What does the office of the future look like? One thing is for sure, there will be a lot of connected technology. Businesses are already adapting to innovations like mixed reality, the internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) in their daily operations. Naturally, companies will apply these same technologies to their buildings and offices to improve energy management, reduce mechanical downtime, and improve employee satisfaction and productivity.
If done improperly, however, a smart office project could amount to wasted money and mass confusion. So be sure to consult with an expert or professional firm on the creation of smart offices before implementing your own plan; a good partner will help you design and build a system that meets your needs, without going overboard.
While every office will be designed differently according to each company's unique needs, there are a few components that are critical to making the smart office truly intelligent. In this roundup, Business News Daily looks behind the drywall to see what makes the office of tomorrow tick.
Sensors, sensors and more sensors
Wiring an office with sensors allows for automatic responses to any number of stimuli, such as changes in light, temperature or motion. Picture the following: You pull up to the office's garage, and the door automatically opens when nearby sensors identify your license plate. Meanwhile, upstairs, the blinds have automatically adjusted to the amount of sunlight flooding into the room, and the thermostat has adjusted accordingly to find a suitable temperature. All of this is done based on information collected by the sensors outfitted on the building. Deloitte's smart office in Amsterdam, for example, features 40,000 sensors in total!
Internet of Things
Working in unison with the sensors is IoT, which allows for the collection and retention of data transmitted by the sensors. This means that, over time, companies can glean trends from the collected data, such as how often a meeting room is occupied or which workstations are used most frequently. In the long run, this sort of information can offer companies the ability to make wiser decisions, like where to invest or how to decrease waste. IoT also enables predictive and preventative maintenance, identifying when something is likely to go wrong with a machine – say the HVAC system – and then dispatching maintenance to repair it before a critical failure.
IoT also means that the new "smart devices" in the office, like those automatically adjusted blinds or the self-regulating thermostat, can essentially learn patterns of usage and adjust accordingly. For example, if a thermostat continues to adjust itself as the seasons change, it will be able to adopt the most optimal levels depending on the time of day and the particular season, even shutting down completely when the office is not in use to save the company money on energy usage. IoT can also be used to determine when replenishable items, like air filters, need changing based on their usage. Think of IoT as the central nervous system of the smart office.
No need to fear a robotic takeover; artificial intelligence (AI) in the office will more likely be used to enhance the decision-making process rather than to push human jobs out. Whether AI is used as a tool to govern investments or to automatically update customer relationship management systems, machine-learning is a way to automate or supplement important tasks that humans often carry out alone today.
For example, artificial intelligence (along with IoT) plays a massive role in smart energy management. The IoT system delivers sensor-collected data to a centralized source, where it is contextualized by AI and then delivered to decision makers, oftentimes with a list of recommended actions. The AI is also responsible for flagging anomalies or potential problems, like if a machine is drawing an inordinate amount of power; this is what helps to enable the preventative maintenance. In this way, it augments and supports human knowledge and decision making, rather than supplanting it altogether.
Companies incorporating AI into their operations will need to ensure the proper level of cybersecurity is implemented as well. Once the system is protected, however, AI could open possibilities that even its developers didn't foresee.
Virtual and augmented reality
You might think of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) in terms of video games or immersive videos, but both VR and AR – together, mixed reality – have practical uses in an office setting as well. As remote workers and decentralized office spaces become more commonplace, hosting a meeting can be difficult; no matter how effective your videoconferencing system is, keeping participants engaged is not always easy. That's where VR comes in.
A VR meeting room will bring all the participants together, as if they were sitting around the same table making eye contact and picking up on the subtleties of one another's nonverbal communication. When you're hosting a meeting in-house or delivering a presentation, AR allows you to change the appearance of the room, perhaps overlaying important graphics or interactive features along the walls or on the table. Employees can also use AR to place digital reminders or updates on their personal workspaces.
Floorplan and office design
Technology isn't the only component of a smart office. Designs and floorplans are improving as well. Gone are the cubicle farms of yesteryear; now office spaces are incorporating more open, fluid designs into the workplace.
"In addition to the types of technology being utilized in smart offices, office design itself is changing quite drastically," Alan Ni, director of vertical marketing for Aruba, an HP company, said. "Rather than the traditional walled-off offices and set, one-size conference rooms, today's smart offices increasingly include open floorplans, with flexible spaces that can be used for various purposes throughout the day. Driven by mobility, the IoT, and consumerization of technology, modern office design is working to ensure form and function work together seamlessly.
Each of these systems and concepts work together in concert to provide a unified smart building and office experience. These technologies have the power to change buildings from simple brick, mortar and steel constructs into living, digital organisms that can read and react to current conditions in an automated manner. As a result, greater waste reduction, efficiency, and productivity can be realized, all while delivering a more satisfying workplace experience to the people inside.