June 27, 2011, 11:10 AM — The corporate desktop has looked the same for decades: computer, keyboard, mouse, desk phone, maybe a printer. But do these tools dominate because they're the perfect combination of technology needed for work today, or is the enterprise workplace due for an extreme makeover?
According to industry analysts, hardware vendors, architects and futurists, the odds that major changes will revamp the standard corporate cubicle, technology tools and even buildings, rise every day.
Of course, fundamental changes like this don't happen at all once. "When you've got hardware in place, it's tough to yank it out," cautions Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group. "Some corporate PBXs are still in use from the 1980s. Faxing was declared dead in 1995, but I have two in my office."
Enderle's point is that it takes a major event to upset the status quo, but that event, or confluence of events, appears to be happening today.
The proliferation of mobile devices, the broad availability of high-speed wireless access, cloud-based services and browser-based videoconferencing mean that employees no long have to be tied to their desktop PCs.
"The desktop computer really will become obsolete," says Amy H. Tabor, director of facilities planning for RNL, a global, full-service design firm. "This change is driven by the way we work, the need for more flexibility and space use, and the younger generation expecting the difference."
Because employees are on the move, a single desktop computer in every cubicle is no longer enough. "What was once a single device computer system is now a two- or three-device environment," says Jeff Tripp, a Technology Strategist for Enterprise Clients at Intel. The extra devices are laptops, smartphones and tablets.
"It will be interesting to see if the 'desktop' term ever goes away," says Tripp, who works with enterprise Intel customers, and focuses five years in the future. "Younger kids tend to start with mobile laptops or tablets in kindergarten."
RNL, along with Steelcase and OfficeScapes, is sponsoring Workplace-2020, a digital forum to "explore workplace trends, spark discussion, and inspire debate regarding the workspace of the future." Ten years ago, RNL spearheaded Workplace-2010, and built out 6,000 square feet of office space to show off new concepts and provide a place for continued research.