IoT Enabled Smart Office - The Workplace Of the Future
The internet of things has brought many unimaginable changes into our life. IoT technology has simply upturned the way we do things in life. Thanks to the hyper-connectivity made possible by IoT and its allied technologies, we are able to achieve levels of productivity, efficiency and safety that were never before thought possible.
IoT has made it possible for us to live in a smarter world, surrounded by smart objects that harness the power of data to consistently improve the way they interact with us and as an extension, the way we interact with our environments. The emergence of these smart objects has made its presence felt across several aspects of our everyday lives.
If the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the traditional model of the office as the go-to workplace is rather arbitrary and quite outdated. This past year has shown us that most jobs don’t actually require people to put up with rush hour traffic and unhealthy commuter lifestyles just to get to a predetermined location to do what they could just as well do sitting on their couches.
We have come to see that the overwhelming majority of jobs out there can be adequately performed without having employees congregate at a common location. It has opened up the question of whether the office as a concept is more or less obsolete in today’s world of high speed internet connectivity and easy-to-access computing power.
The consensus among experts seems to be that offices are not going away entirely just yet - they are just going to see rapid evolution by integrating state of the art functionality aimed at offering employees a more seamless, intuitive and efficient working environment.
It is to this end that an increasing number of offices are integrating IoT technology at various levels - these integrations end up making offices more enjoyable for employees to work in while also making for greater savings and sustainability, among other benefits.
In the sections below, we’ll explore what smart offices are, how they work and why they are relevant to us in today’s world.
Making workplaces smarter with IoT
IoT technology is being leveraged in many interesting ways to make spaces more communicative, intuitive and intelligent.
We are witnessing a revolution in how spaces are designed - be it homes, offices or even automobiles, the emphasis today is on integrating technologies that allow for meaningful interaction between humans and their environment.
A lot of us are already familiar with the concept of smart homes and how they allow for a great degree of customisability and interaction, making for greater levels of comfort and satisfaction from the user’s point of view. Smart offices play a similar role in making workplaces more interactive and functional.
All that’s great. But, what IS a smart office?
Like with all things IoT, that’s not the easiest question to answer but here goes - To put it very simply, a smart office is a workplace incorporated with IoT technology in a bid to allow employees to work faster and more efficiently, while allowing them to have a better time doing so.
If that sounds too vague, that’s because the term smart office doesn’t refer to any one particular concept as much as it speaks about a certain approach to designing and optimising a workplace.
In essence, the ideology that drives smart offices is that a workplace needs to be able to interact with its users as part of an ever-improving feedback loop that progressively reduces barriers and obstacles in the way of doing business. By removing unnecessary drains to the time and energy of the employees, the smart office, in principle, allows them to focus on the things that really matter while clamping down on potential pain points.
How do smart offices go about achieving this?
Economy and better resource utilization are usually the core values around which smart offices are designed. A smart office is based on the simple concept that when resources are utilised in the most efficient and economical way possible, everyone wins.
What does that mean?
That means, anything that can shave a few seconds off an employee’s workday or make a particular process just that tiny bit less painful, adds up in the long run to the organisation’s benefit. Anything that can save the company just a little bit of money at a time adds incredible value over time to the company’s chances of success.
When tiny improvements are stacked up, one on top of another, they produce incredible and often, unbelievable results - This is what smart offices are all about.
Going by statistics, the areas where smart offices offer the most substantial returns on investment are, energy and utilities, real estate and payroll. However, only the sky’s the limit for what can possibly be achieved by implementing these principles.
The building blocks of a smart office
A smart office is made of several smart devices that work with each other in order to provide the most intuitive experience possible to the user.
Smart offices, depending on their design, may employ several different types of IoT devices and sensors that are connected to a centralised system. The basic schema goes something like this - these sensors and edge devices collect all manner of data from the workplace environment, which gets fed into a centralised system which crunches said data for meaningful patterns - any intelligence that is gleaned from these analyses is implemented into the working of the space and so the feedback loop continues.
Examples of smart office applications
Here are some pretty common smart office solutions that are starting to be implemented on a relatively large scale.
Smart climate control
This is probably one of the most common technologies that is implemented in workplaces that can be considered an example of a smart office solution.
Smart thermostats were one of the earliest IoT solutions to be adopted by the mainstream corporate world. While it’s true that this is a relatively basic form of what smart office technology can be, they are actually quite a sensible thing for companies to invest in, for two different reasons -
The first one is that energy costs often represent a significant chunk of a workplace’s overhead expenses and the second one is that internal climate conditions play a huge role in determining employee comfort levels and as a result, overall productivity.
There are a number of ways smart climate control solutions can be implemented in an office - for instance, the office could be fitted with smart sensors that track physical parameters in the environment, in real time - e.g C02, air quality, temperature, lighting etc. Some advanced systems boast of a lot more functionality than just these simple measures but they work on a similar premise.
Using IoT means that employees get a very high degree of precision in being able to control their working environments - this can go a long way in preventing petty acrimony in the workplace.
These technologies can also make for better allocation of employees’ time and attention.
This is another rather common use-case when it comes to smart office solutions. IoT-sensors are used to detect occupancy of video conference booths, meeting rooms etc, while motion sensors help in monitoring how the workspace is being utilised.
The core idea behind using IoT-sensor based occupancy detection solutions is to ensure that precious office real estate is deployed in the most judicious way possible. This means that space-saving strategies can be implemented in order to get the most out of every square foot of office space.
This has particular relevance during the pandemic as organisations try to balance social distancing measures with limited office space. Relying on IoT to make space allocation decisions makes for higher efficiency while ensuring optimal results.
Today, organisations are increasingly opting to stock their offices with IoT-equipped smart furniture that can go a long way in making an employee’s time at the office more pleasant, comfortable and interactive.
They allow employees to personalise their office experience - starting from something as simple as the ergonomics of their work position to more intricate systems that offer them feedback on their behaviour at work and offers a great level of customisability to the office experience.
For example, smart sensors deployed cleverly can go a long way towards making employees feel more at home at the workplace while offering them several options to customise their working experience.
Advantages of smart offices
So let’s say you own a company and you are wondering if it makes sense for you to invest in upgrading your office by incorporating more IoT-based smart office solutions.
You would want to know the exact benefits of implementing such a solution in your office.
When employees don’t have to spend their time and energy sifting through menial tasks or getting distracted by inconsequential details around the workplace, it means they will have more resources to direct towards the things that really matter.
This means, more of the resources at the company’s disposal go towards the actual business as opposed to maintenance, chores and organisation.
Health and well-being
Many offices today use wireless sensors to monitor and track various key parameters that correlate strongly with employee health and wellbeing. This makes for a safer and stress-free work atmosphere while also cutting down on unexpected costs to the company, in terms of work-hours lost or healthcare recompensation.
Offices that use smart automated technologies to regulate their climate control and energy expenditure will naturally tend to be more economical in the way they use power. Smart offices are associated with significantly lower ecological footprints.
This is because they calibrate their power usage and internal settings in real-time in accordance with the ever-changing vagaries of the external environment.