Why the workplace of the future will be like a game of musical chairs

We've been told that sitting is the new smoking (ie. terrible for our health); but how will offices of the future function if staff are discouraged from sitting at their desks for eight hours a day? A recent article on the Columbus CEO website looks to the new Columbus EY offices for an idea on how this could work in practice.

The accounting firm recently introduced a '16 ways to work' policy that gives workers the option of standing or sitting on a number of alternative options, from barstools and benches to couches and even treadmills.

Crucially, employees will no longer have assigned desks, meaning that they are encouraged to interact more with a variety of colleagues as workstations become filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Apps and touch screens allow for some workspace reservations if a particular area is required.

In fact, the only members of staff with their own desks are one receptionist, three creative service professionals and six admin assistants - not even partners of the firm have a desk to call of their own.

The modern facility now also includes free parking, a bus stop, bikes for employees to use during lunchtime and even nearby apartments if they wish to shorten their commute. The GBK Hub features a kitchen, foosball table and a 'joke wall'.

Of course, the method is not without it problems. Because each working day is different, staff are required to clear away any personal items and keep them in a locked drawer within the communal filing cabinet.

But EY's office manager, Craig Marshall, argues that the innovative new office improves employees' working lives and gives them a better work/life balance: "You're seeing more energy, more collaboration, more teaming," he explained. It is also thought to boost morale and engagement as staff often work in a fresh new environment each day.


Cisco and Apple team up to bring iOS into workplaces

Apple and Cisco have announced a partnership that could bring iOS into more and more workplaces.

According to Forbes, the two tech giants will work on integrating iOS with Cisco's enterprise networks and business collaboration products, such as voice and video conferencing equipment. The results could make Apple products work better in corporate environments.

Patrick Moorhead, president of Moor Insights and Strategy said: "Apple is partnering in the enterprise on technologies and experiences that aren't their core competency. Long-term, I think Apple is trying to completely rethink enterprise work and workflow."

Details of the products to be developed under the partnership have not yet emerged, but it is likely that Cisco's Spark and WebEx products could be included.

The Apple-Cisco agreement comes at a time when companies are trying to improve worker productivity using smartphones and tablets. Such devices are often owned by employees themselves, rather than being corporate purchases.

Cisco is a major supplier of desk phones, which are increasingly superseded by mobile devices as workers store address books on their iPhones. If Cisco and Apple can create an iPhone that emulates a desk phone, the latter could be done away with altogether.

The partnership will create a "fast lane" for iOS devices in the corporate environment, prioritizing wireless and web connections so businesses are guaranteed sufficient bandwidth even if employees are also streaming or downloading non-work content.

Tim Cook, Apple chief executive said: "Together with Cisco, we believe we can give businesses the tools to maximize the potential of iOS and help employees become even more productive using the devices they already love."

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Robot learns tasks by interpreting written text

If we need help with a certain task, many of us turn to the Internet for guidance. But, as a recent article on the MIT Technology Review website reveals, it might not be long before robots are doing the same.

Researchers behind a European project called RoboHow are currently exploring ways robots can learn to interpret language. A prototype robot, called PR2, has already been created in Germany. PR2 has made pizzas and pancakes simply by reading instructions on how-to website WikiHow and watching YouTube tutorials.

The aim of the four year project is to reach a stage wherein machines are able to carry out everyday tasks as proficiently as humans. Instead of having to program a robot to perform a set number of motions, the idea is that robots will learn new tasks simply by humans communicating instructions to them.

If successful, the project could have huge implications in the home and in the workplace, as machines and robots become increasingly integrated within our day-to-day lives.

Michael Beetz, head of the Artificial Intelligence Institute at the University of Bremen, where the project is based, commented: "If you have a robot in a factory, you want to say 'Take the screw and put it into the nut and fasten the nut' [...] You want the robot to generate the parameters automatically out of the semantic description of objects."

Along with making pizzas and pancakes, PR2 is learning how to carry out simple tasks in the laboratory, like handling chemicals.

When a robot learns the actions required to perform a certain task, the information gained is uploaded onto a database, called Open Ease. Other robots are able to access the information on this database, which enables them to learn the same task.

Professor at the Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, Siddhartha Srinivasa, said the ability to connect action with language in robots is extremely important, nevertheless complex. Success will "require a tight integration of natural language, grounding the understanding via perception, and planning complex actions via manipulation algorithms," he said.