Biometrics, mood sensors and green spaces: Welcome to the office of the future
Imagine watching an employee arrive at work in the year 2036. She touches a sensor to gain access to the building; it scans her fingerprint and collects a sample of DNA from her skin. The door opens instantly and she walks through, past lush, green spaces. The office senses her presence as she moves from the door and because it knows she likes the room a little warmer, it slowly brings the temperature up two degrees. As her co-workers arrive for work some take a seat while others stand. Each is wearing the latest augmented reality tech, projecting private images and emails, ready to tackle the job in hand. This is the office of the future.
This might sound like a far off, futuristic notion but the concept of the office is changing rapidly. No longer are employees attached to their traditional place of work; we want to work flexibly, where and when suits us best. In order to adapt to changing ways of working the office of the future will incorporate DNA analysis for improved security, Augmented Reality to increase productivity, advanced AI to ease the burdens on employees, which I have written about previously, green, naturally-lit workplaces and smart wellness programs to keep employees healthy and happy.
Here are three of the key things we think we’ll see in the office of the future to adapt to changing ways of working:
1.Biometrics for security
We’re becoming more accustomed to using biometrics technology in our everyday life, for instance using fingerprint technology embedded in the iPhone. In addition, a recent survey revealed consumers want biometrics to be introduced in banking; appetite for the technology is growing. The office of the future will feature DNA analysis and fingerprint and iris scanning to increase security, and to make life easier for staff. No longer will we need to have passes to access our building, all we need is ourselves. Of course, organizations need to get the security right: employees need to trust that their personal data is kept safe, and won’t be abused, for them to be comfortable giving access to their employer.
2.From Work space to Meeting place
As we begin to work more flexibly, the role of our offices will become more flexible too. No longer will they be a place where we come to clock in and out between 9am and 5pm; the office will be a space where co-workers come to meet, discuss ideas and collaborate. We are already seeing a shift towards smarter office furniture, standing desks, and more natural light. With many experts claiming “sitting is the new smoking” workplaces will be designed with an emphasis on moving around and leaving the desk. In addition, it’s been proven that workplaces with green spaces and natural sunlight boost productivity so expect to see more green and less grey in modern office spaces.
The more forward-thinking companies are already taking steps in this direction, to become “sensing organizations” to improve employee wellbeing and productivity; where the physical environment can be adjusted to create the right setting to be productive, or to reduce stress, or to feel more creative. This can be done in a number of ways from adjusting lighting to even changing the smell of the office.
Other companies have developed similar initiatives, for instance CBRE, in its offices in LA, Amsterdam, Warsaw and Madrid are focused on blending wellness programs with building design. Their offices provide purified air (cleaned by plants), juice stations, digital signage with nutritional information to encourage healthy eating habits, and advanced lighting altered by sensors. CBRE predicts that by 2040, we’ll have access to ‘these types of ‘trophy workplaces’ that make going to work an easy, comfortable or even luxurious experience’. At my office at Atos in The Netherlands we built a large open atrium in order to benefit from natural light and create a space for colleagues, clients and partners to socialize over a tasty coffee or healthy lunch. Here, it’s possible to watch the latest company news on the digital signage screens which feature personalized content per work area.
3.Wearables for wellbeing
The best companies know that success requires happy, healthy and motivated workers and employee health will become a key topic on the business agenda. To ensure that workers can perform at their best, companies must invest in measuring and maintaining their health.
Forward thinking companies will use smart wearables to measure stress and happiness to change how they organise daily business. This is already happening in practice; Deloitte in Canada asked volunteers to wear ‘socio-metric badges’ that measured the amount of time they spent talking, tone of voice and activity levels which provided detailed insight into how employees were feeling in the workplace. However, there are still ethical and technical questions to be overcome about how consent is given, and how the data is used and stored, for what purpose and for how long. The Dutch PDA (Personal Data Authority) recommend a ‘privacy impact assessment in advance of any roll out’ to ensure the adequate permissions and data protection measures are in place, following two Dutch firms who were found to be in breach of data protection regulations.
Demands on staff are only going to increase over the next two decades so wearables could hold the key to managing and reducing stress if harnessed in the right way. There will be an increase in wearable tech, sensors, and data analysis to measure mental as well as physical health, to adjust the environment to help employees to feel more relaxed, productive or creative.