UC Expo, a two-day event highlighting the latest technology and trends in the unified communications and collaboration sector, took place at ExCeL London last week. There was much discussion about the technologies that are having the biggest impact on business communication and many ideas about what the future may hold for the industry. So what did we learn?

  • Prepare for a dramatic change in the composition of the workforce

According to Michael Affronti, VP of product at Fuze, 2025 is going to see the most dynamic shift in the composition of the workforce since the Industrial Revolution. The expectations and requirements of Gen Z when it comes to workplace technology means companies will have to invest in intuitive, effective collaborative technology to engage this new generation of workers who have never used a fax machine or landline and who see email as a slow and ineffective form of communication. The move to flexible working being seen as the norm rather than a benefit will also mean businesses will need to develop remote working practices and ensure their infrastructure is able to support a disperse workforce.

  • How customers communicate with business is set for even more change

Just as many businesses have developed coherent social media strategies and have got used to engaging with customers on Twitter and Facebook, so customers’ expectations have moved on. The number of people using messaging apps has already eclipsed the number of people using social media as a communication tool, something that could prove a huge opportunity for companies. In-app chat is already becoming common in areas such as banking and could be rolled out to other sectors, while gathering the information these tools store could help businesses provide a faster, more personalised and more joined up service.

  • Your voice is a powerful tool

According to Andrew Maher, customer engagement evangelist, EMEA at Avaya, by 2020 30% of browsing will no longer involve a screen as tools such as Amazon Echo, Cortana and Siri proliferate. As consumers adopt this technology retailers in particular will be able to benefit from more efficient transactions and a better customer experience. Applied futurist Ben Hammersley (pictured) believes 2017 is the tipping point for AI technology such as Alexa as their functionality improves while their price declines.

  • Developments in tech will affect the jobs market

Unfortunately, not all consequences of these new technologies will be positive and many discussions touched on how greater automation and embracing AI could affect the jobs market. On a positive note, many of these technologies could free us from mundane regular tasks such as planning meetings, which could be handled by an AI personal assistant, freeing up time to undertake more enjoyable creative tasks, while bots that can answer questions on your bahelf will increase productivity but not endanger jobs.

Ben Hammersley was less positive however, introducing his audience to the term ‘meat puppets’, people who are simply keeping the seat warm waiting for AI to take their jobs. According to Hammersley, any jobs that involve moving knowledge around are potentially at risk, including lawyers and accountants. He pointed to legal apps that are already handling less complex issues such as tenancy agreements for a fraction of the price of a human lawyer. While only simple issues can be handled today if technology continues to develop at the pace of recent years, it won’t be long before they can advise on much more complicated issues. In fact, the point at which 85% of transactions with a company won’t involve a human is only thought to be a few years away.

  • Communicating in the workplace must focus on collaboration

While email is the communication method of choice for many, the younger generation prefer instant messaging tools and technology that aids collaboration such as apps. Business leaders are already starting to embrace this change, holding real-time online Q&As to engage with their workforce wherever they may be and helping employees buy in to the company ethos.

Videoconferencing is, of course, already widely utilised but areas for development here include the use of avatars rather than live images to make the experience more comfortable for those not keen on the visual aspect, and efforts to improve the mobile experience to create a tool that truly responds to how people want to work.

The area of business communication continues to change rapidly, with new technologies emerging that will once again evolve how we operate, where we work and how we interact with clients, colleagues and business leaders. The ultimate aim is to ensure engagement for all to build a productive, happy and effective workforce, and there is a huge amount of technology out there promising to do just that.