How cloud computing, Facebook as a business tool and gesture technologies will conspire to turn your cubical upside down
The office of today is already strikingly different to that of 30 years ago: PCs instead of typewriters, cups of herbal tea replacing cigarettes and ashtrays, and email in place of the printed department memo. And yet, despite these surface changes, the underlying business of the office - the way employees interact and spend their working day - hasn't changed so much.
But with the arrival of a new generation of workers who have grown up with fast broadband, social networks and mobile phones, the office could be about to go through a dramatic upheaval that means in a few years' time you might not even recognise your own cubicle anymore.
Social networking replaces email
The majority of organisations rely on email for their correspondence and collaboration, and social networking is generally viewed as something for leisure, not work. But the potential for this kind of technology to translate into the workplace is huge: the generation of workers now entering the job market, the so-called "millennial generation", naturally communicate and collaborate via social networks.
Business technology vendors have been reacting to this change: Microsoft has incorporated Facebook and LinkedIn into the latest version of its Outlook email software, while other business-focused networking services are emerging, such as cloud computing company Salesforce.com's Chatter application. The system, launched last year, allows users to create profiles and real-time news feeds to help them to work more effectively with their colleagues.
According to Nicola Millard, a futurologist with BT, the use of Facebook-style business networks will "completely and inevitably" be a part of technology used in the future office.
And while offices are currently places where people socialise and network, Millard said social networking technology will increasingly allow people to do this virtually - and more effectively.
No longer will workers rely on email to get hold of information, for example - in the future they'll be able to log on to their business network and find (and then take part in) relevant discussions that people in the organisation are having.
Millard warns this use of networking technology will require...