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Intelligent workplace with space for humanity

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Robots book meetings and alert you when your stress level is too high. Sensors regulate heat and light. Artificial intelligence (AI) is taking the place of employees as problem solvers in offices. And the Internet of Things (IoT) is increasingly taking care of service, operations and maintenance.

With a perpetual incitement to perform, thousands of things in your head and a high level of stress, it feels like the hours of the working week have been transformed into minutes. How are we to have time for everything? The solution will soon be here.
What about a dialogue robot, also called an AI bot, which schedules meetings and travel, synchronizes calendars, checks colleagues’ expertise and calls them up for input. The robot functions as a kind of digital secretary, it can also collect data and facts in databases in connection with tenders, keep a check on your stress level and hunger and alert you when it is time for a break. Sounds like science fiction? Perhaps, but it is also highly likely to be a part of everyday life in the office of the future, according to Cecilia Holmström, Strategic Adviser at Tengbom. “If in addition the company has connected itself to the future’s smart self-driving transport system, you always have transportation arranged from door to door for meetings with the desired transport system via your AIbot and perhaps even your food shopping or children already in place when you drive home after work,” she says.»

Smart technology, which manages security and comfort via sensors is already available, for example, locks and alarms, as well as presence control of heating, lighting and air. “The level of digitalisation is uneven depending on office. Apart from the fact that we work digitally via our computers, have a smartphone as a tool and that property management uses sensors for operation and maintenance, the level of technology is otherwise highly varied,” Cecilia Holmström says.

DIGITAL NATIVES. She emphasises how the ”soft” side of digitalisation is changing behaviour and affecting our life styles. “As an employer, you need to understand that employees have completely different requirements depending on the generation to which they belong. Employing our younger generation, Millennials, who are digital natives, unbounded and impatient, and who want to rapidly develop their talents, but who are also cosseted children, is different from employing people in their 40s and 50s, the loyal, non-digital Baby Boomers who patiently work their way upwards and want to cash in when they approach 60.” Cecilia Holmström emphasises that it is crucial how workplaces and corporate cultures meet these different target groups of employees in their eagerness to recruit and retain talents.

“In this context, digitalisation can help to meet different life styles and needs. As an employer you need to show that you are taking responsibility for the climate and social challenges, but also for a functional life balance for your employees.”

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THE ENVIRONMENT IS CRUCIAL. She receives support from Britt Lindqvist, Development Manager at Vasakronan, who feels that most companies are keen for their employees to have the right behaviour, but rarely link their attitude with the physical environment. “If we want more cooperation, then the design of the physical environment is absolutely crucial. If you put people in their own room, or in different corners of the office according to their unit, and then tell them to cooperate, then it is fairly unlikely that there will be much cooperation.” According to Britt Lindqvist, the digital development has enabled everybody to work where it is most natural and best – i.e. has made them increasingly mobile. She also perceives clear signs that traditional companies are increasingly looking for opportunities to introduce flexibility. “We know from our own surveys that the premises are absolutely crucial for how young people view a company when applying for jobs. Trying to claim that you are a modern company when conducting employment interviews in an outmoded office … it’s not possible any more. A modern office and outdated leadership will be revealed immediately.” At the same time as offices are becoming increasingly intelligent and we are getting better at meeting and communicating digitally, physical meetings are becoming increasingly important. she emphasizes: “Many workplaces are designed to facilitate meetings and to develop a culture. The technological developments are providing new possibilities, but we are fundamentally social beings. Correctly managed, I can’t see any conflicts between technological and human development.”

MAKES EVERYDAY LIFE EASIER. As an example of an IoT innovation that has revolutionised offices, Britt Lindqvist mentions Flowscape, an IT tool which makes everyday life easier in operations-based offices. “We were involved in developing the system that makes it possible to see where everybody is in the office, as well as book resources flexibly. The system simultaneously provides information about how the premises can be utilised, which parts the employees like and which parts are not utilised as much.”

With relevant information updated in real time, Britt Lindqvist says, Vasakronan can optimise operations in a completely new way. “If you add machine learning to that then things get really interesting. For example, in a property with a lot of commuters, information about a delayed train service can affect how the property’s control system regulates air and cooling in real time. There are lots of applications within that area that we are currently developing.” When Britt Lindqvist gets the chance to embellish on her own picture of the office of the future, she argues for an office that is more human in its design. “The technology will be completely integrated in the environments. Voice control, face recognition, machine learning, communication solutions, which today seem to be technologically advanced, will soon be regarded as natural in a modern office. Not for the technology per se, but for the applications,”she says and asserts: “You shouldn’t need to be an engineer to work in a modern office – and it will be our task as property owners to ensure that that is the case.”

THIS IS HOW OFFICES WILL BECOME MORE INTELL IGENT
• Voice control and face recognition which simplifies communication and security.
• Sensors which regulate locks and access, heating, humidity, light etc.
• Smart IT tools which help to monitor how the premises are utilised.
• Dialogue robots (AI-bots) which can schedule meetings and travel, synchronize calendars, collect facts in databases, keep track of employees’ stress levels and hunger and signal when it is time for a break.
• Machine learning, an advanced AI technology which develops the capacity of machines to independently understand and manage large amounts of data, for example, when disruptions to public transport mean that employees will be late into the office.

TEXT: HENRIK LINNGREN

This article was originally published in Reflections #1 2018

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