The growing need to make the workplace more flexible is creating new challenges for facility managers, building managers, and office managers all over the world. Chief among these challenges is the redesigning of office buildings to cater to a more flexible, and often remote, workforce.
So, let’s talk about how to do smart office design the right way.
In this article we’ll give you an overview of the key features in smart office design as well as some ideas on how you can begin making your office smarter.
There are a lot of different technologies that provide you with different “smart” features for your office; desk booking apps, automated check-in systems, smart climate- and lighting controls, etc.
The thing is, which technologies will benefit you the most differs from workplace to workplace.
For some workplaces automating on-site check-in will be an integral feature to their smart office design, whereas other workplaces might find it more of a nuisance.
So instead of simply listing the different technological solutions that are available in the market, let’s start by looking at the four primary benefits designing a smart office can bring you:
It can give you the ability to monitor occupancy and office use
It can simplify and automate employee-to-office interactions such as booking rooms or desks, checking in, turning on the lights etc.
It can ease the work related to service and maintenance functions
It can reduce energy use.
Looking at the above list, it’s easy to just go “yes, we need this” or “no, we don’t need that”, but the real trick to improving your office isn’t to focus on one or two of these benefits and then to find a single solution that supports the benefits you chose.
It is rather to find out how you can make these benefits a part of your workplace in as many of your workplace management and visitor management solutions as possible.
So, instead of just listing 20 futuristically sounding solutions, and telling you how they would improve your office management, we’ve made a shorter list of solution types and will explain how they each tie into these four benefits.
That way, you will be able to apply the same kind of thinking when you look at new solution types, instead of aimlessly searching Google for smart office design ideas.
Whether for visitors or employees, most check-in systems provide you with not just one, but two of the key benefits related to smart office design.
Smart check-in systems for your employees will help reduce the number of employee-to-office interactions, especially if the system automates any parts of this process. This has the potential to be a huge benefit (if employees are already required to check in upon arrival), but for smaller workplaces it may not hold the same huge potential simply because employee check-in isn’t needed for many smaller organizations.
The second benefit of smart check-in systems does, however, present a substantial benefit to all sizes and types of offices. The data from employee check-ins can give you a direct insight into your daily occupancy.
On its own this doesn’t really give you much, but when you start to consider scaling services like employee lunches, or even your office size, to the number of people who are actually in the office, you have the potential to not only make your office smarter, but also to save a lot of money.
Twitter is a great example of the potential savings yielded by knowing how many employees are going to be in the office. According to a tweet by Elon Musk, the social media company was spending more than $400 per employee meal served at their San Francisco headquarters over a 12-month period, because they were preparing meals for 100% of their staff, in a period where only 20% came to the office. 
When it comes to visitors, smart office solutions yield the same two benefits. It will ease the employee-to-office interactions for employees expecting or inviting visitors, because it helps automate things like notifications of guest arrivals, as well as easing visitor registration processes, but more importantly, it will help give you a complete overview of who is in the building at all times.
This doesn’t just give you an idea of how big your office needs to be, the information can prove invaluable in case of emergency, when you need to evacuate the building as you will have real-time information on who’s arrived and who’s left the building.
There’s been a lot of talk about workstations and desks in the previous years, which is in large part due to so many organizations adopting a more flexible workstyle.
However, the degree of success of implementing workplace flexibility is very dependent on how easy it is to navigate this new, flexible work environment.
Organizations that leave this navigation up to the employees themselves, may likely see an increase in the number of employee-to-office interactions, which in turn makes the overall office experience not just less smart but also less productive.
Now, when we talk about smart workstations there are many different interpretations as to what this means. In some cases, a smart workstation might refer to the physical workstation and how connected features like raising the desk, cameras, or even power are from an IoT perspective.
But the biggest benefit when it comes to smart workstations, and the place we want to focus when it comes to designing workstations for a smarter office experience, comes from creating transparency; How easy is it for employees (and facility management) to find out if a workstation is occupied, who is using it, and when it will be unoccupied.
And depending on how this is achieved, you might end up ticking every single box from the primary benefits in smart office design we discussed earlier in this article.
For instance, getting a proper handle on desk booking will give you the ability to monitor occupancy and usage, and with the right features it will provide employees with transparency and reduce employee-to-office interactions. And in the furthest case occupancy sensors can help reduce energy usage or alert service and maintenance functions.
Depending on how you manage your conference and meeting rooms today, there may be several ways to improve upon the way you currently monitor your conference and meeting rooms.
However, how much there is to gain highly depends on the size of your organization and the number of meeting rooms you have.
If you’re maintaining a single office with very few meeting rooms, setting up a full integration with sensors, screens and alerts is probably too big of a task compared to what you can gain from it.
If, on the other hand, you are managing multiple meeting rooms along with services and maintenance functions for those rooms, there’s a good chance you have a lot to gain from looking at your setup with smart office design in mind.
Finding out exactly what you need to make the most of your rooms isn’t something that can be handled over the course of a blog post.
But something that everyone who’s in charge of managing meeting rooms needs is data insights, and this is likely also going to be your first step on the road to setting up smart meeting rooms.
Whether it’s gained through manual room check-in or occupancy sensors, real time as well as historical data on room usage is what is going to enable any other benefit related to smart office design.
Things like climate control and AC units can be a real point of contention in an office, especially if employees are able to change the settings on their own.
Safe to say that it is impossible to find a setting for your thermostat that will please every single employee. But there are other reasons to look at smart solutions for things like climate control and lighting – the primary being reducing energy usage and utilities spend in your buildings.
The exact impact this will have on your workplace depends on the specific solution chosen as part of your smart office design.
Where simply controlling everything with a mobile app does give a smart feel, it is likely to increase spending.
However, implementing sensor control for AC-units, thermostats, lighting or even blinds, will let you control everything based on predefined parameters instead of the preferences of individual employees.
While maps have been an integrated part of larger buildings for decades, digital solutions provide us with a much more thorough overview of our surroundings than the printed wall hangings of centuries past.
While the maps of years past has served as a guide to making your way around the building, adding information like meeting room occupancy status or even which desks are available and which are taken will ensure less friction when people try to make their way around.
Whether the maps are best implemented as interactive displays where employees and visitors can search for information, or it is best to simply rotate information on a loop, depends on the workplace as well as the display in question.