From Seat Sensors To Infrared Cameras, Big Brother-Type Tech Could Have A Hand In Designing your next office

By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Data collected at office spaces is being used to develop office designs that not only optimize space but also improve the employee experience.


The rise of the open office concept has been met, of late, with predictions of its fall.

Too many distractions, too little personal space and a lack of privacy have hurt happiness and productivity, critics say.

But the open office may not be dead so much as in transition, and it is being shaped by a critical new tool in the design arsenal: data.

Employers, and the design firms they hire, are collecting reams of data about how employees use their workspaces.

They’re using seat sensors, infrared cameras, footfall trackers and surveys, while also analyzing email traffic patterns, badge swipes and conference room reservation systems.

The information is being used to develop office designs that not only optimize the space but also improve the employee experience.

That’s a change from the process that led to the open office explosion, when employers tore down cubicle walls and axed private offices mostly to keep up with the cool technology firms and save money on square footage, without much consideration of the potential pitfalls for workers, said Elizabeth Dukes, co-founder and chief marketing officer at iOffice, a facilities management software firm.

“There has been a mindset shift from leadership to really focus on the people,” Dukes said.

The people focus has become necessary because technology allows employees to work from anywhere, so offices have to be not only attractive, but also “crave-able,” to get people to come in, said Ed Nolan, managing director of workplace strategy at Chicago-based real estate company JLL.

“Employers want a level of vibrancy and buzz in the environment,” Nolan said. The most sophisticated clients are thinking not just about the space but also the work experience, which entails having reliable technology in the right places, comfortable temperatures and conference rooms available when you need them, basic needs that are
often not met, he said.

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