It’s the workplace, but not as we know it

Stimulated by the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics and wider technological advances, office buildings will become crucial to commercial success

Real estate is among the next tranche of sectors which will face major disruption. With the advancement of technology, users of real estate — from millennial workers to a generation of more IT-savvy finance directors — are now demanding more from their buildings. And the software, which will enable operators and owners to fulfill those demands, is now arriving.

Governments and smart cities are also playing their role, recognizing the huge benefits that flow from creating a new digital ecosystem.  Many businesses are embracing this change — in fact, technology has enabled companies to restructure and remodel products and services to place greater emphasis on user experience, productivity and sustainability.

Stimulated by the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics and wider technological advances, office buildings will undergo radical change and become more crucial than ever to commercial success.

It is vital that we understand the forces driving this revolution and take steps to prepare ourselves, or otherwise, risk being left behind. The future is much nearer than we think.

Smart buildings have arrived

Advanced sensor systems and the ubiquitous adoption of mobile devices, combined with the IoT, will transform the services a building can deliver — optimizing energy provision, temperature control, digital wayfinding — and, ultimately, provide a better overall user experience. The next generation of Building Management Systems (BMS) will function like the building’s operating system, taking in data and using them to make decisions on how to optimize the building’s design and performance.

These systems will produce vast reams of data. Automatic analysis of this information will cement the link between building performance and business objectives. The operational and tactical management of workplaces will be delegated to algorithms that will support the productivity of staff. In the near future, buildings will be able to marry building usage data with information about individual staff movements and work habits to engineer collaboration between staff members, increasing cooperation and driving business success.

On a more operational level, smart buildings will monitor individual devices (such as TVs, PCs, and desk lamps) via Power over Ethernet technology — switching them off remotely when not required — making the building more sustainable and cost effective.

The most innovative buildings have already embedded some of these solutions. Deloitte’s The Edge in Amsterdam, is perhaps an overused case study but nonetheless relevant. Equipped with more than 30,000 sensors, employees are connected to the building via an app, which helps them to find parking spaces, desks or even other colleagues. Sensors are also used to monitor temperature, movement, light, CO2 and humidity. As a result, it uses 70 per cent less electricity than comparable office buildings.

Data in the driving seat

Smart buildings will soon go beyond optimizing the building’s design and performance and move into informing the very way workplaces are designed. Sensors will compile data on space usage within the office building and the analysis of the data will reveal crucial information on work patterns and people’s behaviors. This will translate into optimized office space and a business strategy that will place individuals’ needs at the very core of it. Put simply, buildings will adapt to fulfill employees’ needs, and not the other way around.

Technology and the IoT are already being harnessed in the workplace as an instrument for businesses to improve performance and user experience. Of course, monitoring employee movements does raise questions over privacy. However, if businesses are able to demonstrate that the use of such technology is for the benefit of employee’s user experience, its adoption should be supported. Once workers realize the tangible benefits these systems bring to their working day, they will be more likely to approve on grounds of privacy.

Elsewhere, a leading American bank used sociometric badges to identify why some of their call center employees were more productive than others. Realizing that the most productive employees were those that took breaks together, the bank rescheduled employees’ breaks to maximize interactions and saw a 10 per cent increase in productivity.

When sociometric badges and similar technologies become suitable for use at scale, it will be possible to assess the impact of workplace design changes on business in real time. The offices of the future, again powered by devices and data, will go one step further.

The future of workplaces

By 2030, we predict that the tactical and operational management of workplaces will largely be undertaken by algorithms analyzing millions of data sets. Buildings will be able to link location data with information from corporate databases and social media to engineer interactions between staff members. Offices will soon become part of the management team of any business — for example, notifying one employee working on a project that another specialist is nearby and suggesting a meeting. Automated scanning of work emails could also lead to pre-emptive meeting suggestions.

We are on the cusp of a hugely transformative period that will see rapid technological advances fundamentally altering not just where we work, but how. In the not too distant future, every successful business will have technology at the heart of its operations, and our working lives will never be the same.

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