Three men and a woman sitting at a desk during a business meeting.

Business collaboration tools will improve communication and efficiency in the workplace.

So, wearables and Internet of Things (IoT) tech (two device categories that have been ready to change the world for some time now) didn’t quite hit their respective zeniths last year. That doesn’t mean these super-useful, super-cool takes on business tech aren’t super-valuable to businesses, though. From business collaboration tools to customer-facing, experience-boosting goodies (and beyond), here are a few directions wearables, IoT, and other technologies could take in the very near future:

Virtual Reality

Yes, VR devices only recently started to hit the consumer market, and yes, there’s still plenty of room for the tech to grow in that space. However, ignoring these perception-altering wearables and their huge potential as business collaboration tools is a dire mistake, which many organizations are sure to discover as useful business applications for the groundbreaking tech hit the market.

For example, take Hololens, a Microsoft product primed to hit shelves in the second half of the year. For one example of the tech’s potential, architects could use it to take teams on a guided holographic tour of a proposed change to a building they’re working on. For another, surgeons could use the tech to give their colleagues and clientele a full, detailed view of the work they’ll be doing, all before a single incision is made. Imagine the headsets sitting on a workstation desk alongside desktop scanners and other peripheral tools, and you start to see the potential. It’s another way for creatives, builders, and others to share their respective visions with their companies and the world.

Data, and Tons of It

The average IoT device’s strength as a data-collection endpoint is nothing new to businesses. Indeed, metric collection undoubtedly accounts for a large amount of the annual spike in connected IoT devices, according to Statista. If nothing else, businesses love their statistics.

What does this mean for the broader world of business collaboration tools and business collaboration? In a word, everything. The team of warehouse employees trying to improve their company’s process flows could well learn from IoT beacons reporting real-time and historical employee movement. Healthcare logistics teams, on the other hand, could use IoT tools to optimize staffing, patient room placement, and pretty much anything else that requires a little logistification. If IoT-generated data was already a big deal in 2016, expect it to become revolutionary in short order.

(Even More) Unified Communications

Think about the slate of unified communications (UC) tools you probably use at the office today. You might not use every feature, but it’s nice knowing they’re all there. More, there are a few that would probably make your life really difficult if they vanished tomorrow.

To this end, expect wearable tech to slide right into its own communicative/collaborative niche soon. Here, the idea of seeing what your employees, colleagues, and teammates see tops the list. Whether you’re a real estate professional examining a property for telltale signs of damage or a code enforcer ensuring your city’s sidewalks are up to snuff (or something else altogether), the ability to quickly share what you’re seeing in real-time is highly valuable in numerous business settings. If the idea’s not something every employee in every business would use daily, it’s incredibly valuable to those who need it — the exact reason robust UC tools come with a host of features to begin with.

Efficiency Through Automation

Sometimes, promoting efficiency means looking at things employees don’t do — or wouldn’t, if they didn’t have to. Automation of rote tasks, a major focus of IoT technology, can help businesses do just that. Here, business collaboration tools can boost productivity and cut down on administrative busywork, which is certainly welcome in any team environment.

For example, a printer may automatically order ink when it’s running low or call a technician when it’s malfunctioning. Compared to watching Steve struggle with those overlong ink cartridges (and potentially losing even more productivity when he pulls the wrong tab and gets yellow ink dust all over his work clothes), that’s a lot of time saved. Going back to UC, beacon-powered presence tools that automatically update depending on your location — changing you to “busy” when you’re in the conference room, for example — further boost productivity on a subtle yet team-oriented level.

The IoT-Improved Experience

Effective CRM integration has been all the rage for a while now. IoT tech, with CRM’s remote-monitoring, data-collecting capability, has all the makings of a disruptive addition to this trend, a fact that should shine through this year and beyond.

Expect “opt-in” to be the key phrase as CRM improvements roll out and roll on. For customers, this means a chance to choose which relevant promotions (and other information) reach their eyes. On the other hand, companies can leverage this relationship to learn more about their clientele than ever before. For example, customers who opt into a digital rewards program get targeted content from wireless beacons as they walk through certain points of the store, while the store gets stronger floor-tracking and customer-movement data, helping the company create customized content that will turn window shopping into conversions.

To put that another way, the relationship aspect of CRM will be a big thing in the near future and beyond — and it all starts with customers determining that they want the relationship. If you work in a relevant space, now is the time to start the dialogue.

Let Vonage Business show you what a unified communications platform can do.

About Evan Wade

Evan Wade is an author and editor from Carmel, Indiana. As a veteran tech writer and lifelong tech enthusiast, he focuses his writing and research on communication, mobility and security. Alongside work with leading cloud technology providers and industry news sources, Evan has extensive sales and end-user marketing experience, giving him a unique view of the individual’s relationship with technology — and how organizations can realize huge benefits from it.

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A man speaking on the phone, sitting at a desk at home.

When the office is closed due to the weather, you and your team can follow these productivity tips.

When the weather outside is frightful, driving to work isn’t so delightful. However, in the digital age, corporate leaders no longer have to choose between losing productivity and asking people to venture out in unsafe weather.

Letting employees work from home on particularly wintry days is a great way to keep everyone safe and try telecommuting if you’ve been reluctant to allow employees to work remotely on a regular basis. And, you’ll figure out who can get work done outside of the office.

With the right technology and these productivity tips, even telecommuting newbies can do their job successfully from home. Share these tips with your team or use them to get your own telecommuting plan in order.

1. Find a Suitable Workspace

If you don’t telecommute on a regular basis, you might not already have a dedicated home office. You can technically work from anywhere you get a wireless signal, but some areas of your home may be better than others. For instance, nap aficionados might want to avoid working in their bedroom, lest they be lulled into an increasingly horizontal position. And TV fanatics would do well to stay far away from that black hole of procrastination.

Think about your ideal working environment. Do you focus better when it’s library-level quiet or with just a little background noise? Or, are you so accustomed to cubicle life that it’s hard to focus without hearing 10 different conversations at once? Do you prefer a neat and orderly office space, or would your desk at work make you look like an ideal candidate for an episode of “Hoarders”? Now, determine which space in your home would offer most of the comforts of work.

2. Stock Up on Supplies

When the weatherman predicts more than a flurry of flakes, skip the bread and milk and make sure you’re well-supplied with everything you’d need at work. What do you need on hand to work productively? An old-school computer, pen, and paper? A not-so-old school fridge of Red Bull? If you work with sensitive information that you aren’t allowed to access using a personal computer or mobile device, talk to your manager about bringing your work laptop home when inclement weather is expected.

3. Limit Distractions

Setting up an appropriate workspace might help you avoid distracting yourself, but unless you live alone, you may also need a plan in place to keep other people — especially little ones — from interrupting you. If your kids, spouse, parents, roommates, or neighbors are shut in with you for the day, it helps to set some ground rules up front.

You might even consider making a “Do Not Disturb” sign to hang on the door when you really need to concentrate. Let your loved ones know when you’ll take your next break so they’re less inclined to bother you with questions and requests. If all else fails, buy some noise-cancelling headphones.

4. Ensure Your Internet Connection Is Up to Snuff

Not all internet connections are created equal. Before you start telecommuting, make sure you have the bandwidth to use any necessary apps, platforms, or business collaboration tools, such as video conferencing. Of course, if the weather is particularly bad, you may lose your home internet connection. However, if you still have cell service, you can keep working using a mobile hot spot. If you don’t know how to do it, your kids can probably show you — or your trusty friends in the IT department.

Using a mobile hot spot all day can eat up mobile data, so you may have to beef up your plan or stop letting your kids stream Netflix from your phone. Most cell providers will let you scale data caps up and down as needed.

5. Save All of Your Work in the Cloud

Unless you back up your computer every day, storing work data on your hard drive is just asking to lose it. All it takes is one virus, one computer malfunction, or one misplaced device, and it’s gone forever.

By making a habit of saving everything on a company-approved cloud-based server you not only protect data from being lost or stolen, but you can also ensure you can access it from anywhere and on any device. So, if you unexpectedly need to work from home, you’re good to go.

These productivity tips will help occasional telecommuters prepare to work from home. However, if you decide to make it a more regular thing, they’ll need more than a quiet place to work. They’ll need technology that keeps them connected, productive, and able to collaborate with colleagues.

Speak to a Vonage Business consultant to learn more about cloud-based tools for your team.

Taylor Mallory Holland

Taylor Mallory Holland is a professional writer with more than 11 years of experience writing about business, technology and health care for both media outlets and companies. Taylor understands how enterprise mobility and cloud technology can reshape industries and provide new opportunities to streamline workflows, improve employee collaboration and reimagine the customer experience. She is passionate about helping business leaders understand the impact that emerging technologies can have on communication, operations and sales and marketing.

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