The Internet of Things (IoT) is a buzz phrase you may have heard thrown around the media, but what does it actually mean? The idea is that things that were once considered 'passive' are now made intelligent by being connected to the Internet. All of a sudden, these objects or Things can help us become more informed about our people and surroundings.

In the home, IoT is taking off thanks to the adoption of smart assistants like Amazon's Alexa and Google Home. These devices can now turn lights on or off, order shopping items and lock or unlock our doors - all with the power of voice (and the cloud). 

In the workplace, everything from smart lighting fixtures to thermostats are providing companies with big data on employee habits to help them make efficiencies. So, putting this into the context of office design, here are five ways businesses are using IoT to make positive changes in the office.

  • Temperature control

Disputes between colleagues over an office either being too hot or too cold are rife. Especially between men and women. According to a study, women typically prefer a warmer workplace than men, but, despite this, most offices set their thermostats “using a male-centric thermal comfort model”.

Thankfully, an IoT-compatible thermostat could help put an end to these daily battles. Nest technology learns the users’ preferred settings over a period of time and adapts to provide a consistently comfortable temperature all day. As well as providing a peacemaking solution, these systems can also offer significant financial savings of up to 40%. 

  • Smart lighting

Poor lighting has been found to impact employee health and wellbeing, both in a physical and psychological capacity. From strained eyes to headaches, fatigue, stress and anxiety, according to a research report by Staples, two-in-five UK workers have to deal with “uncomfortable lighting every day.”

Though, when managed correctly, lighting can have a positive effect on employees. And the key is in giving the power back to the people. According to the HSE, giving workers in open plan spaces control of their lighting can increase job satisfaction and decrease stress.

The beauty of smart lighting is that a data-driven balance can be struck between allowing enough natural light in alongside artificial. This is thanks to sensors and control technology adjusting the levels depending on the time of day and users’ needs. 

  • Personal health & wellbeing

In her piece, Wellbeing-ology: Four ways to measure if all is well in the workplace, Ankita Dwivedi highlights the increasing popularity for people using ‘wearable technology’ such as smartwatches to monitor their ‘vitals’. This is a positive trend, as it means that by noticing any red flags in their heart rate or blood pressure, for example, employees can get help early. The knock on effect of this is healthier, happier teams that are more likely to be productive.

  • Productivity measurement

Whether teams are based within an office, or predominantly off-site, workflows can be difficult to track on a mass scale. But without having a bird’s eye view of how things are running, businesses may be experiencing lower levels of efficiency and employee productivity levels than they’d expect. This is where IoT comes in.

According to Richard Barry, CEO of Polymorph: "Workflow automation should form the basis from which IoT can operate. A well-executed IoT strategy leveraging the power inherent to IoT should be able to solve day-to-day processes such as automating manufacturing processes remotely, optimising production processes, managing inventory, and diagnosing repairs and maintenance issues on machines."

He also points out that, "IoT isn't just about connecting machines to the cloud. It's about connecting your machines to your enterprise and creating a central system of intelligence. It's about aligning your internal operations and teams with your product offerings and giving your business a distinct competitive advantage."

  • Keeping people safe

At one time, biometric locks were heralded as the next big thing in security. However, the emergence of IoT has overtaken this. Offering businesses the ability to provide specific building access and enable remote locking, safety can be improved with the introduction of smart systems.

Employees use a simple smartphone app to access their office building, and the corresponding technology collects data as people enter and exit. This can offer insight around start and finish times, plus absenteeism to, again, help businesses gain more of the ‘bigger picture’ around their workforce’s activity.

People-first technology?

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from studies done on IoT is that it is technology that empowers human decisions. In a world where robots are increasingly seen as the enemy – on the approach to take over the jobs of real people – it’s refreshing to see positive outcomes from digital means.

And although outside of the workplace, there has been some debate as to whether people's data is being protected, in the office, great strides have been made in promoting employee health and wellbeing, as well as business efficiency. Long may it progress. 

Camille van Emstede Segment Manager Workplace, Tarkett

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