To come up with big ideas, new products and stay ahead of the competition, organizations are asking employees to solve wicked problems – many of which haven’t been defined yet. Creative problem solving requires different kinds of work. People need to come together to collaborate, break apart to develop their own ideas, and then come back together to iterate. This ebb and flow requires different kinds of places and technologies. The old office created for efficiency no longer works. The problem is people say they can’t find the right spaces to get their job done, yet we know prized real estate sits empty. There is a lack of real-time data in the workplace to help companies figure out what’s working and what isn’t.
Research conducted by Microsoft and Steelcase reveals 43 percent of workers do not think their office is a great place to do creative work, although nearly three-quarters (72 percent) believe their future success depends on their ability to be creative. These workers pointed out issues such as a lack of private spaces, insufficient or ill-equipped conference rooms that make it difficult to collaborate and unattractive environments. These issues may also mean that valuable work space is being underutilized. In fact, Steelcase research found that it is common for almost half (46 percent) of an office’s spaces to go unused at any time.
This is why Steelcase, a company with a 105-year history of designing for workspaces, developed a cloud-enabled space-sensing network to help organizations create workplaces that respond to the needs of people while also optimizing real estate investments. Using a network of wireless infrared sensors built upon the Microsoft Azure IoT platform, Steelcase Workplace Advisor can deliver advanced analytics around the clock, making it possible to receive real-time statistics alongside enterprise reliability and security. Steelcase then takes this information and layers their own expertise on top of it, giving organizations the ability to see exactly how their spaces are being used.
After measuring anonymous occupancy information, the sensors then send it to the Steelcase platform, where it is analyzed by an algorithm and measured against historical utilization. This data can then be viewed in aggregate on a dashboard to determine which spaces are being used, which are not and possible reasons why. For example, the ability to pair spaces with their attributes, such as whiteboards or an abundance of natural light, can help an organization understand why certain rooms get booked constantly while others do not. Users can also measure scheduled use vs. actual use, then tell Workplace Advisor to automatically cancel room reservations if no one shows up.
In addition, the Steelcase Personal Assistant mobile app will work with Workplace Advisor data to help employees quickly and easily discover the best place to work. They can search based on room size, room type, specific amenities, and more. They can also locate individual employees by zone, or view a map that allows them to view available spaces in either real time or throughout the day, then make a booking as needed. Plus, if there is ever a unique issue, such as a faulty piece of equipment, users can even write in their own requests and recommendations on the app. It gives control of the work environment back to the employee. All of this data exists beneath a layered defense strategy, built on top of Microsoft Azure, that consists of protective tools, such as firewalls and encrypted gateways, as well as 24/7 active monitoring, to help ensure complete privacy.
“Workers need a variety of spaces and technologies to help get their jobs done and be creative. Yet, often the spaces they do have sit empty as people say they can’t find the right places to do the work they need to do. Real-time data can help organizations create better workplaces for people,” says Scott Sadler, Steelcase Smart + Connected manager. “By embedding technology into the work environment, we are enabling people to tell organizations what spaces are successful and why. We can measure and identify patterns in how and where people are working. But data alone is meaningless; to improve performance individuals and organizations need trusted insights into what works, what doesn’t and why.”
As advanced as it is, the Steelcase Workplace Advisor and Personal Assistant represent just the beginning. Because it’s powered by Microsoft Azure, Steelcase is able to easily expand and scale future Smart + Connected offerings. In the near future, they plan on integrating Workplace Advisor with Office 365, Microsoft Exchange and other IoT-enabled enterprise systems, such as unified communication, lighting, and HVAC. This will not only make it simple for employees to schedule rooms and find colleagues in real-time, but will also create a dynamic environment that reacts to their needs. For instance, the workplace will be able to automatically adjust lighting based on pre-set configurations, dial into remote workers, detect when specific employees have left or entered a room, notify other teams when a meeting is running late, and much more. All this is exciting evidence that we are finally transitioning into a truly intelligent workplace that is flexible, creative and ultimately more productive for everyone involved.