How ‘Smart’ will our offices be when we go back to work?

“The Coronavirus pandemic will change everything” / “The Coronavirus pandemic will change nothing”. We’ve heard both arguments, made vociferously.

Millions of office workers are learning that work is not just about where you are; that technology can facilitate a more flexible approach to work patterns. But we’ve also realised that to enjoy our work life and be effective, we need interaction with our colleagues.

So in our opinion, change is inevitable; the office is here to stay, but Covid-19 will accelerate its evolution from merely ‘agile’ to ‘smart’.

But used in the wrong way, ‘smart’ can be bad; In February there was a lot of negative press coverage regarding Barclay’s use of a ‘big brother’ staff monitoring system at their Canary Wharf HQ; the software tracking system installed on staff computers was allegedly being used in a way that allowed managers to monitor specific individuals’ activity, including ‘unaccounted’ time such as loo breaks.

Therefore, its important that any ‘connected technologies’ are used for the benefit of all, and that where possible, individual data is anonymised.

So what can we look forward to when our workplace is back online?

In our opinion we’ll see fewer people working ‘9 to 5, Monday to Friday’. The workplace will continue to be important for the face-to-face communications and interactions that generates ideas and create organisational value. The office also acts as a ‘hub of identity and values’ for interaction with clients, suppliers and other stakeholders.

But individual ‘process-driven’ work can be undertaken equally well anywhere, including at home, so we think it’s inevitable that the balance of work spaces within offices will continue to move from the ‘desk’ (fewer or smaller) to ‘communication hubs’ (enclosed/open/formal/informal) and touchdown spaces for individual task focus between meetings.

Assuming we’re right, then ‘connectedness’ must take on a whole different form; every individual must be able to access and share data anywhere in the building. Instead of structured cabling connected to PC’s in specific desk locations, we’ll see fast secured wireless networks.

Issues regarding speed and data security are rapidly being solved so its inevitable that wireless will be the way forward, and when that happens, the traditional restrictions to movement of furniture disappear.

But this means that buildings must respond to new challenges; how to cope with a substantially ‘mobile’ working population who all need different facilities at different times? How to locate someone who needs to receive an important client call? How to provide power to recharge all those mobile technology devices?

One of the ‘smartest’ reports we’ve seen on this subject is by British Land in association with WORKTECH Academy, you can download it here.

They show how a whole range of different elements work in tandem to create a better workplace, pointing to six key benefits of a smart office.

Briefly, these are described below:

Productivity

Productivity

Data can be generated on people, movement and location within the building and used to strategically plan and enable patterns of collaboration and interaction.

The workplace can be programmed to understand which people to bring together in the right settings with the right tools to innovate. ‘Smart’ delivers a ‘tailored’ experience that can positively influence how work is done.

Talent

Smart buildings can play a key role in attracting and retaining premium employees by supporting more agile ways of working and enhancing the user experience. Workplace apps give users individual control and choice of lighting, acoustic and ambient conditions.

Knowing who’s in, and where they are in the building, turns the workplace into a live social network and smart booking systems ensure they can get together, with the right resources available. A case study for Deloitte Amsterdam’s smart building (1000 desks for 2500 people) reports a fourfold increase in job applications and 60% fewer absentees.

Wellbeing

The ability of smart building management systems to adjust to individual need enhances wellbeing. Sensors detect changes in indoor air and water quality and then autonomously fix the issue. Light and noise levels can be monitored and altered.

Ambiance can be centrally orchestrated with changing colours, circadian lighting systems and even spatial layouts. Wearable fitness devices can collect and analyse biometric data, allowing the building to respond directly to its occupants’ state of health.

Brand

The smart office can play a key role in helping the occupier to build brand values and strengthen corporate culture. Visiting clients, partners and contractors can be sent a ‘boarding pass’ in advance of a meeting and will be able to gain access with a barcode on their smartphone.

In the future, sensor networks may recognise people as they walk into a reception area (via their wearable device or smartphone) thus giving the opportunity to highly personalise the ‘meet and greet’ experience.

Cost Control

Systems and sensors generate large and continuous volumes of data on the performance of the building and the behaviour of the people inside it. Informed by this data, designers and facilities managers can reduce costs through improved space optimisation, or the early detection of component faults and prevention of system downtime.

Sustainability

Sustainability

Better system management leads to considerable reductions in energy consumption, reducing environmental impact through more efficient lighting, thermal and ventilation control. Deloitte’s Edge building in Amsterdam is claimed to use 70% less electricity than comparable buildings.

This all adds up; the smart offices give individuals more control, enhancing their work experience and wellbeing. Employers gain many benefits including higher productivity, reduced absenteeism and lower direct costs. We all gain by using less energy.

But a truly smart office demands a smart building, which is where British Land, an eminent developer, naturally focus their attention. They point out that all this needs to be considered when a building is designed and developed, using an advanced Building Management System (BMS).

So for most existing occupiers, the initiative rests with their landlord.

However, there are things we can do now to make our offices more intelligent and responsive to employees’ needs.

Great furniture choices and layout design are good starting points, and in combination with the increasing prevalence of standalone workplace apps and secure, fast wireless technology, we can all begin to enjoy our work more in a post-Coronavirus age.

At Interion, we strive to add value to everything we do; it’s our knowledge that contributes to a better furniture solution – so if you need some good insights for agile and smart workplaces, please contact us.

You may also be interested in this article; Agile Working – What does it mean?

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