Aug 2, 2018

Smart offices

The Internet of Things (IoT) comes to our offices. Every month it sneaks closer into and establishes further in our workplace. On the good side, it connects us worldwide and transforms not just the technological landscape but also how we work. On the bad side, it can turn our company into a dreaded panopticum.

Stefanie Wibbeke

But let’s leave out the frightening complications which come with Shadow or Stealth IT and apply equally to authorized IT solutions during any roll-out. All new solutions have a potential risk of data loss and leaks or dysfunctions. Systems get better and safer over time – so let’s assume all mentioned solutions below are consistent with the business logic and “safe” during individual application. And let’s assume you have no major data privacy concerns, a steady power supply and bandwidth/WiFi connection as well as the budget to ensure the cost of ownership of the IoT office devices and software.

First of all, the Internet of Things makes it easier for companies to reduce their carbon footprint. Smart metering for the heating, connected lightning and aligned energy utilization with building occupancy, outside temperature, degree of sunlight and other variables transform new buildings into Green Houses. In this way, sustainability becomes manageable and scalable with true business impact. Just imagine a cohort of facility trainees rushing around the office to shade the windows or turn off the light in a 18-floor building. Or even funnier, imagine employees taking care of closing the curtains before a sunny weekend or turning off the light when leaving a room. Human performance is unreliable in such situations. But a sensor has no weekend, the internet doesn’t sleep either do the smart sensors or devices. What a bless. I couldn’t find any numbers, I just can assume that smart houses don’t kill jobs. Cause they are fulfilling demands humankind hadn’t have before, so there were no people doing it and can accordingly not be dismissed. Instead, higher skilled employees are needed in IT and facility management to install and maintain the smart systems. And employees can concentrate on their duties – as they did before – not caring about the carbon footprint of their company; actually, it might happen that they work better and more efficient when they are comfortable.
Sensors and pattern detection offer a great variety of security-related services and business purposes. Just think about the hot desk policy, some companies experiment with. Wouldn’t it be great to lead each employee to the best spot, gather them together to save energy in non-busy moments, track the usage of common spacing to find optimum usage etc. pp.

As well on the cost and energy saving side but with high impact on the collaboration are the conference and meeting tools which work more reliable and with a better user experience from month to month. I still remember the frozen faces of my interview partners when I did my first remote interviews in2007. It was a bummer and far away from the face to face presence dedicated product manager promoted. Lately I experienced the Meeting Owl – an adorable device with a 360° intelligent video conferencing camera. It amazed me as much as Google’s Jamboard or Microsoft’s Surface Hub. All of them are very smart devices, which make sense, if remote collaboration and teamwork don’t need a price tag.

That we have to reframe our attitude towards remote-present-colleagues shows this TED talk:


This “Skype on a stick on wheels” scenario might not be the best solution. But it shows two things: the power of face2face presence and the lag of functional human-robot interaction.
The Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas operates with Pepper at the minute. And I am positive that our office management wouldn’t mind to hand over all postal service inquiries to a robot – preferably tomorrow. But if you experienced Pepper yourself at a fair or wherever, you will agree that’s still a long way to go – apart from telling a joke, displaying information and being an adorable piece of plastic, Pepper doesn’t stand out conversational wise.

Many experts claim that voice-controlled devices are the next big thing in our offices. Alexa for Business e.g. will read out loud your schedule, take notes, remind you of tasks or set up a conference call. With private skills every company can enhance the services provided. The only remaining question is how comfortable the colleagues will be with virtual assistants who just did as they were told and who are continuously under suspicion of spying on their surroundings.

Apropos spying: All that sensors and online check-ins would be an excellent measurement of productivity. Just imagine your next review would be fuelled not just by your browser history (which of course no one tracks), by your movement record (which comes with that nice smartwatch you were rewarded with) or by the sentiment analysis of your latest client calls (operated with Alexa). The all-seeing-office IT and deep quantification might become your darkest nightmare. On the other hand, the slightest increase in our business efficiency can become a powerful competitive advantage (personally and companywide). A comfortable office environment can help being more productive and attracts best talents. Personally, I have mixed feelings towards the IoT-enabled office and I am not sure if all parties (employers, employees, their lobbies and all the tech guys) are ready to discuss the issues evolving in depth yet. But let’s see and “hey google, turn on the light, please!”

Stefanie Wibbeke

Marketing & Communication

Stefanie is Head of Marketing at INDEED. She is responsible for spreading the word about us through digital and social marketing, partnerships, events, and more. As humanities scholar, she questions our work from a different angle and makes us explain projects with the human experience in mind. Residing in Hamburg by choice, she couldn’t live without her daily dose of crocheting.


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