Kasper Ullits Houlbjerg, senior vice president, Sign In Workspace looks at what makes your office smart.
What makes an office ‘smart’ anyway? It’s easy enough to envision some hyper-futuristic design straight out of a J.J Abrams Star Trek film.
Facility and office managers today love talking about smart office solutions as a trendy thing, but our offices have actually been getting smarter since the introduction of the internet in the office setting around the mid-1990s.
So, what’s actually changed? Well, for starters, what initially defined ‘smart’ was how people communicate in the workplace. Today it’s something very different, partly because the definition of ‘workplace’ has changed. It’s not a fixed place anymore. It’s an abstraction for how we facilitate collaboration – by knowing which of our colleagues are working, where they’re working from, and how they’re working.
Optimizing this is how we make offices smarter, but you can’t know how to make your office smarter without good data.
In layman’s terms, a ‘smart’ office makes use of modern technology to boost productivity, efficiency, and employee experience by optimizing the office environment, while also keeping the office space environmentally friendly and cost-efficient.
Is there a ‘quick-fix’ way to achieve this overnight? Nope. Multiple solutions are often required, including automating basic office interactions like office, desk, and room check-in, lighting, climate controls through one or more smart office solutions so that they function autonomously based on who is present.
A company’s desk reservation approval process, for example, could be automated with a flexible desk policy and a desk booking solution. It could install occupancy sensors so meeting room overviews are constantly updated with usage information, even for spontaneous meetings. Sensors can be attached to AC-units. The point is that staff shouldn’t have physically interact with these functions.
Do you really need 300 workstations? (spoiler alert: you don’t)
Aside from how it benefits wellbeing, you can save a hell of a lot of money in operational costs with smart solutions.
Imagine a fictional company with 300 staff members. In a traditional office, you’d have one workstation per employee, right? Correct, except we don’t live in traditional times anymore. Employees working part-remote will spend an average of 50% of their week in the office. That’s half of all computers as associated equipment going to waste.
Let’s illustrate the problem in terms of cost. Suppose the annual cost per workstation at your typical modern organization is roughly in the neighborhood of $3,500 (a common figure in my experience). That’s $1,050,000 spent yearly.
So, what do you do, just remove half the desks and call it a day? No, because you need to factor in that everyone has different habits, jobs, and they live in different places - all of which affects booking patterns.
With that in mind, let’s leave a very generous margin of 25% to allow some flexibility for desk bookings. That means reducing the number of workstations to 75%, which saves the company over $250,000.
This goes to show just how dramatically one can cut down on unnecessary costs through installing some smart office solutions that give you visibility via data on how your space is being utilized. Smart desk booking systems can prove invaluable here.
How is your office actually being used? You can find out!
Another benefit from smart solutions is gaining access to data on how exactly your office is being used, down to the automated AC controls, WiFi-integrated coffee machines, occupancy sensors, etc.
Sometimes, the results from this data shocks people. One major accounting firm I know of had an issue with meeting rooms in their Copenhagen offices. Their employees constantly complained of no access to available meeting rooms.
But the data revealed this wasn’t true at all. Half the rooms were nearly always available. What gives? Closer inspection revealed that the busy rooms had a lovely view of the harbor; the empty rooms overlooked an unimpressive residential area. You can guess which rooms the employees picked. Because this data came to light, though, the team decided to do something about the problem by making small tweaks to make the non-harbor-facing meeting rooms more inviting and visually appealing.
Often, surprisingly small changes have the biggest impact – but you won’t necessarily know which changes to affect unless you have the data.
How do you make your office smart?
There are three components to a smart office:
Many systems already in your buildings can be upgraded to smart solutions through things like cloud-based property management systems, whether it’s plumbing, sign in systems, air conditioning, security systems, heat- and humidity control systems.
The smart devices in your offices are going to resemble the ones in your home a lot. The only difference is a lot more people need access.
For consumer-grade devices, this creates some potential problems. You don’t necessarily want everyone controlling the smart locks, WiFi coffee maker, or lighting with a smartphone app. You’re better off investing in occupancy sensors to make this interaction smoother.
Most offices already use room and resource booking systems, but they can benefit substantially in terms of reducing friction for employees from not just handling such bookings in a calendar system but by integrating more complex solutions with that calendar.
Similarly, more complete workspace management solutions when managing hybrid- or activity-based work, as opposed to strictly focusing on desk booking, gives employees better visibility into who’s in the office, who’s working from home, and who’s unavailable (including when working from home).
Where do you start?
Where do you start with disruptive changes, though? It often involves lots of money. The potential for disruption from installing smart office systems can cost even more.
The danger is jumping on the bandwagon of what everyone else is using without considering how it benefits your workplace. That’s why you’ll first want to look at your office utilization data – whether it’s quantitative (e.g. from solutions logging booking/usage patterns for desks and rooms, etc.), or qualitative (e.g. from employee surveys).
Understand the problem – then look for the solution. That kind of inquisitive approach should help you save a lot of money in the long term.