This is the first part in a four-part series on the future of technology in the office. This post explores what the office will look like in the year 2020, which is less than two years away.

Technological advances over the two decades have revolutionized the office place, to the point that the way we do things in the office looks nothing like how we did them in the 1990s. Hard copy, fax and “snail mail” are rapidly going the way of the dinosaur as we create, share, sign and collaborate on documents digitally online, transferring them from one desktop to the other with a click of a button. Office staff rely more on their computers and mobile devices more than ever before. “Down time” used to mean we wrote things down on paper while IT worked on our computers. Today, “down time” means the office is closed until the system is up again.

The technology doesn’t appear to be slowing down, either; in fact, changes are happening faster than ever before. In this first article in a four-part series on Technology in the Office Place, we explore some predictions of what the office place might look like in 2020 if trends continue as they are.

More People Working in the Office

While Internet technology has enabled more people to work from home, businesses are beginning to see that an overemphasis on telecommuting is causing staff to become more isolated and less collaborative. In the next few years, we can expect the tide to shift in the other direction, with companies encouraging their workers to come back into the office. According to Forbes, IBM has already put an end to their remote working program, while tech giants Apple and Google are both renovating their work spaces to encourage more interaction and collaboration. More people working on-site is likely to mean less reliance on personal computers and devices, placing more pressure on companies to provide the necessary hardware and infrastructure to staff their offices.

More Virtual/Remote Collaborations and Partnerships

Even as offices become more populous, we expect to see increased partnering and collaborations between companies serving the similar demographics in different verticals. New technologies like smart contracts, blockchain and microservices architecture are making these partnerships more seamless and scale-based than ever before, paving the way for more powerful digital ecosystems that encourage “frictionless business.”

Heavier Reliance on VoIP Technology

With Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) enabling a whole new arsenal of communications features at reduced costs, this market has been growing by more than 15 percent per year as an increasing number of companies leave conventional PBX phone systems behind. AT&T is on track to completely end its landline service, going completely to VoIP by 2020. According to Larry Hettick of Network World, the complete switch to VoIP “is not a question of if, but when.” Even as this technology makes our communications more fluid, it will also require more hardware, infrastructure and reliance on uptime.

Integration of AI Technology

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is no longer the stuff of science fiction, and innovators are finding more and more ways to integrate it into the workplace, setting the stage to change the way many offices function by 2020 and beyond. According to Forbes, 20 percent of companies already integrate AI in the form of “chatbot” services to replace person-to-person online chat. This percentage is expected to more than double by 2021. AI is also paving the way for advances such as Intelligent Distributed Systems, smart infrastructure and the so-called Internet of Thinking.

Taken together, these changing technologies not only mean more reliance on new hardware, applications and infrastructure—they also mean a great increase in the dismantling of legacy systems as existing hardware becomes obsolete. This will require companies to become proactive in how to deal with the resulting e-waste in a sustainable manner.