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Voice-Activated Technology Must Advance to Support Hybrid Workplaces


The way people use voice technology has changed significantly due to the pandemic. A report from NPR called the Smart Audio Report shows that more individuals are using smart devices on a daily basis, with a 6% increase in the number of people using voice commands daily from December 2019 to April 2020.

Before COVID-19, many workers spent long hours away from home and didn’t have access to their smart devices. With the shift to remote work, people have had more time at home, leading to increased use and exploration of voice technology.

This shift towards voice-activated tech is expected to continue. Over half of employees prefer to continue telecommuting, and about a quarter want a mix of in-person and remote work. As these new habits solidify, smart speakers and voice assistants are likely to become key components of hybrid work.

Ways Voice Technology Can Develop to Support Hybrid Workplaces

Voice technology has made significant progress since the introduction of Siri. During the pandemic, grocery stores and other retailers have introduced voice technology and touchless payment options to self-checkout kiosks to enhance safety for customers. Researchers are also exploring how voice assistants can assist in the healthcare industry.

The future of voice technology looks promising, but it needs to continue evolving to become a fundamental part of the new hybrid workplace. People expect voice tech to seamlessly integrate into their existing workflows, so any issues or errors that hinder adoption could pose challenges for the widespread use of voice-first technologies.

Here are some necessary changes as more remote workers purchase and utilize smart devices:

1. Algorithms should consider various voices.

Many voice recognition technologies have been trained using only perfect diction, “standard North American English,” and clear recordings, which limits their real-world applicability.

Smart speakers and devices need to be able to recognize ambient noise, regional dialects, international accents, speech impediments, and more to be effective in hybrid workplaces.

Several companies are actively addressing these issues. For example, Google has collaborated with individuals, like a woman with a child having a speech disability, to enhance its assistants’ programming. Apple has also collected a substantial database of audio clips to improve recognition accuracy by accounting for different speech characteristics.

2. Providing new users with an excellent experience is crucial.

The initial experiences with voice technology are critical. Users expect flawless performance when initiating basic tasks like making calls. If the technology fails during these early interactions, users may be hesitant to try it again in the future.

For smart devices to be more beneficial to hybrid workers, companies must prioritize creating exceptional first impressions to enhance user adoption.

Integrating technology with laptops and computers and enabling remote control features are some aspects that workers will consider moving forward.

3. Voice technology training must be more inclusive and diverse.

Instances of biases in algorithms, such as Amazon’s hiring assistant favoring men, highlight the need for addressing diversity and inclusivity in technology. One study revealed significant misidentifications of words from black speakers by major software providers, underlining the need for improvement in inclusivity.

The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of voice-activated technologies in various aspects of life. With a growing demand for flexibility and safety measures in workplaces globally, voice technology is likely to become a permanent fixture in the future of work.

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