The future of the workplace

Podium: Bill Gates; From a speech by the chairman of Microsoft to a recent meeting of chief executives in Seattle, Washington, US

THIS IS still a world that's very, very paper-driven. You know, I said last year that paper forms were on their way out, but even if you got rid of paper forms, as people go to meetings and take notes, and since people want to have long documents to read and scribble on, there's a lot of ways that paper is going to be with us for quite some time. And the whole way that you tie in those paper systems into these digital systems, there is a lot of impedance there; it's a lot of trouble.

The computer has not made it as easy to find things as we'd really like. You know, most people can probably find things in their office, in their drawers or on their messy desk top, a lot faster than they can find it by giving commands on the computer screen. And in some ways that's a limitation of the software; in some ways that's because we haven't made the categorisation of documents as rich as it needs to be. And there are a lot of advances taking place in that right now.

Today, when people think about interaction, when they think about meetings, they still really think about all being in one place, having everyone there together. That's just one kind of meeting. You come together in a room and take the time, and no matter what the type of meeting is, you will find there are no digital tools to help you out to run that meeting in a new way.

You know, it's kind of a mania today. You can't pick up a newspaper without reading about how the Internet is revolutionising this or that. But when you really look out at the statistics and see the percentage of people who are using it, or even when you look at companies that often say they have electronic mail, and you look at the volume of messages that are out there, you get a clear sense that we have a long way to go.

Even the most basic elements - such as the usability of these systems, making them easy to set up - we can do a lot better as an industry. And year by year we have to make sure we remember those basics. One way that we try to stay in touch with that is by asking someone to go out and just talk to the man on the street, sort of get the consumer's view of what they think of all these new developments. And so we hired somebody to do that. But we still have a long way to go.

The concept of giving the knowledge-worker tools is not really something that can happen in a bottom-up way. It's not something that can be done division by division or even project by project. A lot of the infrastructure is a one-off cost.

As we go forward, we see the idea of having office information wherever you go. You often hear people now talk about these different devices, different screen sizes connected up either through wired or wireless networks. What we want to get to is where you can go anywhere and, if you have a screen, you can authenticate it, whether that's by using a password or a little card for a voice print - however you identify yourself, your information is immediately available in the form that you customise it in, so your digital dashboard appears wherever you go.

We also want to make some advances that have to do with how you think of the screen and paper, and really get the screen to be superior in every way - and finally get natural interaction with the computer. And all of these things are highly achievable over the next five years. I think these will be common sense in that time period, in the same way that there was a point at which computers were not graphical - they just had text up on the screen - and people were highly sceptical.

Well, within five years every computer had changed to work in that new way. So these concepts I think will be surprising in how quickly they move out and get implemented.

A classic example of using technology to get people together and get things done faster was when British Petroleum had an oil rig go down and was able to use a cheap video-conferencing capability to get up and running very rapidly. The interesting thing was that that anecdote spread throughout the company, and so now BP today is really one of the leaders in terms of taking the online meeting capability that's built into the PC, called NetMeeting, where you can share screens, work on a spreadsheet together and work on a document together.

It's used very widely because there was a key example that made people recognise that this being able to work at a distance really is a viable technology.

There are a lot of revolutionary things now that are within our reach. The technology itself is available to everyone. So it's how you use these tools inside the company that's going to provide the competitive differentiation.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
Arts and Entertainment
Clothing items bearing the badge have become popular among music aficionados
musicAuthorities rule 'clenched fist' logo cannot be copyrighted
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson will star in Seth MacFarlane's highly-anticipated Ted 2

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in 'Gone Girl'

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?