The Future Today Institute is one of the world’s leading consulting and strategy firms for the future, with research on new technology trends and how they might impact business, government, education, media, and society. Their studies are released annually, the Tech Trends Report, and we will address the 2021 reports below, which marks their 14th annual report.
In view of the events of 2020, which have caused undeniable changes in our habits and lifestyles, almost 500 topics on technology and science were analyzed, separated by different subjects. We decided to bring and translate here some topics that we consider interesting, related to work, culture and games.
The new hybrid workday
When the COVID-19 pandemic drove workers out of offices around the world, managers and employees needed to rethink how, where, and when they could fulfill their job responsibilities. Having now adapted to remote work and new digital tools, the question remains: will things go back to business as usual?
Since offices will probably never return to their pre-pandemic capacity, the floor plans will be remade to accommodate hybrid meetings between face-to-face and remote work.
Work routines have changed dramatically in the past year, creating new regulations and rushed changes, with effects that are likely to last well after the pandemic. Companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Square, Shopify and Slack have already committed to allowing employees to work remotely even after lockdown and social distancing restrictions end, paving the way for the hybrid regime of virtual and face-to-face work. Google is exploring a model where employees work three days a week in the office, and the other two days remotely, working from home or anywhere. It is also important to note that these changes primarily affect white-collar industries – manual workers, employees in service industries, and a few others, for the most part, do not have the privilege of remote work.
Participating companies are likely to have fewer commercial properties and renovate remaining floor plans to accommodate fewer employees and hybrid meetings between employees in face-to-face and remote work. The hope is that by giving workers more flexibility, this will improve their quality of life and mental health, and consequently their productivity. However, most companies that are experimenting with these new models have no data to prove this conclusion, so the opposite of this may occur. The changes may also blur the boundaries between full-time, part-time, and contract employees for specific services, and potentially infringe on workers’ rights. Companies will have to make important decisions about which remote work platforms and programs will be used, considering that they will likely play a much larger role within the enterprise as the hybrid workweek becomes the standard.
COMPANIES STANDING OUT
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)
The MIT Center for WorkLife and WellBeing
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
“The centralization of the office is over” – Tobi Lutke, CEO of Shopify
Applications that shape the virtual workplace
Interest and investment in remote work platforms has never been higher, and a crop of lesser-known startups are emerging to meet the growing demand. Some provide niche solutions, others offer versatile collaborative platforms, but all have the potential to help shape the future of remote work.
Founded by former Uber executive Florent Crivello, Teamflow is a remote working program designed to replicate the organic interactions and conversations of an office environment in a virtual space. Users see their video or profile picture in a bubble that sits on a virtual office floor plan. They can move around the digital space using the arrow keys and approach their classmates’ bubbles to get them into a conversation. Users can only hear the voices of peers whose bubbles are nearby, and the spatial audio recreates the directional perspective of an in-person conversation.
Bringing a retro cyber aesthetic to a collaboration software, Gather mimics the routines of office life in order to bring structure to the remote work experience. Customizable avatars can be navigated through a 2D virtual office, designed in charming 8-bit graphics that look like console games from the 1980s. Logging in and sitting at a digital desk marks that person’s arrival and the symbolic start of the workday, and colleagues can join their avatars in common areas or meeting rooms to conduct work and social interactions.
This startup designed its interface to reflect a specific office habit: walking by your co-workers’ desks to see if they are available to talk. The Sneek application shows your colleagues in a grid format, with static images from their webcams updated at frequent intervals. Users can check the grid to see if colleagues are at their desks and available, or if they have indicated that they are busy and do not want to be disturbed. To start a video call with a colleague, the user only needs to click on his or her image.
Opting for a more conceptual approach, With operates on an abstract digital canvas rather than trying to represent the layout of a physical office space. Workers are represented by subtly animated animal avatars distributed throughout the virtual space, and documents and tools can be dragged onto the shared desktop.
Most work-focused software is designed to ensure clarity and efficiency, but not Reslash – founder Ashwin Gupta says the platform was founded on the premise that remote co-workers can connect during the workday while they “destroy and create beautiful chaos out of thin air.” The result is a variety of screens shared with memes and gifs, and users are encouraged to make a mess in the name of unstructured creativity. It’s hard to imagine this format directly improving productivity, but it seems like a fun and cathartic way to interact with your colleagues.
Instead of trying to faithfully recreate face-to-face conversations with a full-screen video interface, Around shrinks the videos of the participants and places them at the edge of the user’s screen, leaving the desktop visible and accessible so that the project at hand is the focus. This format is expected to level the playing field for employees in remote work and in the office – teams meeting in a single conference room in the office can log in individually to their devices so that all participants are displayed in the same format. The application has even developed a feature so that nearby users do not have problems with audio and echo on the call.
With the population customizing avatars in the virtual world more and more, and with the fashion industry constantly criticized for its polluting practices, the market for digital fashion has a promising future.
With the growing popularity of digital fashion, we may soon see virtual closets that help us catalog and coordinate our physical, digital, and hybrid garments and accessories.
Some of the world’s best-known designers have educated themselves about the virtual revolution. Iconic Italian fashion brand, Gucci, has invested in a number of digital fashion initiatives, from a free digital closet partnership with avatar platform Genies to an integration with styling game Drest, and a self-made app called Sneaker Garage, in which users can use augmented reality to “try on” the brand’s virtual shoes. Other renowned designer brands have similarly seen gaming as their entry into the digital world, with Hermès launching a mobile game inspired by equestrian activity, and Louis Vuitton partnering with the hugely popular gaming franchise League of Legends. Dutch brand The Fabricant has established itself as one of the leading companies in digital fashion, grabbing headlines when one of its virtual dresses sold for a whopping $9500.
The digital fashion market is poised for growth, both because of its versatility in online environments and its ability to reduce waste without retailers having to forgo sales. Physical clothing may perhaps come with virtual counterparts, allowing users to create a digital catalog of their closets and have a version of their clothes even after the physical garment has degraded. The ability to express oneself freely through virtual styles can help consumers develop more eco-conscious habits with real-world items. In time, as augmented reality glasses are becoming more common, users may even be able to virtually display their digital looks on themselves rather than on their avatar – imagine a feature in which you select a simple, sustainable outfit or “canvas” from your physical closet, but select a virtual look to project on top of the former, one that is visible to anyone wearing smart glasses.
COMPANIES STANDING OUT
- The Fabricant
- Louis Vuitton
- Dapper Labs
“I really believe we will become the first billion-dollar digital fashion company” – Kerry Murphy, founder of The Fabricant
New production models of fashion retailers seek to resignify existing materials and clothing where possible, rather than producing new materials.
Recycled and Circular Fashion
The preferred method of DIY designers and specific clothing brands, recycled, circular, and sustainable fashion has evolved to the point where it is being adopted at scale by fashion retailers around the world.
According to analyst firm First Insight, more than half of the Generation Z customers questioned prefer to buy from sustainable brands, and nearly three-quarters are willing to pay more for sustainable products. Large retailers have taken notice, innovating in recycling and circularity to attract this growing clientele and reduce damage to the environment. The fashion industry’s waste comes from its total production – tens of billions of clothes are produced each year, even by conservative estimates – from water consumption and even coal. From industry leaders like outdoor clothing brand Patagonia, whose circular production model is based on designing garments to last a lifetime with care and renewal, to Parisian haute couture brand Marine Serre, whose line is constructed from about half recycled materials, sustainable solutions are spreading and accelerating across a wide range of fashion retailers.
Sustainability is the biggest challenge facing the fashion industry – and also its greatest opportunity. An investment now in circular production models can pay dividends in the future as the next generation of conscious consumers matures and their buying habits shape the industry. More retailers are exploring buyback and recycling programs, such as H&M’s Looop program, which disguises old fabrics to create new products without using new materials. Brands that are entering digital fashion often cite sustainability as a benefit, and digital designs will complement responsibly produced real-life clothing to form the hybrid fashion industry of the future.
COMPANIES STANDING OUT
- H&M Looop
- Marine Serre
“We don’t all need to reinvent the wheel, but the brands that don’t face the realities of the real cost of apparel and fast fashion, I think they will be left behind.”- Rose Marcario, CEO of Patagonia
The video game industry thrived during the Covid-19 pandemic. While organized gaming competitions have existed for decades, advances in gaming technology, accessibility, streaming capabilities, and popularity have led to an astronomical increase in their commercial potential and perceived legitimacy in recent years.
Chess grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura has more than 1 million followers on Twitch
Online chess has become streaming fever in the past year, in part due to Netflix’s hit series “The Queen’s Gambit” and the new generation of streamers on Twitch, the online gaming platform. Between January and September, viewers consumed more than 40 million hours of live chess streaming. The League of Legends world championships have recorded more than 139 million viewing hours. Twitch, the first streaming portal for eSports in the Western world, scored an impressive 17 billion hours of content last year, 83% higher than the previous record in 2019 (Twitch was acquired by Amazon in 2014). When representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) joined high-level players on Twitch for a round of “Among Us,” the stream set a record: 435,000 viewers watched to see who the imposter was.
COMPANIES STANDING OUT
- 100 Thieves
- Bethesda Game Studios
- Catalyst Sports & Media
- Bayes Holding
- Overwatch League
- Y Media Labs
Even before the pandemic, 2020 was already expected to be a successful year for gaming and eSports. New PlayStation and Xbox consoles didn’t just have minor hardware upgrades, they represented a generational leap with dramatically improved graphics processing and motion control. ESports tournaments were not done in person, but various other tournaments were, and without soccer games and boxing fights on which to bet, eSports betting gained huge new audiences in the past year. In 2020, eSports companies raised $2 billion, a 115% increase over 2019, according to Quantum Tech Partners. As audience numbers for eSports continue to rise, platforms will compete to outbid others for image and streaming rights to events like League of Legends World Championships and Fortnite shows. eSports will soon rival television as a form of entertainment due to their interaction and immersive nature. Advertisers are noticing this. Nike sponsors several professional teams. As the sport matures, so do concerns about playing fair. E-doping is already a problem in professional eSports leagues, where Adderall and Ritalin are banned substances and using a cheat-code can get you banned for life.
Digital addiction affects children as young as 2 years old.
Digital products rely on habit-forming features to be successful, but a growing body of research highlights the negative impacts these features can have on mental health and well-being.
The World Health Organization has included addictions to electronic games in the next edition of the International Classification of Diseases in May 2019, making it one of the few behavioral addictions to be formally recognized as a disease. In the world of technology, companies are responding with design changes to reinforce healthy device usage. Instagram has removed the likes preview to prevent users from comparing themselves to each other. Several startups are pursuing mini smartphones designed with smaller screens and simplified interfaces to encourage users to look at their devices less often. Google and Apple continue to develop features that help users monitor their digital well-being and screen usage time.
As concern about digital addiction grows, consumers will become less and less tolerant of “shady patterns” that use psychological patterns to induce further consumption. Every business model for media depends on dominating the attention of an audience. Since social attitudes about technology are changing, product designers must be vigilant to ensure that they are not provoking harmful behavior or damaging the physical and mental health of their users.
COMPANIES STANDING OUT
- Center for Humane Technology
Finally, important questions were suggested that can help direct attitudes within a company in the near future:
We recommend using this report to assist your strategic prospecting activity in the coming year. Every executive team should start by asking these questions:
- Is our company tracking disruptions outside our immediate industry? Which trends require a deeper understanding?
- Regarding digital dependencies, what is our position on transparency, ethics and responsibility? Do our employees understand this position? And our clients?
- Will our organization benefit if it continues with remote work? How can we reimagine our physical and digital desktops?