How technology is making the future office smart and sustainable

If hunter-gatherers would hop into a time travel machine and exit today, they would be in shock. Whereas we used to 'work' primarily outdoors, the new reality is that we spend most of our working lives indoors. The question remains: How can we evolve the physical workplace experience to make it a happy, productive and sustainable place for employees?
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The transformation of the future office

We spend a mind-blowing 90 percent of our waking lives in physical space. What's more, a third of it is spent within a company’s four walls. And whether you believe in Feng Shui or not, numbers don’t lie. Only 11 percent of respondents were completely satisfied with their physical workspace

At the same time, there is a tremendous impact from a technological standpoint. Cities are becoming smart, buildings are becoming smart, and the future workplace is becoming smart. But that's not all. Newest technologies are also expected to be sustainability-driven to reduce the carbon footprint. What now?

This is article two of a series on Workplace Experience. For article one, click below.

To think about the future workplace, the School of Workplace Innovation hosted its first event at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) on June 3. The main topic? Optimizing the physical workplace experience while improving the sustainable footprint. 

Both selected startups within real estate innovation and participating corporates met at the residency of the American ambassador to identify possibilities to work together. 

We've gathered their opinion on the future workplace and linked them to the newest trends around the physical workplace experience.

The future office is smart

1. Flexible workspace and noise cancellation technologies

Ever felt that your productivity suffered from high noise levels at work? You are not alone. In fact, in a study on biophilic design, 28 percent of employees mentioned that they do not have a quiet space to work in their office. Hans Kok, shareholder at Zipperwall, explains: 

There is a big trend for open spaces where there is no privacy, it’s not silent enough to have a good phone call or other people are listening in.

However useful in terms of collaboration, open office spaces need space for noise-free environments. As a result, cubicles are making a return. Call them phone booths or mini pods; they are providing privacy and shield noise levels. 

A new technology to create flexible workspaces are walls made from aluminum cassettes, like Zipperwall, that can create cubicles or partition rooms. Integrated ventilation systems and smart magnetic lights ensure ultimate flexibility and comfort.  

Additionally, technologies shielding outdoor noise are gaining traction. DeNoize has developed noise cancellation technologies that shield the office from up to 90 percent of additional outdoor noise, without the need to build thicker facades. Aman Jindal, founder and CEO of DeNoize, explains: “A lot of times, triple-glazed windows or triple-glazed facades are used thinking that they would be better in terms of acoustic comfort, when they don’t really need it. You waste a lot of space, money and material, while with technology we can do it much better."

How technology is making the future office smart and sustainable - Smart home - by Accenture

2. Smart meters connected to HVAC systems

We should also be aware that poor office air is making us less intelligent. In fact, an office with poor indoor quality results in 60 percent lower cognitive scores than a well-ventilated office.

The future office will connect HVAC systems to smart meters to track and implement the right heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. Companies like Global Green Buildings are providing IoT devices to collect data about the energy usage and air quality of an office. In turn, the data is benchmarked and serves as a basis for further recommendations for office improvements.   

The future office is sustainable

According to the European Commission, buildings are responsible for 40 percent of energy consumption in Europe. At the same time, the new workforce expects its employers to make sustainable (office) choices. Thus, it is no surprise that the future office needs to be built with a sustainable mindset. 

Governmental initiatives also aim to decrease the carbon footprint; for instance, by promoting the use of nearly zero-energy buildings (NZEBs). In fact, the European Union, requires its member states to draw up national plans to increase the number of NZEBs.

Many companies have hopped on the same train, meaning that sustainable technologies, as well as circular initiatives, are booming. 

1. Generation of electricity and energy

In the field of energy, companies have come up with bright solutions to reduce consumption. Some have developed the ability to generate electricity through translucent solar panels covering whole buildings (Wellsun). 

Others experiment with generating energy through drain water (de Warmte) and photosynthetic lamps (Living Light). 

In addition, companies like Pavegen utilize smart flooring to engage employees while converting their footsteps into data, energy and rewards.

Stan de Ridder, co-founder of Wellsun, explains: “It started off with an idea, if you look at the sun and the sun hits the facade, there is a lot of energy and we don’t use that energy. We only try to keep it out and it costs a lot of energy to keep it out, while there’s a lot of energy in the sun. So, why don’t we use that sun?”

The future office is smart and sustainable - Smart energy meter - by Accenture

2. Circular initiatives

An office creates on average 227 kilos of trash per year. Two thirds of trash are not being separated. Circular initiatives and employee awareness can increase the sustainable footprint. For example, Coffee Based produces bio-based products from under-utilized coffee ground whereas Greengame has developed an app which combines advanced technology (e.g. machine learning and natural language processing), gamification, and behavioral economics to automatically track employees’ activities. 

Cristian Parrino, co-founder and CEO at Greengame, says: “I like to look at a problem through systemic change. Getting people to walk more, cycle more, drive less, go 24 hours without motor vehicles, those are the things that are difficult for changing behavior. With Greengame, we are solving the macro-problem of sustainable living. That’s our reason for existence.”

Risks associated with IoT at the workplace

Emerging technologies will be a focal point in developing smart buildings and workplaces. Companies look with excitement towards the Internet of Things (IoT). In fact, 7.5 billion connected devices will be in company use by 2020. However disruptive, IoT devices are often unmanaged and bear risks related to data misuse and cyberattacks. 

Two topics every company will need to consider. First, employees may be unwilling to share their data. Half of all employees would consider leaving a company that uses their data irresponsibly. Thus, a cultural transformation that involves employees in the decision-making process surrounding data ethics is imperative. Companies need to stay transparent to turn data into success. Always. 

Second, a third of all cybersecurity attacks will relate to IoT by 2020. As a result, IoT systems will require to work autonomously, without human supervision. The technology needs to be bulletproof to not rely on overworked IT departments and can spot vulnerabilities from the get-go.

The future office is smart and sustainable - CCTV security - by Accenture

An ecosystem of innovation players driving workplace innovation together

Both startups and corporates felt enthusiastic about the possibilities to innovate together through the School of Workplace Innovation. Some of the highlights they mentioned:

“What appealed most to me today were the break-out sessions, where you can discuss possible projects with corporates in depth.”  – Sander Wapperom from deWarmte.

“Next, we will meet the startups in our office, learn from each other and hopefully create a great relationship with one another.”Sandra Bakker from booking.com.

“What I like is that we can implement solutions with the startups very quickly and everything is ready to run.”Djamilla van Duin from ISS Facility Services.

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Are you interested in joining the ecosystem?

The next event of the School of Workplace Innovation will take place on July 4, focusing on liquid productivity and intuitive experience.

Are you interested in tackling the challenge on workplace innovation or do you want to receive more information about the potential of an open innovation program for your company? Please contact Féline Mollerus.

Authors: Féline Mollerus Liz Pfeffer