2022 Workplace Trends: Technology for Workplace Safety Redirected to Enhance Employee Experience 

PLASTARC’s Melissa Marsh shares how health and safety technologies used during the pandemic will be leveraged for optimizing employee experience.

– Happy New Year! Check out all of our 2022 workplaces trends here. –

We predict that the same phone apps and other technologies that have been adopted by companies to provide enhanced health and safety during the pandemic will be leveraged for optimizing employee experience.

Our buildings have been getting smarter for a long time. Smart features help us conserve energy, control who accesses particular spaces, and generally monitor building activity and use. Smart tech can track who interacts with who. It can “remember” and mimic manual adjustments employees make to HVAC systems, lighting, and office equipment. It can even deliver the perfect cup of java to a particular employee.

Prior to COVID-19, some facility owners and operators had been slow to adopt smart solutions, presumably because the return on investment didn’t seem clear. But COVID-19 raised the stakes. A self-reporting elevator that seeks help when it detects a malfunction saves time and emotional distress, but an elevator that refuses to close its doors when occupants are standing too near each other, in the midst of a global pandemic, saves lives.

The term “internet of things” (IoT) was coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, a sensor expert who founded the MIT Auto-ID Lab. IoT describes communication among various objects, often with the help of data-gathering sensors. A perfect example is how appliances in our homes or offices are controlled from our phones, often automatically. The acronym SMART, as in smart buildings, stands for Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology.

Since mid-2020, many more buildings have implemented smart features that allow us to better understand how employees use physical workspaces. For example, financial institutions in the US and Europe have installed desk sensors and desk reservation systems, to control the number of employees in their offices at a given time. As we move forward, the data this prop-tech collects will be retargeted from pandemic-management towards enhancing user-experience, in order to enable more useful, efficient, comfortable, and even delightful work environments.

Check out WDM’s round up of the leading desk reservation technology here.

It’s a two-part process. Employee experience apps and in-building tech can be used to help employees calibrate their own experience. As they express and act on their preferences, trace data from their interactions can be used to modify and improve the space long-term. When we know which areas employees are using most and in what ways, we can invest in optimizing those spaces and replicating the desirable qualities in other spaces. In this way we are using human intelligence to “educate” objects, with the end result being quicker, more efficient (Artificial Intelligence) solutions that save us time and effort, while offering us more consistent experiences of delight.

As onsite becomes the new offsite, and our office buildings transform into hospitality and social spaces, used more for targeted meetings and events rather than day-to-day work, data will be extremely helpful as we update and reorganize space to account for this new model of hybrid working.

It will also help us offer more user-directed options for accommodations, as we collectively broaden our concept of neuroplasticity and our understanding of just how unique every individual employee’s workplace experience may be.

…Data will be extremely helpful as we update and reorganize space to account for this new model of hybrid working.

Contact tracing technology that leads to additional cleaning based on utilization data, can also help with more social tasks, such as locating a friend or team member in the building. Low bathroom or office supplies may automatically refill or signal a maintenance worker, and that worker may be human or robot. Integrated booking for group spaces can cut down on the frustration of wandering a building, looking for a meeting spot. Gas or water leaks and high VOC counts can be detected immediately, keeping employees safer.

Smart tech can also provide multi-sensory experiences that encourage employee mental health, camaraderie and cohesiveness. The Sentiment Cocoon is an interactive art installation that translates the amalgamation of employees’ self-reported moods into an evolving light display. In a mere glance, an observer can ascertain the general office mind frame in a given moment.

We must let go of our preconceived notions of what the workplace was and be willing to build a culture of experimentation and informed decision-making.

Apps such as Comfy can help employees meet their own sensory needs, directing them to a warmer or cooler or quiet or more dynamic workspace within their office building. In 2022, workplaces will edge closer to the high-end hospitality services end of the spectrum, leveraging data to appeal to employees on a holistic level that makes it worth leaving the comfort of our homes to come to the office. Future workplaces will be infused with digital and sensor technology that can help us determine the most optimal way to use shared resources and collaborate better with our colleagues.

More workplace data collection comes with inherent privacy concerns that must be mitigated, but the technology is here, and our post-COVID facility and employee-experience investments created an amicable environment for it. Now it’s up to policy-makers and the savvy facility managers to ensure that it’s not misused.

We must let go of our preconceived notions of what the workplace was and be willing to build a culture of experimentation and informed decision-making. This will help us to continuously evolve the purpose of our workplaces and their ability to support our workforce.

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