Smart offices will soon be a must-have

Brid-Aine Parnell

Tuesday 29 August 2017

The right smart office tech can vastly improve employee motivation and wellbeing and save the business money. But it’s also quickly becoming something that talented workers will demand.

Modern office employees will no longer accept flickering neon lights and cubicles with no elbow room. They want collaborative work areas and break-out rooms, remote working solutions and offices that respond to their needs – in short, they want smart offices.

While bean bags, Coke machines and ping-pong tables make the headlines for office perks, what employees really want are high-tech solutions, such as technologies that allow them to collaborate easily whether at home or in the office, and working environments that respond to their needs, thanks to the internet of things (IoT).

Business owners should want smart offices too. According to British Land’s study, ‘Smart Offices: A 2017 vision for the future’, an intelligent office space can reduce employee sickness and subsequent absence from work – which the CBI estimates is costing the UK economy around £14 billion a year. Smart buildings can also significantly reduce costs by monitoring and measuring office systems, like lights and heating, and optimising how space is used in single offices or across a portfolio of properties.

Great employee expectations

“With a smart workplace that supports productivity and innovation, attracts and retains talent, responds to the wellbeing needs of employees, underpins brand and culture, controls costs and reduces environmental impact, companies can address some of the most pressing hot-button issues in real estate in a way that we could not have imagined even 20 years ago – when smart buildings were seen as something out of a sci-fi movie,” British Land’s study says.

So far, much of the focus of the growth in the IoT has been in the consumer sector, with expanded use of smart home devices, wearables and connected cars. But Gartner predicts that businesses will be using more than 7 billion “connected things” by 2020.

“By 2020, we can expect that the smart devices and wearables that people bring to work will no longer be in search of a smart building to interact with. The physical infrastructure of the building and what people themselves carry or wear will be part of one complete smart system that both generates and acts upon all kinds of data,” British Land’s study says.

Those connected devices will include sensors and smart controls for office lighting and heating which will improve energy efficiency and sustainability, reduce costs and lead to a happier, healthier workforce.

Let there be light

It doesn’t seem likely that the small difference of office lighting and temperature control can do all that. But anyone who’s been seated under the freezing draft of the air-con unit or spent all day rubbing their eyes under neon lights can tell you how demotivating it is to be uncomfortable at work.

Smart office controls take things much further than just alleviating discomfort. They aim to support the body’s natural circadian rhythms, respond to each employee individually and promote productivity and creativity. For example, the colour of light not only has a profound effect on our body clocks, it can also be used to put us in the right frame of mind for specific tasks.

Most office managers now know that constant exposure to the blue light spectrum is bad for productivity and can lead to reduced sleep for employees. But the colour of light and how colour is used can have an even more profound effect. A 2017 study by researchers at the University of Hohenheim and the University of Applied Sciences Ludwigsburg in Germany found that using both blue and red lights as accents in work and study areas improved creativity and motivation.

The research found that, “both blue and red accent light increased strategic approach motivation compared to white accent light. Moreover, through the heightened approach motivation, colourful accent light indirectly improved creative performance.”

Smart lighting and heating that mimics day and night and even emulates seasonal changes, such as ensuring the warmth and light aren’t too stark a contrast to the outside world in winter, can vastly improve employee satisfaction and motivation, and even their health and sleep. But a study carried out by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory at the US Department of Energy found that handing over some control to employees individually also “had a measurable impact on motivation” and led to big energy savings for the company.

Sensors that tell building control where staff members are, which rooms are in use and where items need cleaning, maintenance or turning off are all part of an IoT-enabled smart office and can all lead to measurable cost savings for businesses. But according to a Schneider Electric study, 95 per cent of companies are thinking about the wellbeing of their employees and its impact on productivity when it comes to their corporate and real estate strategy.

Top talent recruitment

There is a measurable link between employees’ health and wellbeing and their productivity at work, which is not only important for existing staff members but will also become increasingly important to prospective workers.

“Amid increasing competition for top talent in key business sectors, smart buildings can play a key role in attracting and retaining premium employees by supporting more agile ways of working and enhancing employee experience,” the British Land study says.

The right smart office tech will save businesses money through energy efficiency and sustainability and improve employee productivity and job satisfaction. None of that can be easily ignored, but far more importantly, employees are starting to expect high-tech perks and without them, businesses could lose out on top talent.

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