In the era of smart, growth in the tech sector shows no signs of slowing. Smart phones, wearables, driverless cars and any number of devices continue to fascinate us; our appetite for more is proportional to their success. Sales of the voice-activated Google Home and Amazon Echo series of AI assistants have soared. Between 2016-2019 alone, annual Smart Home Devices sales increased threefold from 9.5 million to 29.4 million devices in the U.S.[i].
Easily adaptable to home and office settings, today’s smart home gadgets are set apart from corporate use by demands of scale. Voice-controlled devices offer limited capability in meeting the needs of large groups of employees or encompassing large facilities. But the home/office crossovers don’t stop with gadgets. Smart lighting, smart heating/cooling, smart shades, smart ceiling fans, smart keyless entry: the list goes on.
As long as the connectivity is available, cloud-connected sensors and hardware can be placed into homes and offices alike. Given public enthusiasm, it’s not surprising that we now anticipate a level of responsiveness and control in our workplaces that reflects our homes. Instant access to emails from varying locations on multiple devices, acclimatisation to automated responsive lighting, and heating and cooling that adapts according to internal/external temperatures; our patterns of use have become part of today’s working environment.
Today’s employees, especially millennials, have expectations that contrast to their older peers around technology in their workplaces. Social consciousness is now a factor in job seeking. Prospective employees’ awareness of their carbon footprint is giving ‘greener, environmentally-friendly’ buildings a larger appeal than ever, with smart buildings offering energy efficiency and resource savings that older buildings may not. Then there’s the lure of the tech itself. People like to feel that they’re moving with the trends and their employer will provide a comfortable, connected, technologically advanced workplace. It makes them feel valued. After all, most of us spend a large proportion of our week in our workplace, so why not reap the benefits the smart era provides?
The key question is whether property owners are prepared to invest in the technology. As demand for smart tech has increased, prices for smart technology and connectivity have fallen. But although automation systems and sensors are relatively low cost, creating an intelligent office environment still costs dollars. Solutions are expensive enough that employers and/or facility owners may not believe they provide sufficient return on investment.
Though employers may want high-tech workplaces, they’re generally not the people funding the changes. Any change intrinsic to the building will be at the owners and/or investors’ expense. The occupiers may need to make a business case to persuade their landlords, listing details such as potential energy savings, marketability and tenant retention.
Retrofitting a building with sensors and smart tech is not difficult, but unless an owner recognises the added value in having a smart property, they may opt to wait. After all, the next technological breakthrough is never far away.
On a deeper level, an owner who spends funds on making their building smart is making a long-term investment. McKinsey, which has analysed the market opportunity for the internet of things (IOT) in many different industries, predicts there will be between $70 billion and $150 billion of value creation by 2025 within offices due to the IOT [ii]. It’s about data flow and analysis providing insights and control to monitor efficiency and provide proactive vs reactive solutions.
For employees, though, data flow sits in the background. Most tenants want easy control over facilities and services, to feel they’re moving with the times and enjoying their workspace. The more control an employee believes they have over their work environment, the greater their workplace satisfaction. Employees’ preferences are shifting; previously technology was an advantage, now it’s becoming a basic expectation. At the blue chip level of recruitment, technologically-enhanced buildings are already one method that employers use to attract talent.
Conversely, facility managers want control of every asset in every room to make their time and jobs efficient. API (Application Programming Interface) platform integrations offer this capability and are constantly improving to incorporate more assets, though no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution exists as yet. Once the technology catches up with the demand, building owners will be pressured by tenants and facility managers alike.
Because owners may be reticent to embrace change, tenants are more likely to move to premises offering smart facilities rather than install smart technology at own cost. Poor retention of tenants and difficulty in letting properties may drive far greater change in owners’ attitudes than a business or its employees asking for improvements once in situ.
Property owners and employers need to catch up with the smart home trend. At the very least, they must be willing to track their occupants’ or employees’ expectations. Our future may hold a world in which home and office technology are seamlessly integrated to provide optimum efficiency, wherever we choose to work.