Understanding the 'Connected Office' - A CRE Guide to IoT in the Workplace

NKF is heavily invested in advancing our clients’ understanding of the smart-office market. As part of that initiative we’re offering a series of three smart-office blogs written from a CRE/FM perspective. The blogs seek to provide an incremental roadmap to help organizations navigate their Digital Workplace Transformation by outlining the characteristics and program standards for a ‘Connected Office’, a ‘Smart Office’ and, finally, an ‘Intelligent Office’. This first-in-the series addresses the characteristics and program standards for The Connected Office.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is fundamentally changing the way many of us live at home, with devices and technologies, like Amazon Alexa, Nest Thermostat, and Smart Lighting fast becoming commonplace. These innovations are transforming a discrete assortment of home appliances, systems and controls into a connected, integrated, automated and interactive ‘smart-home’.

For many – particularly millennials – the smart-home experience elevates their workplace expectations. The talent organizations seek to attract and retain sees a truly connected, automated and interactive work experience as the standard, and they want it. Employers, for their part, need to better connect with their employees - remote employees included - drive productivity and increase satisfaction. Organizations with a sophisticated smart-office program may realize operational benefits as well, in areas such as energy savings and building maintenance.

You may have read about The Edge in Amsterdam, purportedly the world’s most connected building, integrating numerous smart technologies to create adaptable and intelligent workspaces. It stands as the ideal. The reality, however, is that most workplaces lag far behind; organizations are just now asking, “Where do I begin?”

The market is flooded with buzzwords like ‘IoT’, ‘sensors’ and ‘live utilization’, but there’s little context provided about how these technologies fit into a larger ecosystem or how to build a business case for them. 

First, a few relevant statistics to keep in mind as you read and begin thinking about that business case:  

  • 90% of our lives are spent indoors
  • Over 75% of people work in a commercial facility (over half in an office setting)
  • Roughly 50% of assigned offices are underutilized
  • 50% of seats in meeting rooms (for 8+) go unused
  • Up to 40% of scheduled meetings are no shows/ghost meetings
  • Over 30% of meetings are impromptu
  • Approximately 30 minutes/week/employee are spent trying to locate available meeting rooms
  • Approximately 40 minutes/week/employee are spent in corporate cafeteria wait lines.
The Status Quo

The current workplace status quo features little in the way of CRE & FM technology. Generally, that technology is limited to AutoCAD, with employee locations and estimated headcounts tracked on PDF drawings or excel spreadsheets. There is little or no point-in-time utilization data, thwarting any occupancy planning efforts, and certainly no IoT/connected devices or applications.

The employee experience suffers as well, as they typically book conference rooms on a static platform, such as Outlook. Moreover, there’s virtually no integrated visibility into building operation and mechanical systems; BMS is siloed, offering very little in the way of actionable insights – data that could lead to higher facility efficiencies, increased employee productivity or opportunity cost savings. A lack of visualization capabilities also forces facilities managers into a perpetually reactive position.
Moving to WP 2.0: The Connected Office

A connected office features a Space Management point solution or an IWMS as baseline CRE & FM technology. Additionally, employees access an integrated reservation system through a mobile app, allowing them to see room locations and features and to know the availability of each room at a given time. These mobile-enabled reservation apps, along with a companion tablet conference room displays, are today’s most in-demand smart-office technologies. A number of these apps also include some basic level of service request functionality (including QR code scanning) to report lighting outages, hand towel and printer/toner refill requests, etc.         

Though at this stage there are no IoT/connected devices or applications (e.g. furniture sensors, lighting beacons) we are presuming that facilities managers are collecting space utilization data through existing door access badges which will include employee departmental allocations, enabling more advanced workplace management and ultimately driving better occupancy planning decisions. Facilities or Human Resources managers might also consider collecting more advanced RFID and voice detection/social sensing badge data if additional workplace behavioral patterns are so desired.

Another, more advanced, possibility includes pairing badge data with CCTV, which not only provides traffic counts but is also capable of collecting data on the demographics (male/female, approximate age) and even the mood or emotion of both employees and visitors, all in the context of enabling better insight.

These same resource reservation technologies can be applied to virtually any resource – perhaps a portable media cart, an elliptical machine, meditation room, a huddle space or a desk. The data collected on utilization, for example, may show that the sales team doesn’t require offices or desks on a full-time basis due to their travel schedules. That office or desk can be allocated more efficiently – perhaps through hoteling - freeing underutilized space for expansion. Taking a deeper dive, the employee resource search data will also convey user preferences and/or peak utilization trends based time of day, location, amenities or available technologies in the room. This type of data is incredibly valuable when considering space alterations or redesigns.

At this level, the sole focus is on what’s happening in the workspace. BMS is still siloed and capabilities such as utilization-based temperature and lighting control are still an aspiration. Most organizations need to be at this Connected Office stage now, or at the least set it as their new starting point.

The next blog in this series focuses on the ‘Smart Office’, the stage where organizations really begin to leverage sensors and beacons to gain a higher level of actionable insight into higher level of actionable insight into space utilization and the employee experience.

Dusty Duistermars
Senior Managing Director, Connected Places Practice Group
Innovation & Solutions Team (IST)

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