The Samsung C-Lab monitor stand watches your posture and adjusts to improve it © Girin/Samsung
The Samsung C-Lab monitor stand watches your posture and adjusts to improve it © Girin/Samsung

Tech briefing: smart workplaces

20 February 2019

Mind your posture. Office spaces are gaining on smart home technology, with gadgets designed to help – or keep tabs on – workers. 

Smart homes and Internet of Things (IoT) technology has been on our radar for a while and it seems that now our offices are about to get a lot smarter too. 

The technology we have seen being used in our homes and in our personal lives – such as smart furniture, voice-enabling and wearables – can also be used to help improve work spaces and in turn the productivity of employees. 

Artificial intelligence has the potential to create and destroy jobs – but either way, “100% of jobs will be different”, Ginni Rometty, IBM’s chief executive,  said in her keynote speech at the recent Consumer Electronics show (CES) in Las Vegas. The show was the backdrop for tech giants and startups to showcase their latest technology and explore the potential to create smart working environments. 

Machine learning technologies were a huge focus, from devices that translate conversations to facial recognition that could soon be used in offices everywhere. Smart office furniture designed by Samsung’s C-Lab (creative lab) included a sensor-embedded monitor stand to track user posture in real-time and subtly adjust itself accordingly, training the user to assume a better posture. The C-Lab also unveiled an AI powered desk light that detects actions through an embedded camera and changes the light accordingly.  

Workplace wearables

Technology such as Fitbits and the Apple watch are popular with consumers as a way of monitoring health. In fact, 65% of employees think technology has a role to play in their health and wellbeing, but could it also be used to monitor workforce engagement?

BrainCo, a tech firm developed within the Harvard Innovation Lab debuted its Focus1 brainwave detecting headband, which provides real-time quantitative feedback that helps to better understand what keeps users engaged and how to best retain information.

Using electroencephalography (EEG for short), a method that monitors electrical activity inside of the brain, BrainCo has developed a way to quantify people’s attention levels, or concentration at a given moment. The company is developing the wearable device to be used in education and fitness but the technology could in theory also be applied to monitor workforce wellness and engagement. 

Energy efficiency

Many offices already have motion-sensing lights, but technology firm Targus demoed its MiraLogic workplace intelligence system, taking workplace efficiency to the next level. The IoT platform collects real-time and historical data of what’s happening at desk level to see where energy is being wasted and provides companies with insights into office occupancy, performance and efficiency. 

The data collected can alert IT teams to equipment issues before there’s a problem to save money, time and productivity. Collecting consistent data on energy efficiency and equipment health could help procurement teams tackle issues before they arise and prolong the life of IT equipment.

But what about privacy?

Making your office smart may be more efficient but some could be wary of tech when it comes to privacy. As working life increasingly moves online, how can we protect ourselves from the next Cambridge Analytica scandal?

One recent development in online privacy is the Winston, from Winston Privacy. The hardware device plugs into your wireless router and protects online browsing and identity by scrambling and encrypting internet activity. On the surface level, the user’s location will change every 10 minutes.  

Smart selves 

Radio-frequency identification is already well established for monitoring stock movement, and the RFID tech is gaining popularity in people. Yes, in people. At US tech firm Three Square Market, around 50 staff have a microchip implanted between thumb and forefinger, and now they can open locked doors, login to computers, and buy food in the staff canteen with a simple wave of their hand. The firm is planning a similar bracelet, which may appeal to the more squeamish worker. In Sweden 3,000 people have opted for a similar implant, and can now book train tickets, open doors and use their credit card with a simple swipe. If you like the idea, consider passing it on down the supply chain: in Utah, EmbediVet, a tracking chip like a Fitbit helps dairy farmers monitor both the location and health of their herd. 

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