Covid-19 was the major theme throughout 2020.
It tested the fortitude of governments, companies, economies, and individuals alike in the face against a radical disruption that heavily touched the way we live our lives on every level.
As with any sudden shift in global lifestyle, there have been those who have painfully adapted, while others rode the wave to reach greater bounds.
Tech companies reigned supreme during this phase of human history, with the worldwide pandemic fueling many emerging technologies that were not expected to come to fruition until mid-decade.
This drive has drastically shaped how 2021 will seem to be, with all things digital at the helm of it all, especially in the eyes of the employees across the world who now have different career options to consider as the pandemic shakes up the rules of the modern labor force.
According to a report by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) talking about Intelligent Workplaces, around 30 percent of employees were working remotely prior to the pandemic, but this number has since risen dramatically to over 50 percent and they will continue to work remotely at least some of the time.
“This has significant knock-on effects for IT and HR with respect to delivering an appropriate employee experience. In turn, employee experience is being driven by the concept of ‘wellbeing’, which has a profound impact on employee productivity,” the report explained.
At the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak, companies scrambled to emphasize business continuity by ensuring that employees can successfully operate from home during lockdown.
This focus, however, shifted as time passed by, and leaned more toward maximizing employee productivity when working remotely to maintain customer experience as much as possible.
With all that said, many of these changes and disruptions will surely spill over into the new year, while some will look to cement their place within the global labor force.
Based on that, there are a myriad of employee experience trends that will dictate how workflow will be done during 2021.
Let’s jump right in.
A more distributed workforce
The new norm has forced businesses to have three physical locations: home, the corporate office, and remote/mobile settings. This distributed workforce model forces companies to rethink their IT and HR policies for them to serve greater employee empowerment.
“Remember, people can only be empowered if they can securely access the content and applications, they need to carry out their tasks … which means that the technology they’re provided with must be easy to use, wherever they’re geographically located,” the report by NTT highlighted.
This shift has incentivized companies toward moving their operations to the cloud, which can accommodate all employees no matter where they might be. The drawback, however, is protecting this data from potential cybersecurity threats, with attacks and breaches reaching record highs during the year.
“It’s essential to ensure that the performance of cloud-based software-as-a-service, be they collaboration or enterprise applications, meet employee expectations, and that they’re secured appropriately as cyber-risk has increased while visibility of risk has decreased, given organizations’ expanding digital footprint,” the report noted.
Identity, data, & workplace analytics
Technology has been vital to gathering insights that identify our levels of productivity, how we spend our time during work hours, and what we look at.
According to the NTT report, 88.9 percent of organizations recognize the value of employee experience as a crucial strategic differentiator however, just 38.3 percent are very satisfied with their current capability.
“Data will increasingly become an essential tool to highlight trends in employee experience, be they from a productivity, sentiment, wellbeing, or community perspective. Also, employee recognition platforms designed and deployed with a clear purpose to improve engagement, integrated with nudge engines can motivate individuals and teams to achieve the goals they’ve set,” the report said.
With that in mind, employees will also need to feel comfortable about how data is being used.
NTT considers that a “zero-trust” approach to security is key to supporting and protecting businesses, as they undertake this shift. According to a recent Gartner survey, 16 percent of organizations are passively tracking employees via methods such as virtual clocking in and out, tracking work computer usage and monitoring employee emails or internal communications/chat.
“Technology is becoming key to delivering insights that identify which people may be experiencing a dip in productivity, or alternatively, those who are now working too hard. But also, be aware that it can be perceived as big brother,” NTT added.
Next-gen meeting spaces
Meeting spaces have forever changed following the pandemic, with companies striving for more agile and digitized spaces that empower engagement, collaboration, and creativity, all with a view to gaining the most out of their teams’ intellectual property.
“If certain tasks can be performed easily at home, people will need a reason to travel to an office – particularly if HR policies prescribe less travel to meet sustainability targets. And when they do return to the office, they’ll expect the same frictionless experience that the digital tools they use for remote working offer,” the report highlighted.
With many technologies coming to the forefront, NTT expects that virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) will play larger roles of delivering more immersive meetings for businesses and their employees.
Wellness will become king
The common need and want for the world’s workforce are the promise of a safe environment to work in following and during the pandemic. “People need confidence and assurance before they’re comfortable to return to work to perform more collaborative tasks that require face-to-face, human engagement as opposed to virtual interactions,” NTT highlighted.
Many governments around the world are forcing businesses to report on the number of employees physically present in the office on a daily basis, with heavy fines for those who breach the permitted number of on-site employees or who fail to deliver such data.
“Employers are having to think hard about optimizing the wellness and safety of their workspaces, using the relevant technologies including data, analytics, security and automation,” the report said, adding that “we’re already seeing organizations implementing technology that allows them to gather and analyze data to ensure that they’re adhering to air ventilation, heating, lighting and hygiene standards and maintaining adequate social distancing within their buildings.”
The modern labor force is facing colossal changes that will dictate how companies conduct their business within the decade ahead, as companies shift to a more employee oriented philosophy that capitalizes on the agility of workers to deliver more productive results across the board.
AR content made easy by U.S.-based solutions company
Scope AR, an enterprise-class augmented reality (AR) solutions, announced Wednesday the launch of WorkLink Create, a new web-based application for quickly creating and sharing AR content within the workplace.
WorkLink Create empowers aerospace, medical device, and industrial professionals to quickly create their own AR content without any coding or 3D modeling expertise, the company said in a press statement.
“We set out to make the creation of 3D AR content as fast and easy as recording iMovie or creating a PowerPoint,” said Scott Montgomerie, CEO, Scope AR, a San Francisco-based company. “Using our technology platform, any user can easily author their specific knowledge into WorkLink to be widely consumed for training, complex assembly, and field service troubleshooting,” Montgomerie added.
WorkLink Create holds the potential for transforming AR authorship with a “revolutionary, browser-based workflow that natively accepts an exceptionally broad range of CAD file formats. Users of all experience levels can log in to WorkLink Create in their browser, quickly open their engineering model files, and place them within a mixed reality scene, Scope AR said.
The users then animate motion and craft annotated work instructions in a drag-and-drop, code-free workflow like that of slide animations or consumer video editing applications. The augmented reality content is published to their organization’s secure WorkLink account to be immediately consumed on any device with WorkLink installed, such as smartphones, tablets and wearables.
“AR empowers us to digitally transform our products, improve processes, and help our people learn and gain new skills,” said Tatsuya Baba, Executive Manager of NTT DATA Corporation. “Scope AR’s groundbreaking technology highlights their commitment to helping IT services companies like us succeed with our digital transformation initiatives. WorkLink Create assists in the execution of our scenario development,” Baba noted.
Commercial use cases that have been accelerated include training, commercial education, service and support of advanced medical capital equipment such as robotic surgery, COVID-19 testing equipment and sports medicine.
“WorkLink Create empowers enterprise workforces amidst the unprecedented resource constraints and travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” added Montgomerie. “We accomplished this by improving on the organizational and technical bottlenecks for AR content, thereby helping our customers to maximize continuity in their operations.”
Additionally, WorkLink has augmented operation for mobile power systems, modular data centers, aerospace manufacturing, aerospace fasteners and more.
“It is just amazing to be at a point where the needs of the use case overlap with the availability of the right technology, and more importantly, the right partner: Scope AR,” said Karl Hutter, CEO of Click Bond. “We have inspired excitement with common customers, and it’s really the tip of the iceberg where we can take this.”
Lockheed Martin has used Scope AR’s technology in the Orion program to help build the next manned spacecraft into deep space.
“In the past we would have developers spend months developing these types of applications. With Scope AR’s WorkLink platform, we’re bringing this down to 28 minutes, and 4 minutes for an additional panel,” said Shelley Peterson, associate fellow at Lockheed Martin, “The ramp up time on the platform has also been reduced significantly. We can bring in a new developer, have them go through a half day training online and they can start creating work instructions.”
About Scope AR
Scope AR is an enterprise-class augmented reality solutions company, delivering the industry’s only cross-platform AR tools for empowering frontline workers the knowledge they need. The company offers a visual knowledge base solution that provides effective and efficient knowledge-sharing to conduct complex remote tasks, employee training, product and equipment assembly, maintenance and repair, field, and customer support, and more.
For readers interested in learning more about WorkLink Create, visit: https://www.scopear.com
Microsoft-HPE Spaceborne computer project among cargo delivered to ISS spacecraft
It’s been a busy week for NASA, with early Monday morning seeing the docking of the Northrop Grumman Cygnus N-G15 resupply mission spacecraft to the ISS, which includes thousands of pounds of food and science experiments, including a joint HPE/Microsoft collaboration to bring advanced computing power and AI to the station with the Spaceborne Computer-2.
Thursday was the historic landing of NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars which made a touchdown after a 203-day journey.
The Saturday afternoon weekend launch of the resupply mission from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island, Virginia, deployed solar arrays several hours into its journey to help power the Cygnus en-route to the ISS, with the craft arriving Monday at approximately 4:38 a.m. (EST.)
On Monday early morning, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi used the space station’s robotic arm to capture Cygnus upon its arrival, while NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins monitored telemetry during the rendezvous, capture and installation of the Unity module’s Earth-facing port, according to press statement from NASA.
This is Northrop Grumman’s 15th cargo flight to the space station and is the fourth under its Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract with NASA. Cygnus launched on an Antares 230+ rocket from the Virginia Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport.
The lead NASA flight director for the mission, Adi Boulos, said in a statement, “I am humbled to be the International Space Station Flight Director for the Northrup Grumman CRS-15 mission. This spacecraft has the honor of being named the S.S. Katherine Johnson. As a Black woman, Katherine Johnson shattered race and gender barriers to live out her dreams and become a pivotal part of this country’s young space program.”
Johnson was a pioneering member of the U.S. space program, both as an early member, and as one of the first African American women to join what was to become NASA.
“Fifty-nine years ago, today, astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth after personally asking for Katherine Johnson to verify his Mercury missions’ orbital trajectory calculations,” Boulos added. “Katherine Johnson was an asset to our space program, and I am honored to work for a mission that expands her legacy even further.”
The resupply flight will support dozens of new and existing investigations. A partial list of the scientific investigations Cygnus is delivering to the space station includes:
High-performance computing aboard the space station
Improved high-performance computing will be required for space missions as humans prepare for additional exploration throughout the solar system. Currently, computing capabilities in space are reduced compared to capabilities on the ground because they prioritize reliability over performance, creating challenges when transmitting data to and from space.
Launched in 2017, the Spaceborne computer study ran a high-performance commercial off-the-shelf computer system in space, successfully performing more than 1 trillion calculations (or one teraflop) per second for 207 days without requiring reset.
The NG-15 mission includes Spaceborne Computer-2 which will explore how commercial off-the-shelf computer systems can advance space exploration by reliably processing data significantly faster in space, speeding scientists’ time to data access and analysis from months to minutes.
After installation, researchers will test Microsoft’s Azure cloud system not only for intensive processing to save the ISS crew time in function, but to also test artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities as part of the system. The Spaceborne Computer is based on HPE’s Edgeline Converged Edge system.
Microsoft and SpaceX are also working together on the Azure Space project, with Microsoft planning on accessing the growing Starlink satellite constellation for joint testing at the ground based Azure Modular Datacenter.
I dream of space
The ESA (European Space Agency) Dreams experiment will take a closer look at astronaut sleep. The investigation serves as a technology demonstration of the Dry-EEG Headband in microgravity, while also monitoring astronaut sleep quality during a long-duration flight mission.
Raw data will be available to scientists for their analysis, while the crew also can input direct feedback on their sleep with a tablet application. “Sleep is central to human health, so a better understanding of sleep in provides a more comprehensive understanding of human health in microgravity,” NASA’s statement said.
Prepping for the Moon
The International Space Station serves as a testing ground for technologies planned for use on future missions to the Moon. The A-HoSS investigation puts tools for the crewed Artemis II mission to the test.
Built as the primary radiation detection system for the Orion spacecraft, the Hybrid Electronic Radiation Assessor (HERA) was modified for operation on the space station. By verifying that HERA can operate without error for 30 days, it validates the system for crewed Artemis mission operations.
“These are just a subset of the hundreds of investigations currently being conducted aboard the orbiting laboratory in the areas of biology and biotechnology, physical sciences, and Earth and space science. Advances in these areas will help keep astronauts healthy during long-duration space travel and demonstrate technologies for future human and robotic exploration missions as part of NASA’s Moon and Mars exploration approach, including lunar missions through NASA’s Artemis program,” NASA’s statement said.
The Cygnus spacecraft will remain at the space station until May before it disposes of several thousand pounds of trash through its destructive re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.
Social media active SMEs project revenue growth for 2021
A recent survey reported that more than half (56 percent) of small businesses in the U.S. engaging on social media on at least a weekly basis are projecting revenue growth in 2021, despite continuing COVID-related business limitations, according to B2B services group Visual Objects.
“If small businesses want to genuinely connect with consumers in their daily lives, it only makes sense to turn to social media,” said Sydney Wess, study author. “Almost 4 billion people use social media and users have doubled since 2015.”
Wess added that “Some social media active SMEs can even go viral on social platforms with unique, compelling content,” while highlighting that “these possibilities level the playing field for small businesses hoping to compete against larger, more established brands.”
Citing social media expert company Socialpilot.com, the study noted that during the ongoing pandemic lockdowns, the importance of offering digital marketing and buying experience is key to continuing revenue growth.
Visual Objects data found 74 percent of social media active SMEs who post at least weekly, maintaining consistency with their posts. This consistency is key, with the study warning of declining audience engagement for posting too often or too little.
Almost all small businesses (78 percent) market their company on Facebook, making it the most popular social media platform among small businesses. “Companies hoping to reach a wide variety of consumers rely on Facebook because it continues to have the highest volume of active users,” according to Statista.com.
TikTok, on the other hand, is rarely used by small businesses (14 percent) for marketing purposes despite its rapidly growing user base.
Robin Barendsen, a marketing specialist for debt factoring company Factris BV, believes TikTok still allows companies to cast a wide net. “TikTok can be a gold mine for the right business,” Barendsen said. “It’s incredibly easy to get a huge reach because it’s so popular.”
However, Barendsen warns that TikTok’s younger user base may yield fewer conversions than its more established counterparts.
YouTube gains popularity with small businesses in 2021
The survey found that about half of small businesses (48 percent) plan to focus more on YouTube this year than they have in the past.
The video-sharing platform is experiencing rapid growth with Generation X and Baby Boomer users. Members of these generations often have more disposable income and are less active on social media than younger people, making opportunities to reach them attractive.
John Stevenson, a marketing specialist at My GRE Exam Preparation agrees that people across all demographics use YouTube, making it a reliable platform for investment.
“YouTube is the new television,” Stevenson said, “there’s a large stream of revenue with the platform, which makes it viable and sustainable should the pandemic hit back again.”
Visual Objects surveyed 500 small business owners and managers in the U.S. to gain insights into how companies are managing social media marketing strategies in 2021.
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