What is a smart office?
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Published: 8 March 2024
Contributors: Alice Gomstyn, Alexandra Jonker

What is a smart office?

A smart office is an office space equipped with innovative workplace technologies that improve the employee experience, boost productivity, reduce costs and increase energy efficiency.

Key technologies powering smart offices include automation, the Internet of Things and integrated workplace management systems. Smart lighting, smart thermostats, smart conference rooms and smart desks are also commonly found in smart offices. 

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What’s driving the adoption of smart office technologies?

Two major trends are encouraging business leaders to begin implementing smart office technologies:

The rise of smart technologies: Smart technologies were born of several technological advancements: the commercialization of the Internet in the 1990s, the advent of “smart” objects like Internet-connected televisions in the 2000s, the growth of mobile networks, and the evolution of data analytics.1 Today, smart technologies equipped with data collection capabilities and connectivity are increasingly being deployed to improve sustainability and user experiences in a variety of settings, such as cities, farms and homes. Office environments are no exception, with the global smart office market projected to reach USD 122.6 billion by 2032.2

Increases in remote and hybrid work: The surge in remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic (and the rise of hybrid workplaces since then) has resulted in workforces that are more distributed than ever before. This is driving demand for smart office technologies that facilitate collaboration between remote workers and their in-office team members.

What are the benefits of a smart office?

Businesses that adopt smart office solutions can realize multiple benefits.

Cost savings

Smart office technologies can help companies identify when their spaces are underutilized, allowing them to determine when and how to reconfigure their office layouts, reduce their real estate footprints and save money on rent and/or maintenance costs. Should office spaces shrink due to hybrid working arrangements or a shift to more remote workers, smart office management tools can help facilitate space-sharing practices such as hot desking. Smart office solutions can also include tools for improving energy efficiency, which can lower electricity bills.

Lower carbon emissions

Improving energy efficiency also helps companies reduce their carbon footprints. This is a key benefit for businesses focused on reaching ESG goals and satisfying environmentally conscious stakeholders.

Improved employee productivity and well-being

Smart office solutions can enable the customization of indoor environmental conditions, which research suggests can help improve employee well-being.3 This, in turn, can enhance productivity and employee retention.

Better security

As cyberattacks increasingly beset companies, smart offices can include various technologies to support access control and reduce the likelihood that data security is compromised.

What technologies are found in smart offices?

While innovation continues to shape the future of work, present-day smart offices often feature these technologies:

Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things is a network of physical devices, vehicles, appliances and other objects that are embedded with sensors, software and network connectivity. These embedded features allow the objects to collect data. In the case of smart offices, sensors capture real-time data on occupancy, office usage patterns, foot traffic, temperature, lighting conditions and more to inform decisions on the optimal deployment of resources within the office.

Integrated workplace management systems (IWMS)

Integrated workplace management systems help business leaders and facility managers optimize company real estate and workspaces. In leading-edge IWMS, data captured by IOT sensors and smart devices is analyzed by artificial intelligence (AI) to deliver insights on strategic space management. IWMS can also empower employees when it is used to create customized mobile apps. Employees can use these apps to do things like reserve desks (also known as desk booking) or make maintenance requests with a few taps on their smartphones instead of spending time making phone calls.

Smart conference rooms

Smart conference rooms and smart meeting rooms are often equipped with features such as video conferencing capabilities and interactive whiteboards. These features blend physical and virtual work environments, helping on-site and remote employees work smarter together.

Smart lighting systems

Smart lighting systems can calculate the amount of natural light in an office and adjust office lighting throughout the workday as necessary. This helps provide the right balance of natural and artificial lighting, so employees have the visibility they need to get their work done. Smart lighting systems can also automatically turn lights on and off depending on whether a room or space is occupied, reducing electricity consumption.

Smart thermostats and climate control systems

Smart thermostats and intelligent climate control systems can automatically adjust airflow, heating and cooling as well as carbon dioxide and humidity levels in response to occupancy throughout the office and indoor conditions detected by IOT sensors. Such dynamic, real-time adjustments can improve employee comfort and lower energy consumption.

Automation

Automation is the use of technology to execute tasks with minimal human input. In smart offices, automation powers the instant adjustments made by smart lighting systems and smart thermostats.

Smart desks

Desks connected to reservation systems are sometimes called smart desks. The term is also used to refer to motorized desks that can easily be adjusted to an employee’s height preference, making them a useful addition to offices with shared workspaces.

Smart access control systems

Through smart access control systems, technologies such as biometrics—ranging from fingerprint scanning to facial recognition—and multi-factor authentication are used for visitor management and for preventing unauthorized access to data. Such systems can also identify suspicious activities, including when an unauthorized person attempts to enter an office.4

Where are smart office technologies being used?

Smart office technologies are in use all over the world and in both the public and private sector.

  • Teradyne, a test equipment manufacturing company in Massachusetts, used IWMS to measure office utilization, compress its real estate footprint accordingly, and implement new workplace space management strategies.
  • In Victoria, Australia, Royal Melbourne Hospital facilities managers used a digital task management platform, accessible through their mobile devices, to respond to 600 different types of service requests. The IWMS-powered platform has helped lower response times and reduce waste associated with older, paper-based processes.
  • Installing smart technologies at its buildings helped the U.S. General Services Administration cut annual operational greenhouse gas emissions by 51% since 2008 levels.5
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, IBM Global Real Estate used IWMS to analyze space utilization and enable safer workplace experiences for employees in 370 locations.
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Footnotes

1The Digital Revolution: Internet of Things, 5G and Beyond” (link resides outside ibm.com), Communications of the Association for Information Systems, May, 2016

2Smart Office Market Report by Component (Hardware, Software, Service), Office Type (Retrofit, New Construction), Technology (Wireless Technology, Wired Technology), and Region 2024-2032” (link resides outside ibm.com), IMARC Group, 2023

3Smart offices: A productivity and well-being perspective” (link resides outside ibm.com), International Journal of Information Management, Volume 51, April 2020

4The importance of access control in modern offices” (link resides outside ibm.com), SecurityInfoWatch.com, Oct. 19, 2023

5First Look: Federal buildings agency cuts emissions 51% since 2008” (link resides outside ibm.com), Axios, April 21, 2023