Video phone: When the Cisco Cius tablet is docked, it becomes a desktop video phone, and can also be plugged into a monitor and keyboard to replace a PC.
Cisco’s vision is an example of a broader effort to reshape office technologies and environments. “We used to have boring stuff at work and more interesting technology at home,” says Prith Banerjee, leader of Hewlett-Packard’s research arm. “Now office technology will make use of the same cool experiences and interfaces.”
Among other things, Banerjee predicts that flexible, paperlike color displays will blur the boundary between phones and tablets in the next few years, creating mobile devices even better suited to serving as an entire office in your pocket.
Such changes could save a lot of money. Cisco’s project, for example, was launched after an internal study found that cubicles were vacant two-thirds of the time while people roamed the campus or worked remotely. Company calculations hold that the building used for the project can accommodate 140 employees, up from 88 in designs used in a traditional Cisco building, and that real estate costs would drop by 37 percent.
Over the long term, Cisco hopes to save on health costs, too, because people who move around more frequently are less likely to suffer ergonomic problems. The company is planning to study whether the more mature technology of today can conquer resistance that hobbled previous attempts by companies to create offices where no one has private space.
Meanwhile, office design firms are stepping in with complementary ideas. Steelcase, for example, is building office installations that allow for spontaneous meetings and collaboration in open areas. Mobile-device ports are integrated into conference tables or semiprivate pods, and some allow people to take turns projecting data on a common screen.