Note from Bob: This article first appeared on our site July 12, 2010, before the advent of this blog. It is a prediction of what the workplace would look like in the year 2020. Since it was written 10 years ago, I wanted to go back and see how my prognostications fared. While I clearly missed the mark on some elements, other items have indeed started to become reality. However, there was one thing I missed. I didn’t anticipate that a pandemic would cause many of the technologies I discusssed to be fully embraced and adopted over an eight week period. Go figure.
Workers’ Comp 20/20: Tethered by Wireless – The Future Office Without Walls
Sarasota, FL (CompNewsNetwork) – One thing is certain about the future of most industries, including the workers’ compensation industry. Technology will continue to radically change the way we work. Of course we know that changes brought on by technological advances have already occurred, but as we look to the future, it is pretty easy to assume that “we ain’t seen nothing yet”.
I have had the opportunity to speak at several conferences and executive forums over the last few years, reviewing how evolving technology is impacting and changing the workers’ compensation industry. As time and presentations have passed, one word stands out more than any other as the term that will most shape the office of the future.
Wireless standards and the mobility they create will completely revolutionize the way we live, work and play; and will increasingly blur the lines between those three categories. Wireless represents for the workplace the most liberating aspect of technology, while potentially being the most destructive to our personal lives. How we adapt and integrate these new systems and standards will have tremendous impact on our careers, and quality of life.
What we call the internet today is the basis and foundation for all that we will do wirelessly in the year 2020. Many people think of the internet as simply “surfing the web”, but the internet of 2020 will be so much more. That network will be the underlying foundation of communication for virtually all of our daily “tools”; computers, phones, appliances, automobiles, and more. Virtually all electrical devices will have the ability to communicate electronically. And enabling all of this will of course be a ubiquitous network powered by wireless technology.
Today most people are familiar with wireless hot spots and 3G technology. These standards have already started us down the path to wireless revolution, but new, more powerful standards will greatly accelerate this process. WiMax, LTE and UMB are all competing wireless standards with much faster transfer rates than 3G and far greater ranges than WiFi (WiMax is the standard behind Sprint’s new 4G network). With these new systems the internet will be virtually anywhere one needs it, meaning that more and more devices will leverage the technology. Traditional communication lines will blur. TV will be primarily IP (internet) based, with more or less on demand programming. Your home air conditioner will be able to notify your AC Company when its coolant is low. Your automobile will be able to download software updates while you drive. And your office will be everywhere you are.
So what does this mean for the workers’ compensation industry?
To begin with, improved efficiency, more accuracy and lower operating costs. Perhaps even an improved “personal touch” with claimants not available in the past. The 2020 office has become a space without walls, but maintains all of your files, communications and connections to co-workers. While you may still have a physical address with a desk and computer, your “office” will largely be a device held in the palm of your hand. Consider this scenario. A case manager hired for a specific claim could visit the claimants’ home, and using an “iPad like” tablet device, review files, doctors notes and even x-rays (with permission of course) with the claimant. They could have a brief video conference with the doctor and employer, and together work on a plan for recovery and return to work. After the visit, the case manager could have a quick video update with the adjuster, who, using a similar device is able to take the call despite being at an attorney’s office preparing for a deposition. The doctor, meanwhile, goes back to his electronic rounds, checking in with hospitalized patients, through the flat panel TV’s in their rooms, and reviews their records and vitals being fed into a centralized system. Of course he takes great pains to not advertise to them the fact that he is at the country club, expecting to tee off in under 10 minutes.
Of course, the case manager does not actually have to visit the claimant in this scenario, because just like today, despite their claims of extreme poverty and workers comp starving them out of house and home, the claimant of 2020 will still manage to keep broadband internet access. So that meeting could be remote as well.
As I alluded earlier, there is a huge potential dark side to the concept I convey. First, the creative synergies generated by a group of problem solvers huddled around a table are difficult, but not impossible to recreate remotely. The largest potential problem, however, is the office that fits in the palm of your hand never really turns off, and the average workers’ compensation professional of 2020 will find it harder than ever to separate their professional and personal lives. This is a true threat; one that has already started encroaching on the workplace. Today we see people “multi-tasking” by reading and sending email in meetings and conferences. Cell phone calls and texting distractions are everywhere. Technology can be misused and abused, and early studies on the topic indicate we are not as good at this as we would like to believe.
The successful company in 2020 will have established “Best Practices” guidelines for the use of wireless mobile technology. It will have recognized that employees and their jobs need an “off switch”, and not insist on 24/7 access and commitment. It will know that merely deploying and using hi-tech does not in itself make employees better, and can in fact make them worse. The successful company in 2020 will strike a balance that will ultimately make the difference between empowering their employees and burning them out.
The wireless, mobile office is coming. Use it wisely, and there is much to gain. Fail to understand its challenges and limitations, however, and you may find yourself unhappily tethered to the “wall-less office of the future”.