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Last month Austin hosted the Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo, and recently we’ve been hearing a lot about new technologies making their way into the office setting. So this week on the blog it’s all about the smart office.

What is a smart office?

There isn’t really one set definition of a smart office, but essentially it’s an office space that utilizes smart devices to improve efficiency and the office environment in general. This can encompass a lot of different ideas and devices so we’re focusing on a few of the most talked about smart office features.

Smart Lighting & Thermostats

Many cities are already using smart lighting systems for highway and city roadway lights, but similar smart lights can be used in office spaces as well. These lighting solutions can adjust to compliment the natural light in the building, reducing glare on computer screens, use sensors to turn lights on when employees are in the building, and decrease energy usage. Aside from smart lighting being a cost and energy saving measure, embedded sensors and other technology are letting many small businesses use these lighting systems to track the flow of customer traffic, product inventory and much more.

Whether it’s a simple Nest thermostat or Cisco’s Digital Building solution, having a self-monitoring and self-regulating thermostat can improve worker productivity and overall health. No more of the never ending battle over the best office temperature. These devices or solutions can ensure that the temperature is comfortable and consistent throughout the day and adjust when the last employee leaves and the first person shows up in the morning without anyone having to touch it.

Neither of these solutions are anything novel, but the increased savings, productivity, and decreased energy consumption are all a plus if you’re considering any sort of smart office technology and are unsure where to start.

Standing Desks

Even if standing while working doesn’t appeal to you it’s hard to ignore the research behind the effects of sitting all day and The Truth Behind Standing Desks. Many offices are beginning to equip their employees with desks that are easily convertible from sitting to standing. Humanscale has quite a few well designed and smart sit/stand options. Humanscale’s desks can be on the pricey side, but if you’re looking for one with all the bells and whistles they’ve definitely got them. Humanscale also offers OfficeIQ, which uses sensors to tell how long you’ve been sitting or standing and sends notifications for the best time to stand – it can even be integrated with your calendar so it doesn’t bother you during a meeting. And there are plenty of more affordable options out there if you do your research.

Virtual Reality for the Office

Virtual reality seems to be everywhere and soon it will be making its way into offices. Whether it’s being used to make training more accessible and interactive, or connecting teams in different locations, there are a lot of ways that VR technology can be brought into the office. With the release of Microsoft’s VR headset earlier this year at a relatively affordable price, it’s certainly something to consider as the use of VR continues to grow.

Open Concept Floor Plans

There is a lot of back and forth about the optimal office design in the business world, with open concept advocates on the one hand and and those in favor of more traditional offices-with-doors on the other. Pro-open concept businesses say it increases productivity and pro-traditional office layout businesses say the opposite. But many tech giants are all about open concept floor plans, and in a business world where many startups tend to copy what the giants do, open concept seems to be here to stay.

While this might not be a super technical aspect of a smart office, it is important to consider when discussing offices of the future. Companies moving toward these open concept plans are dedicating less space to individual assigned work areas and more space to open seating areas. As an example, if you’ve ever seen a Buzzfeed video that shows their office space you will see a large open area with a multitude of desks right next to each other plus open common areas with tables and couches meant to encourage workers to move around. The idea is that these open spaces are collaborative and are more likely to lead to the spark of new ideas that wouldn’t have been brought about by individuals working in isolation. And there is some science to back that up.

While the open concept office itself may not be a piece of technology, lots of technology is useful in making the concept work well. In open spaces like this, with employees moving all over the office, a rock solid network that can be connected to from anywhere in the space is super important along with things like the right audio-video gear for impromptu presentations, quiet rooms with teleconference capability for meetings, and much more. Consult your IT department or provider to make sure you end up with the right solutions!

What does this mean for security?

Many of these new smart office technologies can lead to increased efficiency, employee happiness, and a hip office setting, but they can also give way to security concerns. Many if not most “smart” devices are connected to the internet, which means that just like your computers and mobile devices they need to be protected from hackers. The Dyn DDoS attack last fall is a perfect example of what can happen when these devices aren’t protected. Any “Internet of Things” device connected to the network could be an open door for malicious invaders, and this includes smart thermostats, lighting systems, and even the chips in new smart refrigerators.

This isn’t meant to scare you off installing these devices in your office, this is just a reminder that with increased technology comes an increased need for network and device security. Don’t be afraid to contact a professional to make sure that you’re keeping your network and data secure.

Should I be converting my office now?

Not necessarily. Smart offices are a big topic of conversation in the startup world because many are building their first offices. It’s also a topic of conversation for larger companies who need to upgrade their systems or are building new buildings/headquarters. If your company isn’t in either of these categories, you can probably wait until you do fall into one of them. Many of these devices/ideas can be expensive to implement, but as they become more widespread they will become more affordable, as with most things in business. Wait until it makes sense for your business.

There are a lot of different parts and pieces to the smart office discussion. If it’s something your business is considering and you have questions on how to keep yourself secure or the technology behind it please feel free to give us a call! We are always happy to answer questions and see if we can help you in any way!