What the Future of Working at Home May Look Like

With flexible and remote working options set to become even more popular than they already are, the Wall Street Journal decided to offer some predictions about how the future of working from home is going to look.

The publication highlights that more than half of organizations registered in the US are now based from home; yet so few residential properties are equipped to accommodate business use, as most are designed only to be living spaces.

Finding the balance between these two conflicting uses of a space can result in a lack of efficiency. But throughout the world, innovative structures are being designed that resolve some of the biggest issues facing home-based businesses, and could set a standard for homes - and workplaces - of the future.

One example of such a structure is the Veld van Klanken (Field of Sounds) development in the Netherlands. Designed to solve the problem of disturbing the neighbours - a common concern for those running a business from home - the site features 30 music studios buried beneath a large central mound of grass, soundproofing the activity inside. Surrounding the workspace are two-storey homes, while the hill provides a communal space for musicians to meet and children to play.

Another example is the Batle Studio development in San Francisco, US. You may think it wouldn't be possible to integrate a manufacturing business into a home, but that's just what entrepreneur Agelio Batle and his wife Delia have managed to achieve. The small business creates graphite art objects so the building combines a studio, showroom, workshops and an office on the ground floor; and a domestic space for the family upstairs. However, the two spaces are fluid and employees can use the home if they need some private time, just as the couple's children can work on art projects downstairs at the end of the working day.

Innovative concepts such as these show that the nature of work as we know it is changing, with the divide between home and the office becoming increasingly blurred.

Can retail robots entice people back into stores?

As the digital world expands, more of our shopping is done online than ever before and physical retail stores are feeling the effects. But a recent ZD Net article asks if the tools of online shopping could be harnessed IRL (in real life!) and, if so, whether they could tempt shoppers away from their computers and mobile devices.

Online retailers such as Amazon and UK supermarket Ocado have been using technology to push the boundaries of delivery. By combining automation in their warehouses with predictive analytics, they can deliver products almost as soon as they have been ordered - giving customers a faster and more efficient shopping experience.

But brick-and-mortar retailers have been much slower to embrace these solutions - that is, automation and analytics - which could help them compete with the online world.

One startup company, Simbe Robotics, is hoping to change this with the launch of a new retail robot. Shelf auditing and product analytics are two of the most strategically crucial aspects of selling physical products today; in fact, retailers across the globe lose $450 billion each year due to empty shelves or items being out of stock.

As Simbe Robotics' CEO and co-founder, Brad Bogolea, explains: "Shopper experience is everything. If a product is unavailable at the time the shopper wants to buy it, the retailer has missed an opportunity and disappointed their customer."

So far, IT solutions have helped human employees with the task of shelf auditing. But the low-paid, repetitive nature of the work means that there is a lot of scope for human error; which is where autonomous machines can help.

According to an official statement from Simbe, its mobile robot Tally can navigate itself through physical retail spaces to "capture, report, and analyze the state and availability of merchandise and help ensure compliance with the store's planogram."

Even better, it can operate during business hours as state-of-the-art route planning and sensory technology prevent it from bumping into people and/or objects.

Tally is currently being trialled in North America, so it could only be a matter of time before it spreads to even more physical stores.

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Will businesses of the future trade on the past?

Many established businesses dreaded the advent of online trade. They feared that the sheer scale of products and services available on the internet would result in high streets being replaced by a few behemoth warehouse operations.

While it's clear that internet shopping has had a profound impact on consumer habits, according to an article on CityLab the online domain is also causing a renaissance in certain old-fashioned areas of the economy. It turns out that when the internet offers shoppers anything they want, a substantial percentage want a more convenient way to access what they used to have.

Take milk delivery for example. The milkman with his pony and trap or electric buggy used to be a common sight in our streets. In 1963, around 30% of US consumers had milk delivered directly to their homes. Big stores and automobiles led people to favour buying milk in big stores instead; by 1975 only 6.9% used milkmen and in 2005 the figure was just 0.4%.

However, in the modern age nostalgic consumers are rediscovering the joy of home delivery. Supermarkets and online giants such as Amazon has long since discovered the appeal of offering consumers goods on their doorstep. Now smaller businesses are getting in on the act.

An Irish start-up called My Milkman has launched an app allowing users to order milk from a local supplier. Similar niche on-demand businesses are springing up elsewhere - in Stamford, Connecticut you can order a traditional barber to call at your home or office to deliver a trim or shave.

Alex Gomberg is another entrepreneur harnessing the nostalgia boom. He founded the Brooklyn Seltzer Boys in 2013, delivering carbonated water in hand-blown blue and green glass bottles stacked in traditional wooden crates. As the sole survivor of a once-thriving New York soda industry, the seltzer industry has a unique selling point for retro-loving customers.

Are heritage industries going to become the latest trend? We could be seeing a lot more traditional revivals fuelled by technology.