The Connected Office: What Does IoT Mean for the Workplace?

When people hear the term “Internet of Things,” they’re oftentimes not sure what to make of it. And why not? It can be a confusing term. On one hand, people naturally assume it means ‘things’ connecting to the Internet, since that’s what it says. But in reality, the Internet of Things really just means objects that can communicate with other objects to create a network. Importantly, this also presumes no human interaction is needed – objects can reach out to the Internet itself, but it’s not a requirement to join the IoT.

IoT is quietly spreading throughout the home, in vehicles, and through wearables. But what about in the workplace? What kind of effect can IoT have in creating a connected office?

Going back to the original definition, you’ll see that the Internet of Things means objects communicating with other objects. In other words, work. IoT is silently working for you, triggered by proximity and presence. In a workplace setting, this translates to efficiency.

The Internet of Things in the Workplace is all about Presence and Efficiency

If IoT is working for you as it should, creating efficiencies is at the core of the connected office.

Take a look at some of these examples:

Employee ID Cards

Every modern workplace has badges, and often, they allow an employee to enter places like parking garages and offices. But usually, the employee has to take some action, such as wave them near a sensor. IoT-enabled employee badges and parking cards will let people come and go in the same way cars can now drive through empty tollbooths while barely slowing down. The buildings (things) will “know” who they are, because other things (the ID cards) will have quietly communicated that fact. You can also envision the punch clock going away in the workplace of the future, for the same reasons.

Connected Meetings

In the boardroom, you have everything from frank and tense discussion, to routine and boring reading of reports. In today’s offices, interns and assistants keep track of who attended, what was discussed, and which decisions were made. In the efficient workplace of the near future, objects that could double as room decor will detect all the participants from the presence of their personal devices (ID, phone, watch) and begin automatically transcribing the meeting once all participants are present. When the meeting ends, the interested parties will receive a transcript on their phones as they’re walking to their next appointment.

Manufacturing and Warehousing

In manufacturing and warehousing, IoT will drive towards maximum efficiency as companies rely more and more on robots, autonomous vehicles, and drones to move parts and goods in and out of storage, and to where they’re needed for assembly. BLE sensors and markers in shelves and floors will not only help devices route to their destinations, but also report back to cloud-based software that monitors and coordinates movements in real-time.

Reduced Overhead

Businesses continually look for efficiency and savings, and as more and more of our tools, technology, and utilities become connected, companies will reap the benefits on their balance sheets. Smart thermostats make sense not just in the home, but also in the office. They can be connected to the power companies where intelligence about current conditions of the grid can be combined with exact weather conditions at the location for maximum power savings and comfort. Sensors in rooms ensure lights burn brightest only when necessary, and dim or turn off when there are no occupants around. Machines such as printers, coffee makers, and vending will automatically order supplies when stocks get low.

The Connected Office is Near or Already Here

Many of these examples may sound futuristic and fanciful, but the fact is that most of this technology is near or already here.

Several vendors make BLE devices, sensors, and beacons used to make proximity and presence detection possible, as well as continuously measuring surroundings, such as:

Various software technologies enable smart devices that communicate:

IoT in the Workplace Faces Key Obstacles

While the connected office may already be at our doorstep, there are still several obstacles that need to be tackled before the Internet of Things becomes the next big thing.

First, the primary obstacle to achieving not just a connected workplace, but a larger connected world, is competing standards. There are a lot of hardware vendors and software platforms for connected devices to run on, and either a dominant platform will emerge, or more likely, devices will be required to be fluent in multiple languages. We already see this in BLE sensor manufacturers like Kontakt, whose beacons can be switched between formats. The most flexible devices will handle this automatically.

Another hurdle involves regulation, as nearly all of these devices communicate wirelessly. Furthermore, the expense and investment of making a business-wide transition may be cost-prohibitive at first. Fortunately, as with most technologies, the price of connected office products will drop due to rapid adoption and scale of manufacturing.

Despite these obstacles, IoT in the workplace continues to grow its impact on how we all do business. And as our connected world becomes more prominent and immersive throughout everyday lives, expect to see this once-seen “futuristic” technology soon be as normal as grabbing your morning cup of joe.

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