In early March, I interviewed Michele Pelino, Principal Analyst Serving Infrastructure & Operations Professionals at independent research firm, Forrester, about current trends in smart buildings and IoT-enabled workspace design. We had planned to meet at Light + Building where Michele was to have been our guest speaker at the event in Frankfurt, Germany, but then COVID-19 interfered, and we spoke online instead.
It was early days for the pandemic, so we didn’t know at the time how thoroughly disrupted the workplace would be—not only in the US, where Pelino and I were located, but all over the world. We were at the very beginning of the widespread office closures and lockdowns that would make the workplace more virtual than ever before, driving interactions for many onto online collaboration platforms such as Zoom, WebEx, and Microsoft Teams.
Several months along, it has become abundantly clear that work, and the workplace, will never be the same. The remote working experience has been decidedly mixed, but many employees have come to value the flexibility, the extra time and money saved by not having a commute, and the potential for a better work/life balance. Many employers, too, are seeing value in the virtual, especially as online communications tech is now reliable and high-bandwidth enough to make remote team management a viable alternative to the traditional on-site working model. Some companies envision significant reductions in corporate real estate costs and related expenses by having a smaller in-person workforce—or none at all—as well as reductions in energy usage and emissions that may help them achieve ambitious sustainability targets.
It is also abundantly clear that the corporate workplace is not going away any time soon. Some work must be done on site and in person, and there is still value in groups of workers coming together safely for important meetings, brainstorming sessions, and team-building activities. How the on-site-vs.-remote balance ultimately settles out remains to be seen, and will likely vary for different employers in different industries and regions.
Nevertheless, one thing is certain: connected systems, and the IoT applications that sit on top of them, will become more and more important for employers to achieve workplace flexibility, safety, efficiency, and differentiation. The trends that we discussed in March have not been invalidated by the pandemic and the need to adjust to a post-pandemic reality. On the contrary, some have been accelerated, as companies can no longer wait to implement the smart workplace capabilities that they require to attract and retain top talent and to get the most from them while they are on site.
Following are five topics around smart workplace trends that Pelino and I discussed, with some updates based on Forrester research published between April and July of 2020.