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The potential benefits of the smart office have come into sharp focus in the last few years as businesses re-assess their real estate requirements in response to the growth of hybrid working and the demand for greater energy efficiency.
A survey of 278 executives by McKinsey in August 2020 found that, on average, respondents planned to reduce office space by 30 percent as more employees chose to work from home or adopt a flexible working approach, with only occasional visits to the office. Energy costs have risen sharply following the war in Ukraine, making it essential to improve energy control. This perfect storm has accelerated the growth of smart office solutions.
This article explains the concept and scope of today’s smart offices, describes the key components and outlines the benefits of deploying smart office technology.
What is a smart office?
So, what is a smart office? It’s important to understand what a smart office is because definitions and interpretations change as the smart office technology evolves.
According to a definition by Gartner, a smart office is a physical or digital environment in which people and technology-integrated systems interact in an open, connected, coordinated, and smart ecosystem. In a smart office system, automation and technology improve the workplace environment and associated costs through energy efficiency, enhanced security and streamlined business processes.
Another way of looking at it is how smart office technology and smart office systems are designed to improve the workplace, offering management and automation tools to help employees work smarter, better and faster.
The increasingly digital workforce means people now rely on technology in order to complete their daily tasks. The role of smart office technology in a responsive workplace is used to make the environment intelligent and adaptable to occupation levels and workflows. Here, connected technology, data analytics and smart office automation ensure the workplace can adapt to the specific needs of the workforce on different days.
Smart office spaces have evolved from their original aim of controlling costs by managing environmental factors to providing the foundation for an enhanced employee experience in the workplace. In response to these shifts, the definition of what is workplace technology is also changing. Smart offices are powered by workplace technology that leverages machine-learning capabilities, IoT (Internet of Things), big data, and intelligent analytics. These advanced smart office solutions are built into everything from sensors to cameras, giving property managers the ability to gather and analyze a vast amount of data to make more informed business decisions. With a changing workforce and new work trends, a new kind of technology-driven office is evolving in response to the challenges of the next-generation workplace.
Types of smart office systems and products
Not all smart offices have to use every type of technology outlined here. In fact, the best combination of solutions is the one that is most impactful in achieving the goals of a company or space.
Smart office products can monitor and automate environmental elements that impact the quality and sustainability of the workplace, from lighting to heating to air conditioning. Smart office solutions should also incorporate products that improve operational efficiency, encourage collaboration and ensure a safe, secure workplace.
Smart lighting solutions use sensors to turn lights on or off in line with occupancy. For example, lighting controls can be integrated with automated blinds to maximize levels of natural light and reduce lighting costs. Daylight sensors adjust the dimming of the lights to match the required level of light at different times of the day. Motion-activated lights can prevent lights from being left on when nobody is using that area, and can also double as a physical security measure.
Smart HVAC systems automate the control of heating and air conditioning systems, adjusting temperatures in line with occupancy levels and weather forecasts, reducing energy costs and ensuring a comfortable working environment. Connected to building management and analytics tools, these solutions can also help businesses identify and address potential issues faster.
Environmental sensors for smart offices monitor air-based and sensory changes such as levels of carbon monoxide, humidity or particle pollution within the workplace. This helps maintain a healthy work environment. Smart sensors like this can be connected to other building systems, triggering additional air circulation or unlocking doors when necessary to allow seamless egress in an emergency.
Smart access control systems make it more convenient for employees and visitors to access the building and reduce the risk of unauthorized entry while providing valuable data on occupancy levels. Employees and authorized visitors can present different types of credentials, including mobile and biometric solutions, to elevator access control systems or building entrance access systems. Data from access control systems in smart offices also provides current and historical information on occupancy levels and utilization to improve capacity and layout planning, which is especially important in hybrid and flexible work environments. Incorporating advanced access control technology such as visitor management not only will boost security in your office, but it also looks professional to prospective guests and visitors.
Smart video security cameras can incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities enabling them to automatically alert teams to unusual activity or specific events that represent threats. Smart video security like smart dome or bullet security cameras can also be linked with motion sensors and intrusion detection sensors that activate the camera when they sense an event. This smart capability speeds up security notifications and strengthens security by identifying potential risks before they escalate, and also makes searching and locating specific events in footage stored on DVR or NVR systems easier.
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Cloud-based security systems and software help streamline management for smart offices, providing real-time information and status updates from door locks, commercial security cameras and access readers. Security teams can monitor buildings remotely via camera feeds and sensor and alarm notifications transmitted and stored in the cloud.
Collaboration tools are essential for businesses with a hybrid working model and distributed teams across locations. Team members based in the office need to collaborate efficiently with colleagues working remotely or in satellite offices to maintain progress on projects. Video conferencing solutions and cloud storage for files and data enable virtual meetings and simplify secure content sharing to ensure effective meeting outcomes.
Meeting room management systems improve the management of meeting rooms or conference rooms in smart offices. By synchronizing the management system with employees’ calendars, internal meeting schedules and planned customer visits, property managers gain full visibility of space availability and can handle booking more efficiently.
Desk management software is essential for hybrid and flexible offices where demand for workspaces varies from day to day. A comprehensive desk booking platform, also called hot desking software, means that employees can book workspaces in advance for planned visits or search for vacant desks if they have to make an ad-hoc visit. Data from the desk booking management software can be used to analyze usage and plan capacity to optimize office usage.
Leveraging automated smart office solutions for hybrid work
While the focus of smart offices is on improving the physical workplace and encouraging employees to use the space, smart offices can also improve the work environment for employees working remotely and ensure that they can work productively and continue to feel an integral part of the company.
Collaboration tools maintain day-to-day contact and ensure that remote team members can fully participate in virtual meetings. Furthermore, not all smart offices have them, but smart meeting rooms integrate hardware and software in the meeting room itself so participants can join in person or remotely. This innovative technology is ideal for a flexible workforce who want to have productive meetings while working in remote locations.
Meeting room and desk management software for hybrid workplaces improve convenience for employees visiting the office for meetings or participating in projects that require face-to-face working. However, getting into the building is just as important. A smart office solution with mobile access credentials makes it easier for temporary visitors or employees to request access and get in the door without hassle.
Cloud-based files, data and business applications make it possible for remote employees to work productively from any location. With the right cyber and network security tools and best practices in place, sharing data between locations and employees is convenient without compromising security.
Security teams can also benefit from cloud-enabled security tools. They can move around a site more easily or manage security remotely with 24⁄7 visibility. Remote access to camera footage, security alerts from the cloud and the ability to access security controls allows them to verify and act on critical events without having to be tied to a physical workstation or dedicated computer.
Benefits of smart office technology and automation
Investing in smart office technology and solutions can be a big step for any size organization. From hardware and software costs to installation to training, implementing new technology may seem like it’s not worth the effort. However, smart offices can help to transform the workplace, improving productivity and teamwork while increasing energy efficiency and reducing overhead costs.
Comfortable, healthy and safe working environment
The high level of environmental control and smart office automation create an environment where employees can work in comfort, regardless of external weather conditions. Air monitoring and fire or smoke detection sensors also ensure that the environment is safe, reducing health risks and assisting with early warning for emergency scenarios. Access control systems, security doors and security cameras like panoramic IP cameras ensure that only employees and authorized visitors can enter the workplace, ensuring protection for employees and their property.
Access to cloud-based applications and data, workflow automation and a comfortable working environment make an important contribution to productivity – both for on-site and remote employees.
For example, automated processes and smart technology can help security teams become more efficient. Smart security cameras such as integrated PTZ security cameras with built-in analytics can assist security teams by flagging potential issues across any location, and trigger alerts so teams know where their attention is needed at the moment. And, smart analytics also make it easier to search through recorded footage faster, without having to watch hours and hours of video.
Smart office technology like meeting room management and collaboration tools bring team members together, wherever they are located. This helps drive innovation and strategic initiatives while maintaining project deadlines and reducing time to market. By making it quick and simple to coordinate team calendars, set up video conferencing, and give office access to the necessary people, teams can focus less on meeting logistics, and more on the task at hand.
Improved talent recruitment and retention
A smart office environment with the latest technology can help to attract new talent and retain existing employees. One of the critical drivers of change among employees was the rapid uptake of technology during lockdown. Technology has now become a key part of everyday life and that makes the right technology a key factor when employees consider their employment options.
Enhanced company reputation
To visiting clients, a smart high-tech workplace demonstrates that the company is progressive and committed to investing in the future. The introduction of smart energy-saving technologies also demonstrates a commitment to sustainability. This can help strengthen business relationships and give the company a higher profile in the market. A stronger smart security profile reassures clients that business continuity is a priority, while helping to reduce the risk of a security breach that could damage the company’s reputation.
Increased energy efficiency
Smart environmental controls that respond to occupancy levels and changing weather conditions enable businesses to optimize their use of energy by matching usage to demand. Smart office technologies that integrate offer greater control and visibility across all systems, reducing redundancies and providing key insights into where office systems can be more efficient over time.
Reduced operating costs
Combining a hybrid workspace with smart office solutions allows a business to reduce its space requirements and associated energy costs. Optimizing space usage in line with capacity also eliminates the risk of over-ordering supplies, leading to an overall reduction in operating costs.
There are many other cost savings associated with smart offices. For example, routine system and software updates can be handled automatically or over-the-air in the cloud. This smart office automation eliminates the need to schedule costly in-person maintenance and increases system uptime. For the security team, remote access to data and controls can shorten response times and enable them to complete tasks from any location, such as verifying access requests and monitoring high-risk areas.
Better return on investment
The improvements in productivity, innovation and cost efficiency that a smart office system delivers can provide a measurable ROI in smart office technology. In addition, with built-in AI and machine-learning capabilities, smart office technology will continue to get more accurate and efficient over time. Utilizing cloud-based smart office technology, IoT devices can also be updated automatically with the latest features and capabilities, eliminating the need to replace systems every few years.
What to consider while planning your smart office design
Before carrying out detailed planning for your smart office setup, it’s important to share your smart office concept and smart office ideas with all stakeholders. That helps to build consensus and commitment to the changes.
The smart office design plan should focus on improving working conditions for the current workforce, and take into consideration the following important best practices.
It should have the flexibility to adapt to the changing occupancy levels found in a hybrid model and should be scalable to meet future growth requirements.
There are many smart office products that can make a difference to the working environment, so it’s essential to identify and prioritize the solutions that can add the greatest value.
Consulting technology and security professionals with experience in smart office design gives the planning team access to specialist knowledge, which can help to avoid expensive mistakes.
Integration and interoperability between components is the key to smart office automation, so it’s essential to select products and systems designed and built to open standards.
Budgets for smart devices and other smart office products should include installation, integration and long-term maintenance and upgrade costs as a basis for calculating through-life costs.
Setting metrics for the planned smart office solution helps business leaders assess the key benefits of the solution and calculate return on investment.
Choosing smart office systems for your business
Business leaders and property managers take many different factors into consideration when planning a smart office solution. The solution should provide the best possible experience for employees and visitors, while reducing costs, improving energy efficiency and costs and maximizing security. Investing in the newest office technology and automated office equipment will also look good to employees, stakeholders and visitors.
Seek expert advice if you want to enhance security in your office or physical location while utilizing smart technologies to better manage office space and business operations.
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