Will IoT In The Workplace Signal The Demise of Community Managers?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of those buzzwords that’s been flying around for a while – but its impact on flexible workspaces is just starting to sting.

But, what exactly is the IoT?

Simply put, it’s a blanket phrase to describe a group of items connected via the internet. Fitness trackers like the FitBit are an obvious and simple example. These wrist worn devices automatically upload your activity onto an app, and then store this information in the cloud. You can then seamlessly access your data and the readings on your friends’ devices to (quite literally) keep one step ahead of the crowd.

The implications for the world of work are fascinating. Last month, a Swedish startup that implanted its employees with tiny microchips so they could unlock doors or buy a smoothie with a wave of their tech-impregnated hand.

Could coworking cyborgs fitted with the latest IoT tech enter the flexible workspace sector before you can say “hive mind”?

Before we get too carried away, there are many technical hurdles that flexible workspaces must overcome for IoT-based devices to see widespread adoption across the industry.

Wireless internet connections need to improve both in terms of their speed and security. The cost of sensors and other IoT-based hardware must come down. And technology companies need to find a way for their products and services to work together seamlessly to offer full automation and reap the maximum benefits from a connected workspace.

OK, now we can get carried away.

Let’s look at how the IoT could affect the flexible workspaces of the future, according to the companies working at the cutting edge of the Internet of Things.

Community managers could morph into IT gurus…

If a space wants to embrace the IoT, then it will need to buff up on its technical skills to ensure that any offerings are installed and maintained correctly. Bernhard Mehl, co-founder at commercial access control system and physical identity management company Kisi, said:

“A challenge is that flexible spaces do not always have the same level of IT staff as technology organisations, particularly if they are smaller spaces. This is why initially those with larger IT departments were adopting IoT faster or more seriously.  In the future there might be new hybrid roles between community and IT who might be called office automation managers. They could understand how to configure a secure internet connection, or what to do if a component of the system goes down to enable their more and more demanding workforce.”

…or disappear entirely?

Could IoT take things one step further and completely negate the need for an onsite community manager? Warren Hersowitz, sales director at workspace platform company WUN Systems, thinks so and said:

“I think it’s closer and more realistic than most people are willing to accept. While, on the one hand, there will always be spaces where we always want people there, on the other hand everything could be automated.”

For example, a remote operator could use a coworking management system to run the day-to-day needs of the coworking space. Meeting rooms, access rights and other such phenomena can be assigned with the click on a mouse.

“But it is important to remember that just because the space’s management is automated, does not mean that it will not be community based. The members can still talk and collaborate and a community manager can pop in as and when they are needed,” Hersowitz added.

An automated community

Let’s take this concept one step further, could the combination IoT-based tech and wearables help you network on a whole new level? David Kinnaird, president of flexible workspace software provider essensys, explained: “The interoperability between people will also increase as their wearables will interact as they do.”

For example, if you walked into a space wearing smart glasses then an augmented reality overlay could appear, telling you who else is in the building and basic personal information, such as their name and job title. Algorithms could even be used to suggest people you could and should interact with. Making friends and influencing people just got an IoT upgrade.

We know what you want

IoT also has knock-on effects from a marketing perspective. Richard Graves, founder and CEO of digital touchpoint company BKON Connect, said:

“The blurring lines between the physical world and digital technology present opportunities for BKON Connect. Because touchpoints are simple to manage, businesses can quickly adapt their content offerings based on what people select. Unlike current popular proximity marketing strategies that track people by location and push messages, touchpoint browsing is a user-directed, inbound strategy of making the physical world searchable. Like web browsing, touchpoint browsing is done anonymously until someone selects a touchpoint.”

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“Furthermore, any app can integrate digital touchpoint browsing with a few lines of code, creating a fast, image-rich browsing experience. The bonus: digital touchpoints can be accessed through popular apps for web browsing and social media, such as Chrome, Snapchat, and Twitter, to name a few,” he added.

Fully personalised environments

If we extend this idea even further, then IoT-based tech could open up the possibility of fully automated and personalised environments for coworkers. For example, let’s say you revisit a coworking space fitted with smart technology. During your previous visit, your preferred temperature, seating position and lighting level were recorded by smart devices and your preferences are remembered so that everything is automatically set up on your return.

If you access a space through an app on your smartphone, or another connected wearable device, then the process is further automated, as Kinnaird explained:

“People are already identified by the devices that they carry and this is the next step forward. A person could step into a space and there is no need to login – they are seamlessly identified by a wearable and the space adapts to what they want.”

This could also affect a space’s charging models. For example, surge pricing during busy periods are a further possibility. “One of the great challenges for any flexible space or shared space is finding out who is in the building, and what they are doing and the IoT offers the capability to measure that,” he added.

Optimised space designs

If you bring together all of this data on how every member is interacting with a space, this could also impact its physical layout. Kinnaird said: “This all brings in a lot of data and can let the space’s operators change the workspace depending on what they are told about these movements to, for example, move the kitchen or change the width of the corridors.”

This technology already exists, in some part. Jibestream offers an Indoor Intelligence platform that merges spatial data with indoor maps for real-time indoor visual intelligence. Using this platform, occupancy sensors and other real-time data can be rendered on a map to allow administrators to understand how space is being utilised.

Chris Wiegand, CEO at Jibestream, said:

“The ability to visualise the data on a map is more digestible and easier for decision makers to adjust their space and resources to be best optimised. One example of how coworking spaces use our platform, is to integrate it with smart lights to better understand which of their meeting spaces are used most often and during what times of the day. Often this data is then used to determine pricing strategy.”

Wiegand added: “The Indoor Intelligence platform is designed with RESTful architecture that can easily integrate with third party data and systems. Through the REST APIs, developers can create custom business rules on the application side to serve multiple use cases with complete control of what is visualised to end users in context of a map.”

Examples include, integrating with room conferencing systems, occupancy sensors, HVAC to see temperature alerts, security systems, service alerts to visualise failed equipment, and so on.

No more hardware overhauls

IoT-based devices are also highly scalable and do not, generally, rely on clunky pieces of hardware to keep them up to date. For example, the Kisi system runs firmware updates automatically over the internet to maintain its systems and the system is highly modular. So, if you want to add more sensors or control panels to a system – you just add those components. There’s no need for a major tech refit or scheduled downtime for a software upgrade.

This means that the IoT can slowly be integrated into a flexible workspace. Mehl added: “We do not need to increase the infrastructure. More members do not affect things. There is no need to change the systems – you can just keep growing and your technology will grow too.”

While all these changes sound very exciting, they will be incremental. IoT is an evolution of the technology we already use and it relies on the concept of improving things for humans – not removing them from the equation entirely.

And it is, ultimately, humans that will decide whether the IoT really does have a place in our flexible workspaces and the true extent of its impact.