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How to Create a Low-Budget Connected Office Space

Making your office much smarter is simple - when you have these technologies and ideas on hand!

ScreenCloud Post

We’ve all imagined connected office spaces of the future. But what could they look like right now? Here’s a little known secret we’ve come across; it’s actually simple to begin making your office smarter.

When your office is smarter, people work better, collaborate more, save money and have fun. So why isn’t everyone doing it? 

Somewhere along the way, the internet of things has been viewed as too expensive for our regular ol’ offices. Just like digital signage and a host of other age-old industries we’re blocked by barriers. It’s too expensive! No one knows how to use it! We’ll need new hardware, software, feeds and circuits….

Many of us are in the business of working remotely or renting space. In this situation expensive connected technologies are down right unfeasible right?

Well, not quite.

The truth is, anyone can begin creating a connected office space that works smarter and harder. It doesn’t matter if you’re only in it for the short term - just like desks and chairs, the stuff you need can be packed up and moved. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a huge budget either, you can still find something that adds value and makes the lives of your people easier. You just have to know where to look and also be willing to choose unconventionally, doing things you, or your office, may never have done before. 

In this post we’re going to look at some of the easiest ways to get on the first rung of the connected office space ladder and how others are doing it too. 

What does a connected office space look like?

Okay so you’ve seen the connected workplace from digital agency R/GA and it got you curious. Us too. It’s the one most people are talking about because it’s pretty cool and it makes IoT accessible to office elements we all have - lights, artwork, cafeterias and so on. 

First, they utilize digital signage (screens on walls) in a big way. Throughout cafe and social areas digital screens show revolving content of talent teams, client names and projects against a high-footfall backdrop. Secondly, the lighting changes throughout the day, adapting to nature’s circadian rhythm which is a fancy way of saying the lights turn up and down depending on time of day and season. The structures throughout the floors absorb sound, more of a design consideration than a technical one, but still pretty awesome. Lastly, an office app brings everything together - from providing information on the office art using beacon technology, to connecting employees across continents. 

Image credit: Paul Warsa​

The result is something fairly impressive, yet all of the technologies that make up this space are actually really, really simple. Digital signage - something anyone can access with a few screens and a software setup like ScreenCloud. Okay, sound-proofed walls are slightly more difficult (particularly if you’re renting) but lighting systems are easy. Hook up a Raspberry Pi or even replace your bulbs with something like the Philips Hue, which can be controlled from your smartphone. 

So could you add some of these elements into your own office, even on a low budget? Of course you could. 

Smart connected technologies to consider on a budget

Before you can build a connected office space, you need to consider what it might do. Often, smart offices are made up of smaller components and circuits that tie into things you already use, such as lighting and heating systems. Breaking the ‘smart office’ concept down into individual areas will undoubtedly help you to begin experimenting. 

Digital signage

Digital signage is one of the easiest ways to make your office smarter and is incredibly low budget to implement. If you can afford to buy an Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K and have a TV monitor already knocking around you’re good to go. So what’s the benefit?

Through digital signage you can setup real time information, from what buses are passing by outside, to weather conditions, meeting room availability and social media. 

It can also adapt easily with your office. Take our app ScreenCloud. With the click of a button your content can be updated or changed from anywhere, at any time, making it super simple to drop an image or video into your playlist. Sharing seasonal messaging, sales team figures, company dashboards and emergency notices when the milk runs out. 

Eventually we see a version of digital signage where screens are no longer passive but encourage interaction, responding to the workers around them. It’s not that far away when it comes to the connected space. 

Then take all of this a step further. Digital signage works on any smart TV right? Or a regular TV hooked up with a cheap media device such as the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, Chromecast with Google TV or Station P1 Pro. Well what if some of your remote workers have a smart TV on their wall at home? It wouldn’t be difficult for them to download the same app you use in-office and mirror the office signage displays in their own home while they work. They feel much more connected, you know for sure that your information is reaching the entire workforce and yet no one has to be chained to their desks to see it. Smart eh?

Mobile apps and smart wearables

Smartphones and smartwatches let you create a connected office space without touching the walls or structural elements. Firstly you have ‘corporate wellness’, you know, where employee perks are given on how many steps you take or how active your working day is. 

Companies like Notch make sensors that anyone can strap on to measure movements on a smartphone. This would allow the tracking of physical activities such as stock takes, how employees lift equipment and even the performance in your weekly ping-pong championship.

At a Tesco distribution centre in Ireland, workers wear smartwatches which count goods and track what they pick up as they move between the shelves - freeing up a ton of time usually spent marking clipboards. 

Also think about how many times you check your smartphone in a day, or even how many times just while reading this article? Each one requires password entry and navigation to the correct app. With a smartwatch, email and text messages can be seen in one click. Future smart devices are getting smaller and smaller and will be controllable by your eye line or a head movement. Voice recognition will also help increase speed while freeing up hands. 

Wearables can then become multi-use when they’re integrated so that employees can check-in, open doors or even access files using the watch they’re already wearing.

Office management - light and sound

How do you control simple aspects of office life such as the music playlist or level of sound? The staff in The Next Web office became frustrated by how easy it was for individuals to skip entire playlists or songs added by others while using the Sonos app. They got around it by connecting up their Sonos app, a Raspberry Pi and Slack (the company communication channel). Now employees could do two things: suggest a song or downvote one. This makes music democracy far more simple. It also collates two systems, Sonos for music and Slack for communication, into one. They’ve implemented a host of other cool things using simple systems and smart devices.

If you don’t have the ability to implement a full lighting infrastructure you could implement a consumer-grade system like Philips Hue as mentioned, or do what Monterail did and hook up your lighting circuits to a device like the Raspberry Pi so that lighting colour can be controlled via the web.

Employee phones could even be used to monitor the efficiency of other systems, for example setting up a sensor in the doorway of a room that tracks how many bodies enter in order to lower the thermostat to save on energy. You could even create a bin that monitors how much garbage you have per day, or the percentage that’s recyclable. 

Booking systems for space use

Cisco claims to be looking to employ RFID, WiFi, and ultra-wideband tracking in order to get an in-depth understanding of the movement of workers within a more connected work environment. Condeco Software has developed an infrared heat detection sensor system that can do just that. With this comes security and privacy issues, however there are ways around it such as letting workers pick up anonymous badges to carry each day that show when the space is occupied but not who occupies it. 

I’ve even seen a clever developer put a rudimentary sensor on the sole toilet door that sent information to a website to let anyone in the company know if it was engaged and how long the occupant had been in there. Certainly not for everyone, but it does hint towards what can be done when you put your mind to it!

If you’re looking to communicate rather than manage, you could implement a simple space booking system, viewable through tablets fixed to the walls or Bouncepads. Controlling your office via smartphone is great but what if you leave it at your desk? Fixed tablets can be used by anyone.

An app like AskCody, a partner of ours, can pick up information from your Outlook or Gmail calendar and populate it on screen when a meeting room is booked. Simple, yet surprisingly headache-saving. 

To wrap up…

Look around you - IoT is running your everyday life. If you have a smartwatch, a speaker or heating system controlled by an app on your phone, you’re already there. If you can afford a Raspberry Pi, a smart TV screen, or a few sensors there’s a world of opportunity waiting at your door.

Whether you want to make office music management easier, create space more easily or share employee location, all are completely accessible. Don’t look towards huge integrations and office-wide systems. Start by setting up a few screens, or a Slack-controlled light/sound/door system. Then piece together other aspects until you have a much smarter space that makes working not just more efficient but also more fun.

 SC Gradient

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