We use smart technology at home – why not at work?
The pandemic has changed the world of work in the last 12 months and has forced us all to rethink our ideal work environment. While companies have come under pressure to downsize their homes, the latest data suggests the physical workplace is going nowhere – three-quarters of U.S. workers are eager to return to the office.
About the author
Laurent Bataille is Executive Vice President of the Digital Energy Division at Schneider Electric.
The most likely future of work is what is known as a highly flexible “hybrid” model, where employees around the world can choose whether to work from home or from the office on certain days. While this system may require less dedicated workspace, it will require a change in the way offices are currently designed, operated, and used.
Integrated technology undoubtedly provides the key. Smart technology is no longer alien to us – in fact, a quarter of us use smart speakers in our homes. In order to meet the demands of tomorrow and to create a healthy, sustainable and productive office, it is time to bring networked technologies to the workplace.
Integration of intelligent technologies in the workplace
The question is, what exactly can companies around the world do to make the work experience as safe, efficient and productive as possible over the long term? You need to be inspired by life outside of work – if we want to set a reminder, we’ll talk to Alexa; When we want to change the room temperature, we look for an app on our smartphones. Consumer technology keeps making our lives better and more efficient by automating repetitive tasks on a daily basis. In addition, it is constantly evolving and quickly becoming more demanding and better adapted to our needs.
We are already used to using these smart tools at home. Why don’t we use them in the workplace? That’s not to say that every room in the office should simply have a smart speaker. However, we need to understand that smart systems connected to the Internet of Things are fundamental to improving the work experience for both workers and employers.
While not all employees worldwide have access to the exact same hardware and technology, you can guarantee that almost everyone has a smartphone. Imagine a downloadable building app – a virtual assistant that you can use to check if meeting rooms are free, order a drink from the cafeteria on the ground floor, change the office temperature, call an elevator, or block the time on a shared calendar to work from home. It might even get them to remind them to go for a walk or check in with a coworker after they’ve been at their desk all day. Such an asset could transform productivity and the overall work experience by making it much more personal.
It could also act as a motivational factor to get people back to the office after the pandemic has calmed down. Having real insights into air quality, office capacity and control over your personal environment cannot help but provide security and motivation to employees. Fast forward to the future and these solutions can be useful in managing EV fleets, energy storage solutions, and company employee training – work becomes a place you want to be instead of a place you have to go.
True intelligence is based on connectivity
This is hardly a futuristic technology. Why isn’t it already a reality? Automation fears are rapidly diminishing as we realize that these solutions are designed to improve the way we work, not to replace it. As a result, the proportion of global jobs that require AI has increased 450% since 2013 with no corresponding decline in human employment.
The real challenge lies in connectivity. Smart technology depends on easy and abundant access to data, but building data is notoriously isolated and difficult to access. It is common for information on room occupancy, lighting, heating and ventilation to live in separate data environments with no obvious connecting thread between them.
In order for intelligent apps to develop their full potential, we need interconnected systems to supply them with data from the entire building infrastructure. System integrators play an important role here. A central building management system can act as the “brain” of the facility, connecting all assets through open standards to create a single source of truth to be drawn from. Virtual assistants can then connect to the building management system and use the relevant data stored in it without any problems.
In nature, a closed ecosystem is likely to fail at some point. Without new ideas, people, and innovations to freshen up, a company will run out of steam and gradually turn into clutter and entropy. It can be said that the same principle applies to our buildings. Buildings must be sustainable, autonomous and software-controlled and use AI-controlled apps to revolutionize the work experience for their residents. This has the potential to give employees all the insights they need to control and improve the buildings they work in.