NOOR Architects Consultants is at the fore of figuring out what architecture looks like when freed from the limitations of physics and physical space. The Indian firm applied its real-world creative process to the metaverse, creating a digital extension of its Chandigarh studio for architects and clients to test boundaries and explore emerging technology. What began as a creative side project is already showing commercial potential: NOOR used its metaverse-based studio to imagine a brand’s experience center—a project that’s now underway in the physical world.
10th Most Influential Project of 2022
Consider the lotus leaf: naturally water-repellant, through a combination of surface structure and waxy coating. Two engineering professors at Canada’s McMaster University took inspiration from this natural wonder to design a surface coating that naturally repels liquids and particles. And in February, the team announced trials showing RepelWrap fends off not only bacteria, but viruses as well. That makes this new entrant a possible gamechanger in the antimicrobial-coating market—expected to grow nearly 12 percent annually through 2025. The product shows wide potential utility for high-touch areas—from workplace doorknobs to hospital equipment, school railings to concert hall seats. Just ask FendX Technologies, which purchased licensing rights to the formula.
A screen full of people’s faces is fine, but when it comes to encouraging creativity and collaboration, most virtual meetings fall flat. So U.S. tech company Miro set out to liven things up a bit, unveiling Miro Smart Meetings in October 2021. The suite of digital tools brings both visual creativity and distraction-busting structure. Think sticky notes and virtual whiteboards that can accommodate up to 1,000 users, plus an AI-powered tool that can instantly sort similar sticky notes and create visualized themes. There are also meeting templates—designed in collaboration with Deloitte, Dropbox and Salesforce—tailored to specific types of gatherings, including design sprints, retrospectives and planning sessions. In January—the same month Miro achieved unicorn status with a US$400 million funding round—it rolled out a new developer platform, allowing enterprise clients to embed Miro’s tools in any app, product or site.
From airline check-in kiosks to grocery self-checkout stations, businesses are increasingly embracing self-service (and the labor savings it brings). With Beti (short for: Better Employee Transaction Interface), Paycom brings those capabilities to payroll. Many employees are already largely responsible for their own timecards, expense reports, time-off requests and benefits. Now, at companies using Beti, employees can review, verify and initiate their own payroll, sparing HR departments the time and hassle. Unveiled last year, the employee-driven payroll system automatically identifies errors and missing information, then guides employees through resolving them—before payroll is run. The result, the company says, is fewer errors (and costly corrections) and a greater sense of financial empowerment among employees.
As any onboarding veteran will tell you, explaining the same internal processes to every new hire can be both tedious and taxing. The same goes for any real estate agent answering the same 10 questions about each house or brands answering customer-service queries. Recording hundreds of hours of video to handle such tasks can mean huge outlays of time, as well as expensive equipment and production costs. A new option? Outsourcing these communiques to Hour One’s AI-driven video platform, Reals. The service lets users generate engaging videos with photorealistic presenters based entirely on written text. The life-like presenter speaks what’s written—naturally and fluidly—in the user’s choice of languages. Launched in November 2021, Reals also allows users to customize the speaker’s look and the images that appear beside them, generating finished videos within minutes.
Robust benefits have become table stakes for organizations looking to woo top talent. And fertility benefits—which can signal both a family-friendly workplace and a commitment to inclusivity—are surging: While 27 percent of large employers covered in vitro fertilization prior to the pandemic, that number jumped to 36 percent in 2021, and among very large employers, 47 percent now provide coverage, according to Mercer. Carrot is helping companies meet the moment with a first-of-its-kind, at-home test that allows employees to have a broad panel of fertility-related biomarkers assessed by mailing in a blood sample and meeting virtually with a clinician. Expansive, inclusive and convenient? Sounds like a triple threat tailor-made for the modern workforce.
Paying and reconciling invoices can be a headache for companies and customers alike. To help businesses smooth that friction (and get paid faster, with less follow up), Danish fintech Aiia and global payments giant Mastercard developed Pay by Link. Unveiled in June 2022, the new feature allows businesses to send customers a simple link—whether by email, social media chat, text message or even physical letter—which they can use to pay an outstanding invoice, minus any need to manually enter bank details or payment info. On the business’s end, that payment is instantly reconciled against the open invoice. Initially trialed by a Nordic accounting firm with some 77,000 clients, Pay by Link will roll out to businesses across Europe by the end of 2022.
Employee error often ranks as one of top causes of organizational data breaches. But security training aimed at non-IT employees is often either painfully dull or woefully infrequent. Could gamification and microlearning breathe fresh life into the anemic world of employee security training? Project leaders at Arctic Wolf seemed to think so. The company’s Managed Security Awareness education program skips conventional presentations and one-and-done trainings in favor of short, “Hollywood quality” videos, interactive lessons and quizzes, while leaderboards and badges encourage friendly competition among coworkers. The enterprise program tailors content to specific industries, roles and certification needs. And rather than rely on completion rates as a signal of security, the program was designed to track behaviors—like employee performance in simulated phishing attempts. Enthusiastic reception from breach-fearing orgs has helped fuel Arctic Wolf’s explosive growth, with both revenue and headcount doubling since mid-2020.
The edible plant visionaries at Berlin’s InFarm have established themselves as forward-thinking food producers, using machine learning and Internet of Things sensors to increase crop yields at their vertical urban farms. But last year, the company announced an ambitious goal: Create 100 sustainable, climate-resistant growing centers for restaurants and grocery stores around the world by 2030. This global megaproject is already well underway, with facilities in London, Paris, Copenhagen, Toronto, Seattle and Tokyo. The compact operations aren’t just high tech, but high yield. And thanks to the data they generate—on everything from crop health and water use to cost per plant—they’re also high efficiency. The result? Lower-cost, supremely sustainable crops that can be grown within walking distance of urban eateries and grocers.
It’s an odd paradox of the working world: Nearly every business uses video these days, whether for social media posts or training tutorials, but few rank-and-file employees have the skills to do the job well. The barrier to entry is simple—most video creation programs assume extensive prior knowledge. If you’re not trained in video content creation, using the platforms can be like learning a new language. Enter Canva, the visual communications company known for its simple drag-and-drop digital tools. With the October 2021 launch of its Canva Video Suite, the Sydney startup is out to democratize the process of video capture and editing, making it accessible and intuitive for users of all experience levels. Creators can splice footage, reorder shots, layer in cinematic transitions between scenes, add animations and set it all to music from a library of 27,000 songs. And the software is optimized for mobile apps, meaning any and all of these previously pro-level functionalities can be used on the go—no fancy equipment required.