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Intelligent is an overused and ubiquitous word these days, and at this point everyone is tempted to call everything they do intelligent. Just coin some artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in there somewhere and off you go.

Naming a concept or idea is always a hard balance to strike. Everyone has a different perception and opinion about what purpose your solution serves and where it’s headed. That’s why I usually try to stay away from those discussions. And as I observed our marketing team banging their heads against the thesaurus, I had already subscribed to the immoderately misused term. Now, whether that was an intelligent decision or not, will be for you to decide.

Let me start off by attempting to define what I think the term intelligent means in the context of workplaces.

An Optimal Workplace

The way companies physically design office spaces is essential. You can bring all the AI in the world to your building, if meeting rooms are out of sight, desk space always saturated and the color on the wall makes you nauseous, you’re off to a bad start.

white chair and tables and white couch and DX on wall in computer frame of Control Hub

In another post, I’ll discuss the rules of optimized spaces. But they go along these lines: make the building meet the needs of your employees. Collect data, survey your employees and do not hesitate to consult an office space specialist.

An optimal workplace is also a virtually unattainable goal as the target keeps moving (working culture, gen X Y Z, or the building itself). It requires iterations, trials, and metrics. And you will have to continuously track and tune the progress according to different metrics.  Fortunately, a lot can be automated, for example sensors observing the real utilization of spaces and analyzing the quality of the environment, such as air or noise will help considerably.

Webex Rooms measure the real utilization of spaces and compare them with the actual capacity. They track environment metrics and automatically centralize all this information into the Cisco Control Hub analytics tool.

A Safe Environment

In a recent survey, Dimensional Research [1], reported 64% of employees being uncomfortable with touching devices, 52% were worried not knowing when the room was last cleaned, and 41% were uncomfortable not knowing if a room had reached its full capacity.

Returning to the office is currently the visible part of the iceberg, but it should not conceal other factors that standards like WELL [2] have been established. Because a safe environment is also a healthy one, providing employees with a healthy environment also requires proper air quality, thermal comfort, a proper amount of light, and low noise levels. This information also needs to be tracked and possibly automated. HVAC systems, for example, often run permanently and at the same pace during working hours. But what happens to employees working outside of core hours when the air renewal is off? And why should we treat air recycling identically when rooms are empty or have been at full capacity all day?

Webex Rooms combine sensors and a voice assistant, so our users don’t have to touch anything if they want to reserve a room or start a meeting. Webex Rooms panels can be customized to indicate when a room was last sanitized, or a message can pop up on the big screen when a room capacity is over its safe limit or with using the signage function. Rooms equipped with the newest Webex Room Navigator track temperature, humidity, air quality, light and noise. This way, facility managers get a real-time report of how healthy their building is, and they can also compare it with the actual presence of employees in those spaces. More information can be found in this guide [3].

Automation

Productive employees need time to focus on their core tasks. And that’s only fair, given this is what they are paid to do. Now reflect on how much time you use to plan for meetings, to find a time that accommodates your colleagues, to locate a meeting room that has the amenities you need, to find that room in the building, and eventually to rescue colleagues lost in the building maze. Frustrating, right? But also, enormously costly for organizations.

Before COVID-19, 40% of employees reported wasting up to 30 minutes a day just on searching for spaces to collaborate [4].

Webex just launched Webex Room booking to easily find available spaces. And when combined with in-room Webex sensors, it becomes possible to know if a room is actually in use or not. We’ve also demonstrated how the combination of our tools and wayfinding tools can take you to the next level. If you haven’t already, I can recommend you watch the recording of The Intelligent Workplace Experience, where Richard and I discuss this in more detail. [5]

Real Estate Savings

Open space with with couch and chairs and break out rooms

Adapting to the hybrid workplace seems to be pointing at a lot of office space that could be regained. Hence many companies feel compelled to compensate their recent losses with some real estate savings. If only it could be that simple. The use of space is likely to become more unpredictable than before. Employees will now oscillate between the convenience of working from home and the need to meet their colleagues at the coffee machine. What if many employees suddenly turn up at the office on the same day and at the same time? If people already found it challenging to find a place to meet before restrictions were enforced, then reducing the square footage of real estate would only make it worse.

Real estate should be saved, but not at the employees’ cost. Before COVID-19, companies reported that 70% of meeting rooms around the world were not being used, and 50% of meetings occurred with just one or two people in the space [4]. Saving real estate would then first consist of ensuring that meeting rooms are not booked and unused, and that rooms that are used, are used to their full potential.

Webex Rooms and the Webex Control Hub will help organizations understand how their space is used and if it is safe to cut down on real estate. Webex Rooms and the hybrid calendar will be capable of understanding whether a booked room is in use and can decide to release the room if employees do not show up. This combination of sensors, calendaring access, analytics and customization in the same platform is fundamental to offering companies a simple and integrated way to understanding office space, optimizing meeting room usage, and improving effectivity amongst employees.

A Customized Experience

Finally, companies have different cultures and needs, and how they imagine their workplace to be unique. There won’t be a sole provider who can possibly cover all their demands. Virtual receptions, wayfinding, digital signage, and visitor management are just some examples of the useful features contributing to the intelligent workplace. But all these solutions shouldn’t be isolated islands. A true intelligent workplace will be created by assembling and connecting solutions where each one creates value for the other. I will be publishing several more posts on Intelligent Workplaces in the weeks to come – stay tuned!

The open Webex platform is built on APIs that 3rd party solutions can easily be added to. So, what are you waiting for? Start planning, designing, and building your own intelligent workplace – Webex integrations give you endless possibilities.

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Sources

1 Dimensional research survey

2 WELL building standard TM overview https://v2.wellcertified.com/wellv2/en/overview

3 Collaboration How to guide

4 https://www.steelcase.com/content/uploads/sites/10/2018/08/16-E0000192EN.pdf

5 https://futureofwork.webex.com/future-of-work-intelligent-workplace/

Resources

Free online classes led by experts: Control Hub Admin Drop-In Session

What’s new in Webex: October 2020

New Cisco AI Innovations Help Companies Plan for a Safe Return to the Office and Help Employees Be More Productive from Anywhere [blog series]

Remote Working is Here to Stay: 3 Must-Dos to Achieve Effectiveness in the New Normal

Learn More

A Blueprint for Hybrid Workplaces

Futurizing Work Around People with the Help of Intelligent Technologies

Safe at the Office, Productive Anywhere with Webex 10X Better Experiences