Forget the Office of the Future – The Time is Now

Smart Offices

COVID-19 has caused a complete re-evaluation of how office spaces work. The previously glacial shift towards flexible working and smarter office spaces was suddenly turbo-charged as the “the office of the future” became “the office of now”. 

March 2020 saw the UK undergo the most seismic shift in attitudes towards the workplace in living memory. Overnight, business owners were faced with enforced remote working for their staff. The need to adapt office spaces to the challenges of hybrid working became increasingly apparent as lockdowns continued and staff became used to a new way of working.

There have naturally been challenges during this time of change – including the lack of smart infrastructure - that hadn’t previously been at the forefront of minds or adequately considered in terms of the value it can add to the work environment.

Smart buildings as a concept have been hampered by poor execution, which usually comes down to a lack of supporting technology infrastructure.

However, if you engage early, plan well and design intelligently, “the office of the future” can benefit both your business, and the working environment of your clients.

A little more than a decade ago, smart offices were still seen as pipe dreams and solely for large multi-national businesses such as Google and Facebook, with the ideas and principles behind the creation of this type of workplace exceeding the limitations of the technology that was available and – more importantly – affordable.

That has now changed - the explosive growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the connected device market has meant that it is now almost expected that offices incorporate at least some elements of smart technology.

Believe in green

One of the main reasons for creating a smart office is the positive impact it can have on sustainability.

In addition to the material benefits, sustainability is one of the key concerns of both businesses and individuals and - with an increased focus on being sustainable permeating government policy and business planning alike - ambitious targets for reducing emissions and hitting carbon net zero are now the norm.

Alongside this, people are becoming even more acutely aware of their personal responsibility towards the environment and are making sure that they are doing what they can to reduce their own impact on the planet.

Blending those two complementary aims together is the workplace, and this for many businesses is the key driver towards smart solutions.

Through intelligent use of infrastructure, sensors and smart devices, businesses and end users alike can have total control over lighting, heating, security and AV, as well as numerous other elements of their technologies.

The benefits of this are two-fold. The use of sensors and their supporting infrastructure gives your clients full visibility of how and when energy is consumed, allowing them to adjust as required.

It also means that the end user can make use of the smart office safe in the knowledge that lights won’t be left on overnight, or the heating won’t be running unnecessarily, helping contribute to a more sustainable office environment and reducing cost.

We’ve seen this first-hand with our work on Bustler Market in Derby, which is regarded as the smartest street food market in the UK with more than 20,000 visitors per month.

Through the introduction of more than 200 sensors that track temperature, occupancy, power consumption and air quality and more, we have managed to save eight tonnes of carbon – the equivalent of the annual output of five households since opening in early 2021.

A changing model

One of the key reasons for this is efficiency, both in terms of how we work and the energy that is consumed in doing so. In the days of fixed workstations, desktop computers and reliance on landline phones, businesses usually worked to a “one person, one desk” model.

However, the shift towards remote working – accelerated over the last 18 months due to the pandemic – has made adaptability an essential part of any office set up. Setting up a smart environment means that those using the building can seamlessly hot desk, immediately getting great connectivity to their devices and working in the same way they would in a more traditional office environment, but without the constraints.

This also has the added benefit of future proofing, ensuring that the infrastructure is in place to allow the occupier to adapt to future changes in technology and working patterns. It comes as no surprise that the businesses that adapted quickest to the enforced changes brought on by the pandemic were those that already had solid technology infrastructure in place beforehand.

Broader appeal

By getting the basic elements right at the point of design and ensuring that the network infrastructure is in the right place, businesses in smart settings can then adapt and evolve the devices that they use in-office, safe in the knowledge that the infrastructure is there to support them.

Overall, the real crux of the matter is that smart offices have increased appeal to both the businesses occupying them and the staff that will be working in them. Smart workspaces are about more than just technology – it truly helps in understanding a team’s preferences and pain points, allowing businesses to optimise it for their use and create an atmosphere that improves their productivity, health and wellbeing at work.

Build once, innovate forever

Intelligence offers clients the opportunity to transform their buildings into smart spaces, and every element needs to be considered and factored in with solutions tailored to the use of different spaces. By doing this at design stage and starting off on the right path, those creating these smart environments ensure longevity and optimisation.

Comms rooms and servers are the backbone of how smart buildings operate, delivering the more traditional aspects of IT infrastructure.

Building a high-performance network, regardless of whether it is wired or wireless, is essential to the effectiveness of a smart office, providing a springboard that benefits a business and its building users.

Having this infrastructure in place means that the sensors that are required to achieve the best possible smart office results simply become part of the fabric of the building.

The data these sensors provide give the building operator maximum visibility of what is going on within the space at any given time. Armed with this knowledge, your clients can make intelligent decisions about their spaces, how they are used and associated cost implications, allowing them to make efficiencies where needed and ensure that their building is working for them in the best way possible.

In addition, those end users in the smart building have confidence in the quality and safety of their working environment, leading to increased satisfaction and, consequently, productivity.

Importantly, by putting the right infrastructure at the core of their smart operations, they are giving themselves the best possible starting point from which to continue to innovate for years to come, safe in the knowledge that that they have protected their investment and are future proofed.

Start SMART or pay the price

To get this right and ensure everything is in place, early engagement is crucial. It is essential that architects and M&E engineers are looking at involving smart technology infrastructure as part of their designs for office clients to give them the flexibility to adapt their offering as technology and employee requirements evolve.

This starts with getting comms/server rooms and data cabling right and ensuring that what is designed and installed is going to have the ability to deliver and the longevity to last. IT infrastructure isn’t something that can be an afterthought – it needs to be baked in from the start, rather than sprinkled on top.

The best way to achieve this is through the early engagement between client, design team and technology specialists to ensure that that there is a joined-up approach.

The result of this collaboration is the best balance between style and substance, with proven solutions that deliver operational cost savings, but also create the smart environment that employees want to work in.

Arriving at now

It is clear that the shift towards flexible working that was accelerated by the pandemic is now a runaway train, with very few organisations looking to return to the way things were pre-2020.

For those businesses looking to adapt and thrive in a changed world, the fact of the matter is that they need to take a serious look at their technology infrastructure and whether it is capable of standing up to the rigours of this new way of working.

The key to this is designing and implementing the right data cabling infrastructure to support businesses’ smart technology aspirations as they evolve.

George Pritchard is Technical Director at Scenariio

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