How the IoT will create the smarter, greener workplace of the future

We know that the advancement of the Internet of Things (IoT) is going to transform our daily personal and working lives, with multiple devices soon able to communicate with each other; but as a recent article on the Information Age points out, as well as making our workplaces smarter, this technology is going to make them greener, too.

In the near future, we're going to be more connected to our machines than ever. As a result, we will also be more connected to our environments and the systems that operate within them, with enhanced sensors and software drastically changing the way we live.

According to Gartner research, by 2020 there will be 25 billion connected 'things' in the world; many of which will have clear advantages in the workplace. From printers to security systems, smarter buildings will be better for the environment and a company's bottom line. Below are just some of the possibilities.

Connected spaces

Traditional offices and working patterns are changing, and at the same time are becoming filled with more and more digital natives. As early adopters of connected devices, Millennials will need to be catered for in the offices of the future - this means technology and the ability to connect must be accessible all the time, everywhere. Businesses will need to provide the solutions, software and hardware required to support the rise in collaborative and flexible working.

Running like clockwork

With smart building technology and automation, leaders already have enhanced oversight and control over their facilities. This could soon be replaced by biometrics and mobile apps that, for example, can track who is in a particular meeting room, when it will next become available, and what lighting, audiovisual applications and network services will be required for the next tenant. Smarter workplaces can automatically turn the lights off when there is enough natural daylight, or switch off the HVAC in empty rooms, significantly reducing energy wastage.

Taking the step

Unfortunately, while many companies have the basic foundations required to roll out smart building technology - ie. 'things' and connectivity - most are still struggling to co-ordinate all these elements into one cohesive strategy. There remains a lack of awareness of the benefits of IoT, which means it can be difficult to persuade business leaders that it's worth their investment. The real value of IoT will be realised when all these devices and services can be brought together as one central system.

Do office technology investments create workplace distractions?

We all know that technology has a certain significance in the modern workplace, but as technologies advance and our reliance on digital applications increases, this will be even truer in the future of work.

The Marlin Equipment Finance Resource Center recently wrote an article exploring this very issue, reminding us that tech trends aren't necessarily about what a particular gadget does, but how it is used by the general public. The same can certainly be said about technology's impact on the workplace; the success of new software and devices will not depend on what a product looks like or what brand name is on the box, but on the reception it gets from employees.

A growing number of companies are introducing BYOD policies and incorporating smartphones and tablets into their operations; but some are concerned that these, along with applications such as enterprise social media, will simply provide more opportunities for distraction and actually hamper productivity.

Unfortunately for those individuals, these devices aren't disappearing anytime soon. So, how can they balance the personal and professional elements of in-house technology?

First of all, it's important to look at the facts. According to a Pew Research Center study conducted in 2014, just 7% of the working adults questioned said that internet-connected devices hindered their productivity, while more than half said that they boosted it.

It's also important to note that giving employees a greater degree of choice and employer trust can boost their morale and overall job satisfaction. Diane Hoskins, CEO of design firm Gensler, found that giving employees individual agency over how, when and where they work - for example, they have the choice whether to work or play games on their tablet - boosts their satisfaction, job performance and the company's ability to progress.

This means that rather than cutting out technology, it will be more beneficial for managers of the future to cut out business aspects that prohibit employee choice - such as micromanaging, fixed schedules and limited roles.

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How is social media changing the workplace?

As workforces become increasingly filled with younger generations of professionals, there is a growing emphasis on the use and importance of social media at work. A recent article on eCampus News explored how this is likely to change the working environment in the years to come.

Millennials - and increasingly, members of Generation Z - have grown up communicating and documenting their lives on social channels. This means they have come to expect technology and social media to be core components of modern business; and, they regard social media skills as a valuable talent to bring to an organization.

According to a new piece of research by IT industry association CompITA, entitled 'Managing the Multigenerational Workforce', as working patterns become more flexible and the boundary between our work and personal lives becomes increasingly blurred, we are likely to see real changes to the workplace of the future.

The report findings show that younger workers are more likely to expect their work to utilise social media in some way. Around three in 10 employees in their 20s and 30s used social media for work purposes; compared to less than 20% of the Baby Boomers surveyed. In fact, a quarter (25%) of Baby Boomers didn't even have a personal social media account.

In addition to this, Millennials place a higher emphasis on having the right technology to enable them to do their jobs. Three-quarters of those surveyed said a company's technology usage would impact their decision whether or not to work there; in contrast, just over half of Baby Boomers said the same.

They're also more confident in their technical ability - the majority (70%) identified their ability and comfort level with technology as being 'upper tier' or 'cutting edge'; while just 55% of Gen X workers and 30% of Baby Boomers classified their ability to this standard. When it comes to dealing with technical issues, younger workers are more likely than their older counterparts to use mobile apps, video chat and instant messaging to resolve the problem, as well as social media for IT support.

Seth Robinson, senior director of technology analysis at CompTIA, explains that "Millennials have strong preferences and priorities on [...] the workplace [...] It will be interesting to see if these preferences become the norm as more millennials enter senior leadership positions; or if millennials change their views as they take on greater responsibilities."