used to signal many different things. But at heart, it's about harnessing smart new technologies to make work smoother, easier and quicker.
It will fix the perennial problems of knowledge work and create exciting opportunities. It will help us get more satisfaction from what we do, work smarter instead of harder, enjoy a healthier working lifestyle, and cultivate more meaningful connection with others.
As an aspirational term, the future of work has no actual delivery date. But certain technologies are already affecting unprecedented levels of change – making unconventional working models and business philosophies possible, and transforming the way people perceive and perform their work.
For many companies, the future of work is not distant or unattainable – it’s very much in progress. Here are just nine of the tools that are helping to deliver it right now.
Defining “future of work”
Given the rate at which “future of work” is thrown about, the term can seem impossibly nondescript. Without any set definition, it conveys a set of vague ideals, which change depending on the industry background and role of the person using it.
But a few universal concepts keep cropping up across conferences, white papers and sales pitches, providing a useful working definition. Accordingly, we can speak of the future of work as:
Automating low-value work and admin
Helping us focus on meaningful “deep work”
Enabling seamless remote collaboration
Increasing employee autonomy and lifestyle flexibility
Providing intelligent creative assistance – not replacing us
Creating more authentic virtual communication experiences
Solving data and knowledge silos created by unstructured software sprawl
Tools delivering the future of work
New, strikingly original tools are being released all the time, so while this list is by no means an exhaustive, it offers a snapshot of some of the interesting progress made so far. We’ve coupled well-known apps already transforming ways of working at scale with niche ones, often still in beta with modest user bases.
Knowledge work contains a never-ending supply of distractions and low-value tasks which make it impossible to focus on the work that matters. As a ‘personal assistant for deep work’, Dewo aims to solve that completely. It’s founding aim is to help people do more of the cognitively demanding work that drives company profit and employee purpose. Using AI, Dewo can learn your productive patterns and provide suggestions to help you work smarter. It can also automatically enable “Do not disturb” mode across your apps once you enter a flow state, and reschedule team calendars to create a more focused working week. Right now, it's only available on early access, but the full app is set to launch in the new year.
The future of work is clearly virtual – companies will operate without geographic borders to benefit from a new diversity of skills and ideas. But the onus to keep face-to-face communication will still remain. Remote companies like ours have been using video conferencing tools like Zoom and GoToMeeting for quite a while now; they offer a human connection that email and chat apps can never equal. But these technologies still lack the fluidity and authenticity of real-life conversations. Using virtual reality, MeetinVR is leading the next generation of virtual meeting technology – helping to seamlessly translate the experiences of physical collaboration into a virtual space. It’s yet to drop, but you can sign up for early access to be the first to try it out.
While there’s nothing particularly new about cloud-based file management, this infrastructure is essential for enabling remote workforces – and Box is the current best-in-class example of it. Its interface is highly customizable, allowing companies from all industry backgrounds to create their ideal information structure. Integrating with 1,400 tools, it makes storing, updating, accessing and sharing files across your company effortless. It has one of the strongest security profiles going – being trusted by large healthcare companies – and offers an good remote access experience across all platforms and devices.
The common currency behind the networked, virtual working culture of the future is data. Companies already produce a ton of the stuff every day, but to harness the true power of new intelligent technologies, and make work easier and more efficient, we need a simple way to group, catalogue and access it. Enter Alation – an AI-powered tool that helps connect people to the right data. Its auto-inventories expedite cataloguing and help enterprises working across massive data sets drastically improve their analytic productivity. It’s a wonderfully powerful tool for indexing all your company’s data knowledge.
Businesses create whole universes of information each week, making hunting down files a requisite skill of modern knowledge work. Billed as the Wikipedia for your workplace, Tettra offers a fresh new solution to this problem. It helps teams share knowledge and collaborate without grappling with a ton of different tools. By pulling everything your company produces into one space – from Google Docs and Dropbox to GitHub – teams can navigate their company’s entire history of work quickly and painlessly.
Many apps are already using AI to automate shallow work, but X.ai may win the award for automating the most annoying task going – scheduling ping pong. It’s an intelligent assistant that can automatically organize your meetings – checking your availability, answering incoming emails by itself and updating your schedule accordingly. Integrating with tools like Greenhouse, Zoom, Salesforce and Intercom, its sheer application and time-saving potential is huge – whether you want to streamline scheduling for job interviews, sales demos or team social events.
Hailing from a similar starting point as X.ai, Conversica is an AI tool for automating your sales funnel. It can communicate with total independence to effectively triage and prepare promising leads for you – whether from a list of prospects you have provided, or one that it has created by itself. It effectively cuts out the email chain, having intelligent back-and-forth on your behalf and handing promising sales opportunities over to you once they have been qualified. By automating a function almost every business depends on, the sum time-saving value it produces could be huge.
While not particularly cutting edge in itself, Firefox Private Network still provides a foundational service for an increasingly virtually connected workplace: network security. This browser extension helps you secure and protect your connection wherever you work when using Firefox. Acting like a VPN, it encrypts browsing on questionable public Wi-Fi and hdes your location from websites and ad trackers. It’s currently only available in Beta to US desktop, but will hopefully expand to other locations and devices soon.
At the center of our quest for more unified, task-specific communication lies Swit – a “collaboration hub” that marries chat functionality with project management. It effectively does the work of a bunch of several apps in one, pulling task structuring and scheduling, project communication and deadline management together into one logical space. It helps reduce the context switching and app management involved with project management, to help teams focus on actual collaboration