We’re used to technology helping us in our daily lives, from asking Alexa for the weather update to your smartphone or watch reminding you to do something. It’s only natural that we would want to bring this comfort with technology to work with us and use it to make our day easier.
Imagine a world where workers can pre-book their favourite desk and order their morning coffee via the office mobile app before they even enter the building. And where on arrival, they are met with a desk set to just the right height and with the heating and lighting set just how they like it.
We’re much closer to this reality than we think.
And in the post-Covid world, smart technologies can support all the things workers need, from greater freedom and flexibility to a more stimulating, personalised experience with a bigger emphasis on health and wellbeing.
What is a smart office?
A smart office is a workplace where technology supports people to work better, smarter, and more comfortably.
App-powered adjustable height desks, optimal light and temperature levels which can be set to individual preferences, sensors that tell workers when a space is in use, desk booking systems; the opportunities are almost endless.
Some impressive examples include The Edge in Amsterdam. Deemed one of the smartest (and greenest) buildings in the world, it can connect workers to their work schedule, parking spot, desk, preferred temperature and more all via an app. Meanwhile, at the Watson IoT Headquarters in Munich, the building is continually learning and improving to meet occupant needs.
Here are just some of the benefits of the smart office:
- Improved productivity - in the smart office less time is spent on menial tasks like finding and booking meeting spaces
- Improved collaboration - workers can quickly and easily find space for impromptu meetings
- Attract and retain talent - with smart technologies you can provide an experience your existing and future employees will love
- Better employee wellbeing - workers can create spaces for optimal comfort according to their individual preferences
Smart offices were a trend before the coronavirus pandemic. But leveraging technology to improve the workplace has never been more relevant than right now.
When it comes to creating the post-covid workplace, one that is healthier, safer, and that offers more choice and control for employees, smart technology will play a vital role.
A safer environment
According to Forrester:
"We expect at least 80% of firms to develop comprehensive on-premises return-to-work office strategies that include IoT applications to enhance employee safety and improve resource efficiency, such as smart lighting, energy and environmental monitoring, or sensor-enabled space utilization and activity monitoring in high traffic areas.”
Coming back to the office, workers need to feel and be safe. Integrating smart technology into the workplace can give workers real-time information such as how many people are working in a given space, what the air quality is like, and how recently spaces have been cleaned.
Meanwhile, mobile access control can facilitate touchless entry to the building. Workers could even use their mobile to call the lift and give directions to the seat they've chosen in advance.
More choice and control
When workers need a space to focus, they can secure their favourite desk via the online desk booking system. An integrated sensor activates a light when a worker is using it, allowing them to focus without interruption.
Workers could even control the environment via their mobile. When walking into a meeting room or collaboration space, they could adjust the heating, lighting and ventilation through their phone in order to maximise their comfort. Workers could even set their own profiles where their environmental preferences are stored, so when visiting the office they can simply activate their profile and automatically be met with the right lighting, temperature settings and more.
Taking it a step further, the building could help workers to meet their health and wellbeing goals. There are already plenty of height-adjustable desks that come with their own app.
The Steelcase Ology desk, for example, is supported by the Steelcase Rise app. The app provides data on how much time a user has spent at the desk both sitting and standing and creates a tailored profile with activity goals and height presets. Users are simply prompted to stand when they’ve been sitting for too long, promoting healthier behaviours, much like wearable fitness devices.
For those serendipitous moments when workers bump into each other in the corridor or by the lift and want to continue their conversation, with the help of technology they can quickly identify an available meeting space and reserve it on demand. The Steelcase Find app, for example, helps employees find available spaces with the size, tech and amenities they need.
The smart office will also support hybrid collaboration. Workers can easily connect with virtual colleagues on large screens. We could see virtual reality replace video conferencing to better mimic face-to-face interaction. Perhaps in the future, virtual attendees will be able to join the conference table in holographic form.
Measuring how the workplace is used
For employers, there’s tremendous value to understanding how people are using the workplace. Especially as new space and furniture configurations are trialled as people return to work after Covid-19.
Technologies that provide this data already exists. Take Steelcase Workplace Advisor, for example, a suite of space measurement and analysis tools. It provides insights on space usage, enabling organisations to understand how the workplace is being used - and how it can be made better.
All this data is powerful information that can also help organisations to save on operational costs. By connecting to HVAC and lighting systems they can effectively ‘shut down’ areas of the building that aren’t in use at certain times.
There’s no doubt that Covid-19 will accelerate technology adoption in offices as organisations look to create better, smarter workplaces for their people.
Technology is there to change the way work happens and how people feel when they’re there. It can help people find their way to spaces, create better collaboration experiences and give them prompts to move throughout the day, all of which can have a real positive impact on their working experience.