Many people's commutes to work have changed dramatically in the last year, with the majority of us working from home all or most of the time at the height of the pandemic. Employers are at various stages of reopening their offices—and bringing back personnel to differing degrees—as we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

This transformation will not occur overnight, but all signals point to businesses adopting a flexible work environment that differs significantly from the pre-pandemic norm.

The way offices are designed, built, and run must change as the number of employees in an office on any given day becomes less predictable. Offices will be smaller, configurations will be more flexible (think hot-desking or co-working spaces), and innovative, tech-enabled features will be prioritised. Smart technologies and systems in the workplace will aid building developers and landlords in attracting tenants, while businesses will use them to keep their employees safe as well as retain, motivate, and engage talent.

OFFICE AT YOUR FINGERTIPS WITH SMART TECHNOLOGY

Technology should not be introduced into an office on a haphazard basis. Technology solutions should provide a tangible benefit and be simple to use. As a result, smart technology such as voice assistants are an important consideration for future offices.

In fact, we're already seeing companies branch out from the home market and offer virtual assistant services to enterprises. Take Amazon's Alexa for Business, for example, which allows enterprises and employees to use Alexa to get more work done.

Another development we'll see is building operators and facilities managers collaborating with businesses to provide employees with a virtual assistant that can be accessed through an app. The goal in the future is to achieve a level of mass personalisation that has never been achievable before. Imagine being able to go into a room and have the temperature change automatically based on your preferences, or being able to programme which screen you want to see when you walk in.

CONSIDERATIONS ON CONNECTIVITY AND CYBERSECURITY

The technology to integrate virtual assistants into an organization's workflow is now accessible, but connectivity is still a major issue in many circumstances. Building data is notoriously compartmentalised and difficult to access, and smart technology relies on quick and copious access to data. Information on a building is frequently stored in distinct data environments with no link between them.

We need all linked systems to feed data from throughout the building infrastructure for intelligent apps to reach their full potential. Here, systems integrators play a critical role. A central building management system (BMS) can act as the facility's brain, linking all assets via open standards to establish a single source of truth from which decisions can be made. Virtual assistants can then connect to the BMS and use the data to provide real-time information such as indoor air quality or the number of open workspaces in a shared office.

As IoT-enabled building systems become more connected and more data is gathered, cybersecurity must become a major issue. Outsiders should not be able to remotely manage a building or obtain access to data regarding employee arrivals and departures. Employees are increasingly comfortable and have even grown to expect that firms will leverage the power of next-gen technology to create a better, more connected working environment as technology continues to pervade more aspects of our life. They do, however, expect (and have a right to expect) that their organisation will do everything possible to secure them and their data.

OFFICE EXPERIENCE IN THE FUTURE

The epidemic has had a long-term impact on many facets of business. As businesses reopen their doors, new and growing employee expectations will present an opportunity to accelerate technology adoption and implementation. Smart technology and connected systems can assist building operators and facility executives give occupants more authority, allowing offices to achieve high levels of productivity and offer a human-centric experience that is intuitive and personalised for everyone.