Over the past decade, a lot of offices have evolved to become more informal, more airy and open, and more focused on collaboration and shared spaces. Many offices have also focused on creative comforts like comfortable furniture and company-provided snacks, as a way to help professionals relax so that they can be more creative and productive.
The challenge is that while companies have invested in these types of office upgrades, the technology in offices has remained pretty stagnant and so many of the old office frustrations--like trying to connect to a conference call or present a PowerPoint from your laptop--are still as annoying as ever.
That's where the new trend toward the "smart office" is kicking in. It's about using tech to amp up workspaces so that they are more efficient and employee-friendly. Here are three trends to watch as the smart office takes off:
1. Making desks smarter
Standing desks and sit/stand desks have gained a lot of momentum in offices over the past five years. The act of standing or alternating between sitting and standing is known for helping some workers remain more alert and productive throughout the day. We've tested products from Uplift Desk, UpDesk, GeekDesk, Humanscale, and VariDesk and have plenty of anecdotal evidence that workers feel more productive using them.
Now, Humanscale is using IoT and data to make the sit/stand experience more scientific. Its OfficeIQ sensor can send you alerts when you've been sitting or standing too long and show you data on your sitting/standing habits. For companies, Humanscale also offers a program to gamify the experience so that departments can compete against each other in scores for healthy activity. Companies can also use the sit/stand data to better understand utilization and occupancy, especially for shared desks and hot-desking.
2. Making conferencing easier
Despite Polycom phones, video conferencing, and projectors for PowerPoints being prevalent in conference rooms for the past couple decades, it's still often hit-and-miss to connect and too much employee time gets wasted in the process.
A number of different technologies are converging to simplify the process. Big screen TVs are replacing projectors. Chromecast and Apple TV are making it easier for guests to quickly connect their laptops for PowerPoint presentations. And products like Zoom are making conference calls and video calls as easy to join as entering a 9-digit number or a name into an app.
3. Voice-enabling the office
The next-gen solution for making conference rooms even smarter, for example, would be for an employee to walk into a room and say "Connect to 10:00 video conference with the Atlanta office" and then all the systems fire up automatically.
That's a dream scenario for some workers. And we're starting to get a taste of it with Amazon's Alexa for Business. The service will let workers multitask by using their voice to manage calendars, tasks, and data requests. It also aims to streamline IT requests, conference calls, ordering supplies, and reporting problems with the building. The challenge, of course, is that with more offices moving to and open concept layout, using shared voice devices out in the open could be disruptive, or even just ineffective because of cross-talk.
The Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. Since we run a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8:00am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6:00pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the US.