Tag Archives: office

How Technology Will Make Your Office SuperNormal

Ready for the office of the future? Here’s a glimpse into the technology that will  transform your workplace.


Good morning! Ready for work? Before you leave, take your temperature at home and report it through your work app. Also answer questions about any symptoms you might have.

Then tell the app what time you’ll arrive at work, and away you go.

Smart that you already completed the self check-in, or else you would be stopped by the facial recognition system when you tried to enter the building. 

The staff canteen is open, but you’ll need to use your work app to order your food ahead of time.

When your lunch is ready, you’ll get a text message to come pick it up. The staggered approach keeps crowds to a minimum.

That’s all quite high tech, right? But it isn’t the future; it’s just another day at IBM headquarters in New York. The system, based on IBM’s Watson Works, uses AI to keep people safe and productive.

Keeping the office comfy

Siemens also has an app for staff, called Comfy.

According to the company, Comfy limits the number of staff in the building at any one time. It also helps staff maintain distance at work.

People use it to reserve desks, meeting rooms, and even see office occupancy in real time. 

But here’s where it gets really interesting, the app allows staff to control their environment. That’s right; employees have the granddaddy of all controls – the ability to change the temperature in their immediate workspace.

Using the app, they can control the thermostat and even dim the lights if they want. Imagine how many office arguments that would solve.

“Our priority is to protect our people so they can return to the workplace safely and confidently wherever they are,” says Roland Busch, Deputy CEO at Siemens AG. “By using smart office technologies, we can reshape how we work.” 

“Our Comfy app supports our new mobile working model, by enabling employees to better plan when they choose to work from the office.” 

Call the germ-busters

But once you’re at work, how can you stay safe? There’s no shortage of products on the market aimed at office hygiene.

Like the Hygenx wand from Hamilton Buhl. Simply wave the wand over your keyboard, and the UV-C light will kill bacteria.

Before you rush out to get your own wand, do your research, warns the US Food and Drug Administration.

That’s because there isn’t enough data about how much UV-C exposure your surfaces need to quash COVID-19.

You could always use something low-tech like antibacterial wipes. But where’s the fun in that?

Instead, make sanitising more dramatic with a ghostbuster-style office fogger

Closer to home

Let’s be honest though; many of us won’t be going back to the office for a while. 

And some may not go back at all. Twitter made headlines this year for allowing employees to work from home permanently.

With that in mind, how can technology help you from home?

Well, fear not if you have “Zoom fatigue.” Microsoft Teams’ solution is the new “together” feature, which puts you all in the same virtual room. Say goodbye to squares.

In fact, this same technology is being used to bring fans closer together for NBA basketball games.

Access for all

Technology opens up opportunities for people to work in the way they choose. And companies have no choice but to adapt, allowing people greater flexibility in how they work.

Now, employers have the chance to include all employees by making accessibility the default.

“We must ensure businesses apply the learnings from this period to improve inclusion of people with disabilities worldwide by using the same tools we’re using now to allow this community to participate fully in the workforce,” writes Caroline Casey, Director of The Valuable 500 – a World Economic Forum initiative to put disability on the business agenda.

Jane Hatton, founder of inclusive UK recruitment firm Evenbreak, agrees.

“People are frightened of disability because they think it’s going to be incredibly expensive for all the adjustments,” Hatton recently told the Financial Times. “But in fact they’re simple and cheap.” 

“The technology is there already — it’s just a question of using it in a way that’s inclusive.”

Employers might be surprised to find just how many accessible tools they already have at their fingertips.

Kristy Viers went viral after tweeting a video using the accessibility features built into an iPhone. 

It’s now been viewed over 7 million times.

Work accelerated

As ever, companies will adopt new technology at different rates. So it may be a while before your workplace uses facial recognition, or lets you control the thermostat on your phone.

But there’s no doubt that all companies are on the accelerated track now. In fact, consultancy McKinsey says US ecommerce experienced 10 years worth of growth in the first three months.

The world is changing fast, and technology will be the key to creating a workplace future that works for all of us.

Is It Time To Get Rid Of The Open-Plan Office?

Well conducted research is beginning to appear and it does not look good for the open plan office…

By Monkey Business Images/ Shutterstock

The open plan office is the badge of the thoroughly modern work space. It’s as much a part of the office of the future as unlimited free snacks and Fussball tables in the common room.  But research is starting to pile up that it is doing more harm than good.  A lot more harm than good.

By 2014, seven out of every ten offices were open plan according to reporting in the New Yorker.  Gone were the sea of cubicles that inspired Dilbert’s creator.  Instead the typical office looked more like an aircraft hangar full of desks.  The theory was the removing physical barriers removed barriers to collaboration and communication. 

Oh, and there was the no insignificant bonus that they cost a lot less to build and fit out and employees and their work were easier to monitor.  While that theory has logical appeal there was surprisingly little empirical evidence to back it up. The research that did exist was based largely on self-reported questionnaire responses and attempted to measure largely intangible outcomes like employee satisfaction.

Open Plan – does it actually work?

Now however, well conducted research is beginning to appear and it does not look good for the open plan office.  In July last year, the Harvard Business School conducted a large study with a first of its kind methodology.  The researchers decided to use wearable technology such as movement sensors, cameras and microphones embedded in badges to accurately measure whether open plan offices actually did increase collaboration and communication.  The devices were deployed in two different company headquarters before and after a shift to an open plan design.

To ensure robust data, the researchers ensured the devices were deployed over a long time frame and measurements were taken at the same points in the business cycle.  There was no point comparing an end of quarter rush to a start of quarter quiet period.

The results were extraordinary.  Rather than increase face to face collaboration and communication, the shift to open plan massively decreased it.  People talked face to face 70 per cent less in an open plan office than in the normal office space that had preceded it.  The researchers speculated that the open plan triggered a natural human withdrawal response to large groups.  People have a fundamental desire for privacy and the open plan violated that.  Workers stopped talking in person and IM and email traffic surged by 50 per cent.

Perhaps more importantly, from a bottom-line perspective, the change also decreased productivity and work quality in both of the studied companies.  Other studies have estimated the value of this impact to be in the region of a 20 per cent decrease in productivity.

This new research adds quantitative weight to something more traditional studies have been highlighting for the last couple of decades.  Such studies have found that open plan offices had a negative impact on job satisfaction, attention spans and creative thinking, have dramatically increased levels of stress, conflict and staff turnover and significantly increased sick leave.   

And all of that is before we consider the cost of distraction.

Lack of Privacy

A 2013 study of open plan offices revealed that nearly half of the surveyed workers said the lack of sound privacy was a significant problem for them and more than 30 per cent said the same thing about visual privacy.  The same researchers in a previous study concluded that the loss of productivity “due to noise distraction” was doubled in open plan offices. 

It’s not surprising then that the Information Overload Research Group a non-profit consortium of business professionals, researchers, and consultants, estimates that distraction wastes 25 per cent of knowledge workers’ time and is costing the United States economy almost one trillion dollars a year.

Clearly the answer is to put the walls back in.  It might not create any net gains but at least it would reclaim the ground lost by the disastrous detour into communal office space. However,  if you really want to increase productivity, keep the talent happy and retain your best staff then the evidence is now suggesting that you should delete the office altogether and let employees work from home. 

The Worst of Ideas

A recent very large randomised controlled study on a Chinese call-centre operators, for example, found that working from home increased productivity by 13 per cent.  Nine of those percentage points were from working more minutes per shift and four per cent from more calls per minute.  

Home based workers also reported feeling more satisfied and the attrition rate halved. Working from home is not for every employee or every type of job but at least there are upsides and the good news for the CFO is that it saves even more on floorspace costs than the open plan office. 

The open plan office was a bad idea implemented for spurious reasons with an inadequate evidence base.  And it turns out to be a terrible idea.  All we need now is management teams brave enough to admit that and move towards work structures the evidence says significantly improve rather than degrade productivity.