Office Sensors Offer More Than Comfort
IoT is changing the way we work in more ways than you think.
As the Internet of Things expands, metrics must expand with it. Both on the web and on mobile, it’s crucial for creators to measure detailed usage statistics. There’s no end to the startups that have made a fortune by providing marketing, analytics, and tracking services for websites and mobile apps. By understanding how users interact with the product, creators hope that they can craft a better product.
With the IoT entering the picture, the “product” is a home or an office. This means that the usage metrics that businesses rely on must come from physically tracking people in the space.
This doesn’t have to be as creepy as it sounds. A recent report by Dezeen goes over some of the recent developments in IoT as it applies to offices. Sensors will become more prolific in the coming years, and the data they collect can be used for more good than you’d expect.
One of the more straightforward use cases is to provide comfort. We’ve already talked about apps that allow workers to control the temperature of the room they’re in without messing with the whole floor’s thermostat. Similar sensors will be able to dynamically change lighting, smell, and even air quality. Instead of automatically adjusting the lighting based on time of day, a system with accurate sensors would be able to turn on the lights if it’s dark and cloudy, or leave them off during the long evenings in the summer months.
What’s more, sophisticated sensor systems can respond to user desires. It’s not just about necessities anymore. Want your conference room to smell like lemongrass or mint for the next meeting? Hit a button and the ventilation system will do its thing.
Still, in many ways, the benefits of office sensors lie in the system’s unseen, automated actions. With the right sensors, the software can judge subtle physical traits like humidity, air quality (“stuffiness”), and noise levels. The system can then compensate for these traits before the building occupants even notice. Automated white noise management would be particularly valuable for offices with open work areas, because it’s infamously hard to craft a noise-free open workspace.
Another feature of office sensors is perhaps a bit more disconcerting. Though there aren’t any devices that currently do this, it’s theoretically possible for sensors to tracks occupants’ biometrics. External signs like “heart rate, gaze direction, facial temperature, skin moisture, skin temperature, and brain waves” can be monitored by a sufficiently sophisticated sensor, according to Haworth’s research paper.
These biological signifiers could indicate the occupant’s mental state. For example, a person whose attention is waning will probably have more eye movement than a person who’s focused on their work. Heart rate can be a measure of many things, but stress and anxiety are two of the biggest targets. Skin moisture and temperature metrics can be combined with heart rate to guess whether a worker is stressed out, or whether they simply had too much coffee.
Armed with this knowledge, office managers (and indeed, company managers) can use data to optimize their workforce. This could be the next step in improving the worker experience in the office. Just as with optimizing a website or an app, the best changes often come about from observing how real users engage with the product.
Obviously, there are privacy concerns with this idea, and it’s not something that any company is actively proposing. But if the technology is available, it’s likely that companies will introduce some element of biometrics tracking in order to improve functionality. And just like with web privacy, there will be plenty of products intended to hurt or help the data collection process.
The Internet of Things will bring all sorts of new concerns to the world of office design, but it also promises more refined workspaces than we’ve ever seen.