The Era of the Internet of Things

Embedded technology fueling performance

by Haworth, Inc.

This is the first in a two-part series about technology in the workplace and how technology can empower a digital workforce, make our lives and work easier, and keep our information secure.

Technology is changing how and where we work. Already, billions of devices are embedded in our everyday lives. They talk to one another. They talk to organizational data streams. And increasingly, they control and shape the environment—in real time—to deliver what would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.

The Internet of Things (IoT)—devices talking to devices, either directly or through the cloud—is rapidly coming of age. At the same time, sensor technology is getting smaller, more efficient, and more affordable; and data streams are getting less proprietary and more accessible. These trends, along with advances in software, data mining, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI), promise a deeper understanding of the link between not just facility and human performance, but also organizational performance.

Organizations that embrace these changes will:

  • Support changing workstyles, enabling employees to work more transparently and better leverage social networks.
  • Unify offline and online communications by keeping employees connected through their mobile devices to provide anywhere/anytime access to tools and corporate information.
  • Focus on the employee experience by providing workers with a user experience outside corporate walls.
  • Provide choice, flexibility, and personalization, which we know leads to happiness.

The vision we first described in our 2016 white paper, “Enabling the Organic Workspace®: Emerging Technologies that Focus on People, Not Just Space,” is quickly becoming a reality. Hardware, software, design, and furniture providers are lining up to carve out what role they will play in the new ecosystem of workplace devices, data, and services. The white paper explores the emergence of smart and digitally connected offices, utilizing various technologies to create enhanced work experiences for employees and organizational leaders.

Most of the tools we and other organizations use to make workplace design decisions today are based on static, point-in time data. Our surveys, head counts, and usage patterns reveal what was—or at least what people perceive it was—not what is, much less what should be. The effectiveness of workplace strategy and the quality of the user work experience was previously difficult to gauge because we simply did not have the data or insights to assess space use—or effectiveness of work.

All of that is about to change, thanks to rapidly evolving hardware, software, and integrated solutions that hold the promise of real-time insights. The IoT includes billions of devices that gather and share data. Some do so directly with one another across wired and wireless networks; others connect over intranets and the Internet.

Small cameras, sensors, monitors, and meters observe, measure, and report on their physical surroundings. Among other things, they detect motion, temperature, light and sound levels, energy usage, and air quality. They can track human activities too, including health, mobility, eye movement, mood, location, paths of movement through the space, and stress levels. And now “smart dust” (tiny microelectromechanical systems the size of salt grains with mini sensors and optical lenses) has a host of potential uses, including studying workplace performance.

All this collecting, sensing, and the analysis that goes along with it, holds the promise of revolutionary change. McKinsey estimates that by 2025 the IoT will cut energy use by 20 percent and increase human productivity by between three and 10 percent. They envision the latter as the result of activity monitoring (improved performance management for remote workers), organizational redesign (improved job design, processes, and collaboration), and augmented reality (AR).

Many factors are fueling the growth of IoT and the connected office: 

  • Affordability – Data storage and hardware costs are falling. Sensors, for example, are expected to cost just $0.38 each in 2020, down more than 50 percent from their 2010 price, according to data gathered by GE from Goldman Sachs and BI Intelligence.
  • Efficiency – Sensors are getting smaller, less obtrusive, and more energy-efficient. They are working over longer distances. New protocols are enabling communication outside the cloud.
  • Accessibility – Data streams are increasingly digital. They are becoming less proprietary and more open and accessible. Data structures are becoming more uniform. Analytical tools capable of interpreting unstructured data (e.g., images, video) are unlocking new sources of information.
  • Ubiquity – Wearable devices (e.g., fitness trackers, smartwatches, and even clothing) are growing in popularity and sophistication. IDC predicts a near doubling in usage by 2020.

While the economic growth of 2017 resulted in increased hiring for many industries, it also left the most attractive job seekers with numerous options. For today’s employers, this means that hiring top talent has become more difficult. Also, as other industries are disrupted by well-financed startups and innovative newcomers, the fight for survival and talent retention has also become more challenging.

The connected office offers an evidence-based approach to understanding how facility, human, and organizational performance interconnect. It opens the door to new and deeper understandings of how work environments can influence culture, collaboration, creativity, and well-being. Data is fundamental to the connected office vision, but alone, it’s of little value unless it informs the user experience and serves to advance an organization's goals.

As the needs of employees and the developments of technology combine to shift the landscape of the workplace, identifying the optimum solution for your organization will help you stay ahead of the curve, creating an Organic Workspace® approach that meets the needs of today and easily adapts for the future.

Download “Enabling the Organic Workspace®: Emerging Technologies that Focus on People, Not Just Space” to learn more about optimizing the workplace for innovation.

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