The beginning of a new year brings with it a flurry of optimism: Will this be the year our business gets its big break? Is this the year we find love, or finally achieve that long-term goal? As 2016 has ended and we are well into 2017, I’d like to look back at the technology of 2016 and offer predictions about what we might see in the workplace of the future. What will work look like in 2017 and beyond? What challenges will we face, and what opportunities will we finally embrace? Here’s what I think we can expect for the future of the workplace.

Leverage Machine Learning for Maximum Efficiency

I talk about artificial technology a lot in my business, and I believe it’s time for mainstream adoption in the workplace. I’m not talking about the gimmicky, chatbot antics businesses have used in the past. Sure, chatting with a pumpkin spice latte on Twitter may be a source of entertainment, but it isn’t fully realizing AI’s business value. When I look at 2017 and beyond, I see a spike in machine learning that helps our workforce perform faster and more efficiently. Employees will no longer expend energy on menial or repetitive tasks; instead, they will be able to focus on jobs that require their specific expertise.

Many experts take a “doom and gloom” view of machine learning and the rise of robots, lamenting they will overtake human jobs en masse in the near future. I tend to take a more optimistic approach. Robots will help us do our jobs more efficiently, but there’s no replacement for empathy and genuine customer service. A business is only as good as its employees, and those employees will continue to be people.

Embrace Managed Services and Cloud Adoption 

If you’ve been thinking about using more managed services or moving your data to the cloud, it’s time to act. I see more companies in the future migrating their data and applications to the cloud, and working more with service providers. Technology moves so quickly that your IT departments are under constant pressure to keep up. Managed services help your IT departments work on more industry-specific troubleshooting and the development of processes that will make your entire enterprise more efficient. We rarely think of IT as the most important cog in our organizational wheel—but if our tech isn’t working at max capacity, the entire company suffers. In the future, I predict in-house IT will take on a more specific role as managed services handle the big stuff.

Cloud computing will take off in a big way, because we’re beginning to see an influx of cloud providers who offer hybrid solutions and maintain regulatory compliance for high-security fields, such as healthcare and finance. Our companies now generate huge amounts of data, and that trend will only continue. Instead of trying to manage our data on in-house servers, we’ll soon store it in the cloud.

Work from Home, Not an Office

Remote work is hardly a new concept, but we’ll see the number of work-from-home opportunities increase exponentially in the near future. A key driver for this trend will be employers leveraging the benefits of hiring freelancers rather than employees. Hiring freelancers gives employers access to a global pool of talent. There’s no lengthy hiring process, no benefits package to consider, no required health insurance to provide. Workers also have more freedom in their assignments, work hours, and office locations.

Are workers taking on freelance opportunities because they like the flexibility, or because they can’t find full-time work? Approach freelance opportunities in a manner that is commensurate with your company culture. Make your organization an enjoyable place to freelance, and you’ll get quality-outsourced work in return.

Improve Your Company’s Mobility

Lastly, we’ll see more mobility in the workforce. Again, this is not a new trend, and the BYOD movement has already experienced widespread adoption. I think we’ll see workplaces become more mobile as companies realize a physical office location is no longer essential. Video collaboration and digital workplace tools allow employees to work together to achieve business goals without being in the same room. Physical workspaces will slowly be replaced by digital spaces.

Predicting future trends is always entertaining, but none follow an “all-or-nothing” approach. While we will see an increase in digital workspaces, freelancing, and AI, I don’t expect these trends to overtake the workforce in the near future. I still see physical workspaces and human employees on the horizon.

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This post was first published on Convergexyz.com