By Allison Tardif, Industry Advocacy Manager, AVIXA
With new challenges in workplace safety urgently needing to be addressed as we return to the office, it is high time to use technology to make our workplaces smarter, safer, and more efficient.
AVIXA market intelligence data shows that organizations are planning to invest in upgrading their workplace AV. AVIXA Senior Director of Market Intelligence Sean Wargo said, “The association’s weekly surveys of audiovisual providers, fielded in the time since the pandemic began, indicate 87percent of respondents finding future business opportunities in conferencing and collaboration technology projects.”
Recently, AVIXA had the opportunity to speak with a team of workplace designers from global architecture firm HOK: Kay Sargent, Pam Light, and Adriana Rojas. They shared the tech solutions they see as defining the future of workplace design and a safe return to the workplace.
As HOK’s Sargent explained, this current moment is “An opportunity for the architecture and professional AV and IT worlds to finally come together” to solve this enormous challenge. She says, “We believe strongly that AV and IT are not something that should come at the end, it’s something that should be baked in from the beginning.”
These are the technology trends they see coming in a post-COVID workplace.
Voice and Gesture Replace Touch Screens
The pre-pandemic touchscreen trend is about to dramatically shift toward hands-free command and control solutions such as voice and gesture.
A person used to touch many surfaces to simply go from the parking garage to their workspace – doors, elevator buttons, and more. Each of those touch points can be retrofitted for gesture control, or with custom personal device apps that recognize the employee giving access to a secure work area. This is a quick fix for existing spaces that will go a long way toward making employees feel safe and secure.
Tech assistants, like Alexa or Siri, that many employees are accustomed to at home, can also help in creating a touch-free office environment.
An AI assistant can help the employee set up a meeting room, remember to record the meeting, take notes, and accomplish other tasks that used to require touching equipment in the room. If tech in the room can be configured to detect the employee’s smartphone, eliminating the need for them to touch anything, that’s even better.
Data and Sensors Empower Distancing
While monitoring can be used to track the flow of people in a space and identify points where they are over-congregating and creating an unsafe situation, sensors can also be used within the HVAC systems.
Viruses can travel through HVAC systems so air flow must be monitored with integrated sensors. Installing sensors and monitoring that connect the HVAC system to the IT system will enable facility managers to see if there are pinch points in air circulation that could create an issue.
Remote-Friendly Meeting Rooms
If you ask anyone who worked remotely before the pandemic what their challenges were, it is likely the experience of attending a meeting remotely when everyone else was physically in the room.
Often enough, remote employees cannot hear well, may not be able to tell who is speaking, or even see the people in the room at all. They miss the non-verbal communications and do not have access to notes or ideas being written on the whiteboard.
Even worse, they cannot be seen by those in the room and therefore are possibly forgotten. Going forward, with many employees likely choosing to stay remote, this experience will no longer be acceptable. Meeting rooms must be designed with the remote worker in mind.
Simple ideas include adding room cameras that detect the speaker or using smartboards so the whiteboard brainstorm is visible. These and other currently available technologies can create vastly improved meeting experiences for all employees.
Smart Work Points
People want and need options. People crave solutions that are smart and customized to their preferences. In the future, the generic assigned workstations of today will give way to smart work points.
In the past, our desks were designated as personal spaces that cleaning crews were forbidden to touch. Post-pandemic, we will see smart work points and non-assigned workspaces that can be completely sanitized between users but also customized to the employees’ needs.
Imagine if an app on the employee’s phone allowed her to see a map of the office with color coded indicators marking which work points are available and clean? She could then reserve that space with her app and the integrated technology in the workplace would automatically adjust that work point to the employee’s preset work preferences. The work point settings could also be packaged for common needs such as “designer” or “quiet, focused work.”
The same concept could be applied to conference room and huddle spaces. HOK’s Rojas sees smart work points with strong technology integrations as an opportunity to bring some luxury options back into an office space at a time when people will be feeling restricted in many other ways.
Organizations face an enormous challenge in safely returning employees to office spaces. The professional AV and architecture communities have an opportunity to show their value by working together to create solutions to meet this challenge.