How smart offices enhance the employee experience

What is a Smart Office?

The term Smart Office was coined around the mid-2010s. However, our offices have been getting smarter since the 1990s.

This began with the introduction of desktops, laptops and the internet. Over the 2000s, these technologies became more sophisticated, broadband was introduced as well as mobile phones and basic cloud computing.

Over the past decade, bandwidth speeds have skyrocketed and increased computing power and storage has made it possible for us to automate and analyse processes like never before. As a result, the internet has become integral to just about every workplace process.

The term Smart Office, like digital transformation, is a bit of a catch-all. It’s usually used to describe innovative workplace features that rely on the Internet of Things. But is often used to describe new workplace trends such as hot-desking or standing desks as well.

people in meeting using smart office

What are the benefits of a smart office?

There are all kinds of benefits, but they can be reduced down to four core things:

  • Productivity – by automating repetitive tasks
  • Utilisation – by providing data on how much your desks and meeting rooms are really being used
  • Experience – by streamlining tasks such as room booking and providing more control over lighting and temperature
  • Talent – by creating a best-in-class working environment that staff value and want to work in

In this post, we’re going to dive into the last of these three and explore five key ways that the Smart Office revolution can enhance the employee experience.

#1 – Visitor management

The success of a meeting isn’t just down to what happens in the room. It takes into account the whole experience. Struggling to find a parking space, drawn-out security checks at reception and struggling to find your way around. All of these can undermine the experience, which impacts how we feel about the meeting.

One of the key features of Smart Office technology is joining up previously separate systems and processes to create better experiences. The meeting invite can include a car parking space number, security credentials can be shared in advance and wayfinding screens can show visitors where they need to be. From arrival, to checking in at reception, to finding the room, the experience is planned out in advance, creating minimal friction on the day.

It’s even possible to automate the signing in process using a virtual assistant hologram. You can see an example of this below.


#2 – Wayfinding

Remote working may be on the rise but offices are also getting larger. In fact, over the past twenty years Silicon Valley’s ‘corporate campuses’ have created workplaces the scale of which has never been seen before.

Apple’s 2.8 million square foot Apple Park, the 3.1 million square foot Googleplex and Microsoft’s eight million square foot Redmond Campus are a few examples.

Coupled with scale, our offices are becoming more multi-faceted. In the past, most offices comprised of a reception area, banks of desks and a few meeting rooms. This would quite easy to navigate. Now they can include breakout areas, auditoriums, cafeterias, social spaces, gyms, locker rooms and storage for bikes or other transport.

For visitors, remote workers and new employees, this can be a real problem. Using modern wayfinding screens, employees can search for rooms, meetings that are happening and even employees. The screens can also show available rooms and let you book them.

Want to learn more? Check out the video from Ricoh-partner iOffice below.


#3 – Light and temperature controls

In a 2017 survey that asked employees to choose the Smart Office features they think would be most useful, the most popular were environmental. Specifically:

  • Self-adjusting lighting and window shades
  • The ability to personalise heat and light settings for one’s immediate space, and have those settings follow you around the building
  • Circadian lighting systems that mimic natural daylight
  • Heat and lighting systems that adjust automatically according to weather and occupancy

Most of us will have sat in a meeting room which has the heating on in July. Or been given a desk beside a window which causes direct sunlight to bounce off our screens and into our eyes at certain times of the day. Naturally, staff want to be comfortable and have some control over their environment. But they also want the environment to manage itself, to a certain extent. Smart Offices do just this by allowing facilities teams to define and automate processes such as lighting intensity or temperature control.

#4 – Wellbeing

A study earlier this year found that two-thirds of UK workers are working up to six additional hours per week. One in five reported putting in 10 additional hours per week. While this may sound like child’s play compared to Jack Ma’s ‘996’ work week – referring to working from 9am to 9pm six days a week – or Elon Musk’s 120-hour workweek, overwork has been proven to negatively impact productivity. And lead to higher rates of staff turnover.

Some of the environmental features listed above, such as increasing the amount of natural light at certain times of day, can help staff feel less frazzled. Another is the ability to track employees’ movement around the office and notify them if they have gone too long without a break, food or water. However, managers should implement such technology carefully. According to one survey, 57% of employees felt that tracking their movement around the office was unacceptable.

#5 – Desk and room availability

Small daily frustrations can have a big impact on our wellbeing. Finding available desks and meeting rooms is one such frustration. In fact, according to one study, booking meeting rooms is the biggest frustration of our working day.

Cloud-based room booking software like Condeco integrates with platforms like Office365 to make desk and room booking simple. On top of scheduling meetings or reserving desks, panels can be fitted to the wall outside meeting rooms showing to show passers-by what’s going on inside and when it’s ending.

Data can also be gathered on meeting room and desk utilisation, giving decision-makers insight into whether they need more space, peak times of the week and which facilities are going under-utilised.

The Future of the Smart Office

The Smart Office trend is really only just beginning. Over the next few years, these innovations will be replaced by more sophisticated solutions.

Smart systems for visitor and identity management will remove the need for reception areas. Employees and visitors will enter and facial recognition technology will identify and monitor their path through the building.

Businesses will be able to become more agile as sensors provide facilities managers with more data on how the office is being used and any space that could be reconfigured to better suit the needs of the business.

Energy consumption will be optimised by monitoring the number of employees in the building at certain times of the day, week and month. Buildings may even be able to produce and store their own energy on-site. And in hotter climates smart systems will monitor the heat outside and adjust the amount of energy used to cool the building accordingly.

Want to learn more about the Smart Office, check out the posts below:

And if you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line on LinkedIn to discuss or check out our new guide Smart Office Revolution.

Paul Twitchell

Director of Workplace Services at Ricoh UK

Read all articles by Paul Twitchell