The smart office market is predicted to reach a value of $46 billion by 2023, as more companies increase their productivity through IoT solutions. Connected offices use IoT tech to join the physical and digital universes together, improving employee access, comfort, and efficiency.
As this smart office market continues to expand, so do the benefits and challenges. And, like with all emerging tech, there are specific role models who continue to adopt and redefine connectedness, setting the bar for their industries.
1. Automate routine tasks through robotics, smart devices, machine learning, and more. With more time to invest in more influential activities, employee satisfaction and engagement increases. Essentially, smart devices become work partners for human beings so companies get the best of both worlds. Fewer employees are needed to achieve similar results, and, for more repetitive tasks, automation mitigates potential for human error.
2. Deliver a higher level of environmental comfort with new efficiencies. Offices are complex ecosystems. They need reasonable temperatures, easy access to fresh air and water, etc. In fact, a study from Business Insider revealed natural light to be the top priority for office workers. It’s not always easy to accommodate all of these expectations when you aren’t Google.
IoT building technology provides some solutions. It offers savings for HVAC systems, and air quality sensors yield sophisticated feedback. Smart office furniture warns employees if they’ve been sitting for too long, and various devices offer an interface between environmental settings and individual workers’ needs.
3. Automate equipment maintenance and supply cycles. “I don’t know why this isn’t working, should we try again?” Presentations and remote meetings are breeding grounds for IT issues–and frustration. IT departments can slash the number of help tickets when smart machines proactively report on their own statuses.
This predictive maintenance is just as imperative for the actual assembly line. When supplies update themselves automatically, nobody has to delay projects or make expensive last-minute orders. Efficiency 1, Added cost, 0.
4. Take safety and security up a notch. Protection from cyber crime is hot and getting hotter. For most physical hazards (such as fire–probably the hottest), there are already proactive and reactive solutions. Through connected technology, unauthorized entry alerts, for example, can be placed on everything from physical doors to company databases.
Facial identification and other biometrics provide positive ID for accessing physical spaces, as well as information caches. This access is individualized for each organization member.
5. Track employee needs for better retention. Office space “hotelling,” which has been around since the 1990’s, is surging due to the ease with which a connected office can use and assign its space.
On an individual level, intelligent systems monitor output from individual workers, allowing HR departments to make projections about who is higher risk, most engaged, highest performing, etc. This insight leads to proactive outreach, solving problems and tailoring roles to leverage individual talents.
With mobile came Bluetooth–and it continues to play an important role in mobile evolution. Inexpensive BLE (Bluetooth low energy) technology is specifically designed for IoT applications, transmitting digestible packets of data, requiring minimal battery power. This technology provides offices with many types of sensor-based data, including occupancy mapping and smart meeting spaces. Bluetooth projects a ten-fold increase in annual sales volume of indoor positioning and location devices by 2022.
Robots! They have a special place in our hearts as consumers. But now they are making more common appearances in offices as well, via the “robots as a service” platform. Not in the Transformers or Short Circuit sense perhaps, but the box gets checked. These robotic devices are the means to a mobile conference platform and web camera, enabling effortless internal and remote collaboration. Alexa for Business and other digital assistants integrate easily with IoT devices, customizing thousands of voice commands to satisfy individual office needs.
Smart devices collect and transmit data, but this massive information stream would be useless without the intelligence to manage, store, and analyze it. IoT analytics provide insight about daily operations, revealing trends and informing strategy for managing complex systems. In short, the analytics makes the data meaningful and actionable.
Employee needs and expectations are highly variable. A smart office interprets issues and learns how to solve for them through automation. Creating seamless solutions where possible and providing real-time options for every work style. When personal choices fuel intelligent systems that can be accessed via touch screen or voice command, your workforce has the tools to build a better work experience.
Every office has its shortcomings, both obvious (e.g. not enough space) and latent (e.g. a space that is not being maximized for collaboration). The connected office revolution is no silver bullet. As IoT takes root in the workplace, so do the inherent risks and questions.
The increasing number of IoT devices in smart buildings means greater access for cyber criminals. The smarter the building, the more vulnerable its intellectual property could be, if not implemented well. Furthermore, a growing number of remote workers are using personal devices, broadcasting location and providing unprotected backdoors for hackers to access company information.
HQ can benefit from connectivity right alongside its remote resources–as long as they perform their due diligence. Introducing protections against industrial espionage and garden-variety ID theft is a large part of that QA. Encrypted storage is essential, as are clear rules about remote use of company networks. Your internal team or service provider should create and regularly update an IoT threat mitigation program.
For many employees, IoT innovation instills more confidence and productivity. But in some offices, and perhaps certain industries that are longer in the tooth when it comes to their day-to-day approach, workers can be skeptical about being watched or replaced by machines. Hey, Google, is Jeff flossing at his desk again? Release the hygiene bots.
For example, biometric smart badges can do more than provide access to various areas and equipment. They have the ability to allow employers to monitor employee emotions in real time, keeping track of conversations. The proliferation of wearables and biological monitoring is just getting started. That being said, to maintain employee trust, companies must give workers a say in any personal monitoring, and the benefits need to be defined. Not to fear, however. Privacy laws around these developments will check and balance with their usual vigor.
At their 96,000 foot Toronto headquarters, Cisco Canada’s cloud-based IoT smart building technology allows employees to personalize their work environments. The system learns and automates each individual’s preferences, while also proactively alerting the operations team about possible building problems. Seventy-three percent of employees report greater productivity as a result of feeling more physically comfortable, and Cisco Canada has saved 15.8% on HVAC energy costs.
This digital advertising company envisioned its NYC headquarters as a standout in innovative workspaces. Ironically, a large part of the story ended up being a simple question of hot or cold. Requests for warmer and cooler workspaces from employees in the 110,000 square foot building overwhelmed the facilities team. After employees were given personal controls via the Comfy application, over 69,000 temperature requests were made to the app, while requests to the operations team itself dropped to near zero.
Deloitte is the principal tenant in the Edge Building, a 40,000 square meter office building often named the world’s most intelligent office building. Every worker uses an app to communicate with the building: arranging work and meeting spaces, parking, gym use, as well as customizing temperature and lighting. In addition, it tracks and charges for individual waste generated, encouraging conservation. Control and accountability to the nth degree.
IoT is, by nature, incremental and scalable. From the inside out, machine learning, combined with specialized data and personalization helps direct us toward maximum productivity in the workplace. Companies should decide which smart system makes sense for them based on the same principles for all emerging tech: satisfying user needs with meaningful experiences and delivering business solutions.
Time to get up–you’ve been sitting too long.