For the past decade it’s become more and more common for facility and office managers to talk about improvements to the office through smart office solutions, but in truth our offices have been getting smarter since the mid 1990’s when the internet was introduced in the office setting.
However, where it all started with a revolution in the ways we were able to communicate with each other, it’s something entirely different that’s forcing us to talk about smart office solutions today.
What we, as employees, need from our workplace has changed.
For almost a century, the workplace was synonymous with the office but today, the workplace has broadened to a point where it could be any physical location, we carry out work. And this change in definition presents several challenges for modern businesses, especially when it comes to how the office itself is structured.
If we want to facilitate collaboration, we need to know which of our colleagues are working and where they are working from. And if we want to optimize the way we use our offices, we need access to data surrounding the way we currently use our offices.
And that is why we’re talking about smart office solutions – again.
The term “smart office” has a couple of different definitions, but in the broadest sense, it is an office space that incorporates modern technology to increase and boost productivity, efficiency, and employee experience by optimizing the office environment while simultaneously keeping the office space environmentally friendly and cost-efficient.
There are different ways to make an office live up to this, but in general there is no single solution that will make your office “smart” overnight. It often requires multiple solutions to achieve that result.
One thing that will go a long way towards creating a “smart” feel in your office, however, is automating simple office interactions.
From the average employee’s point of view this often means automating things like office, desk, and room check-in, lighting, and climate controls through one or more smart office solutions.
From an office manager’s point of view this could be automating the desk reservation approval process in an office with a flexible desk policy, or to install occupancy sensors so your meeting room overviews are constantly updated with usage information, even for spontaneous meetings.
It is possible to answer the question “what is the difference between a smart office and a conventional office” in a couple of different ways. But the two most common differences are the requirement for physical presence, and the need to interact with the office.
In a conventional office, employees are commonly required to work from their desks or assigned meeting rooms throughout the day. This focus on physical presence is often removed from smart offices by implementing technological solutions, flexible desk policies, and more activity-based work models.
Likewise, in a conventional office, employees need to be present, and interact physically with the office, for everything to function correctly. But in a smart office most things will function on their own, based on who’s present. This is achieved through attaching solutions like sensors or timers to AC-units, lighting, and even room booking systems.
Depending on your focus there are several different benefits to turning a conventional office into a smart office, but we’ve highlighted what we think are the two primary benefits here: cost reduction and data.
When we talk about hybrid or remote work it’s often with a focus on employee wellbeing, but with the possibilities in current technology it also yields a good opportunity for reducing the operational cost of your office.
Specifically by creating a more energy efficient office (thus reducing the utilities spend) and lowering the number of workstations and scaling office related offerings to the amount of people who are actually present.
But how can we really save that much from removing a couple of workstations, you may ask.
As a case let’s look at a fictional company with 300 employees. In a conventional office setting this company would have at least 300 workstations. One for each employee.
Now, we estimate the annual cost per workstation to 3500$ which is a pretty common price tag for a modern organization.
And employees who split their time between remote and the office, will on average end up being in the office around 50 percent of the time on average. 
We can’t just remove 50% of the desks and call it a day. After all employees have different booking patterns depending on who they are, where they live, and what they do. So, we’ll leave a quite generous margin of 25% to allow for some flexibility in desk bookings.
This allows them to reduce the number of workstations to 75 percent which would yield an annual saving of more than 250 thousand dollars.
The real benefit to implementing smart technology in your office is that it gives you access to data – and more specifically data on how your office is being used.
This is of course not true for everything you implement, but most smart devices whether they are occupancy sensors, automated ac-controls or Wi-Fi-integrated coffee makers will give you access to some kind of data, and that data can be used to further optimize how you use your office.
However, just getting your hands on the data from your solutions isn’t going to give you enough information to act on. You need to contextualize the data before you can turn it into action.
One specific case we’ve seen is a major accounting firm that had an issue with meeting rooms in their Copenhagen offices. Their employees kept insisting that there weren’t any available meeting rooms – ever.
When their office management team looked at the room booking data, they found out that this wasn’t entirely true.
About half their meeting rooms were constantly booked, but the other half of them were almost always available, and by using the information from Planner, they found out what these rooms had in common.
The way their office was set up, meant that half their meeting rooms had a lovely view of the harbor, while the other half overlooked an unimpressive residential area. For obvious reasons employees preferred the meeting rooms overlooking the harbor, because the view was a lot nicer which gave a better impression when meeting with clients.
While the team obviously couldn’t change the way the rooms were facing, it did give them the opportunity to take the issue up with the employees and together they managed to come up with a way to make the non-harbor-facing meeting rooms more appealing.
While there are many ways to turn a conventional office into a smarter version of itself, and many different smart office solutions that will help facilitate this process, there are three main components to a smart office:
Business specific technology
The infrastructure of an office building includes things like plumbing, sign in systems, air conditioning, security systems, heat- and humidity control systems etc.
While these things aren’t inherently “smart”, they can all be upgraded to smart solutions either through cloud-based property management systems, automated AC-control etc.
We all know smart devices from our homes – smartphone based-lighting, smart locks, or Wi-Fi-integrated coffee makers.
At the very lowest level, smart devices in the office are exactly the same, more users just need to be able to access the devices than in your own home. However, this could potentially create problems for consumer grade devices.
For most offices you’ll benefit from taking it a step further.
For instance, instead of adding smartphone control to things like light, locks, or air-conditioning, you could have it controlled by occupancy sensors. This would make the entire interaction a lot smoother.
While every business is different, there are often a lot of commonalities in what they need in order to become "smart".
Things like room and resource booking systems are used in most offices today, but the benefits added by not just handling such bookings in Exchange but by integrating more complex solutions with your calendar goes a long way towards reducing friction when employees carry out room bookings, for instance.
In the same vein moving from strictly focusing on desk booking, when managing hybrid or activity based work, towards more complete workspace management solutions will give employees a better overview of who’s in the office, who’s working from home, and who’s unavailable, even when they are themselves working from home.
Where to start is always the biggest issue when it comes to making changes to the office environment. It’s often a big investment in terms of money, and any disruptions caused by implementing smart office systems can be equally expensive.
If you don’t do your homework before you start the process, and simply jump on the bandwagon of whatever everyone else is doing, you won’t know how each specific solution will benefit your workplace.
This is why we recommend that you start by looking at your office utilization data.
It can either be quantitative data, from solutions that log things like booking patterns or usage data for desks and rooms, or it could be qualitative data from employee surveys. Ideally, you should have access to both.
Getting access to this data removes almost all of the gamble involved in implementing new office solutions, simply because you can focus on equipping your office with the things your business and your colleagues actually need.