At Venture X, a co-working space in Naples, members can enter any part of the facility touch-free, any time of the day or night. Inside, the space features an array of flexible workspaces and fiber internet access, and members can even set up their own VPN for online privacy. Plus, the LEED Gold-certified facility offers motion-sensitive LED lighting and an HVAC system with UV air filtration that provides a fresh air exchange every 20 minutes.
“We have a lot of different companies that work here. [As a smart office], we have just about what anybody is looking for,” says Kathryn Parker, director of sales for Venture X. “And because of everything that has happened over the past two years, having the touchless access points … is something a lot of people appreciate.”
While smart office features are part of the flexible office space design that Venture X offers, comparable elements of automation, sustainability and efficiency also are rapidly being written into local building codes. However, many workplaces are utilizing smart office technology to not only enhance the comfort and convenience of their employees and their customers, but to attract them, as well.
“Employers want the state-of-the-art, but they also want better workspaces. It’s all about employee experiences. And it’s about guest experiences,” says Nancy Woodhouse, vice president of the hospitality division for Naples-based Clive Daniel Home. “This is geared toward growth of the company. If you’re a company wanting to attract a certain clientele or guest, you need to showcase these state-of-the-art technologies. The same is true if you want to attract a certain employee to your company.”
In the wake of the pandemic, many workplaces turned to smart office technology and flexible workspaces to provide the same comforts and conveniences that their employees may have grown accustomed to while working from home. However, more employees in open, hybrid workspaces created more challenges, too.
“As real estate gets more expensive and we’re trying to use a space more effectively, that creates some difficulty holding conversations with multiple people in the same room. A lot of sound masking systems we’re installing (are) helping block out sound and give privacy,” says Bradd Konert, president of Gamma Tech Services, a full-service technology company in Naples. “When you get into medical and HIPAA situations, we’re doing a lot there just for privacy reasons. Financial offices, insurance offices, attorney’s offices—any place where they want to be able to have those conversations and be confident that no one else is hearing them.”
As the pandemic continues to ebb, some workers simply don’t want to return to the office, regardless of the amenities. In those cases, the touchless, automated security system that’s popular at Venture X can also be very useful for other businesses.
“Employee turnover is incredibly expensive from an HR perspective. It’s also incredibly expensive as far as maintaining access to the building and how you handle that turnover,” Konert says. “How are you controlling access to the office? How do you handle it when an employee leaves? With an access control system, if you have turnover, you just remove their code and remove their access to the building. You never have to change locks.”
Ultimately, as technology continues to evolve, it’s expected that more businesses will integrate smart technology into their workplaces for sustainability, efficiency and convenience. But whether it’s a programmable thermostat, motion-activated lights or fully functional, high-tech conference rooms, Woodhouse cautions that function should still take priority over form.
“We should always be improving our spaces, work areas or guest areas. That said, people need to hire the right people to look at [smart office technology] and understand it. They need someone to come in and assess their workflow. Watch how they work. Listen to how they work,” she says. “You can have the best-of-the-best smart technology—but if it’s not appropriate for your work area, you just wasted money.”
When the pandemic forced businesses to go virtual, Zoom became a hugely important conferencing tool. Today, as some employees have returned to the office and others still work from home, the challenge for many companies is to create a smart conference room that accommodates both a hybrid workforce and their clientele.
“The biggest piece we saw post-COVID-19 was improving conference room technology. One thing we’ve been doing there is something called ‘Meeting Owl,’” Konert says. “It’s a camera that goes in the middle of the table in the conference room, and it’s got some AI built into it. It’s a 360° camera, so it’s capturing the entirety of the room. But it’s listening in the room to try to determine who’s speaking. At that point, it focuses on them (to) create a look like there’s a camera per person.”
For other businesses, the goal is to simply make a smarter, more flexible conference room.
“The conference room, to me, that’s a flexible workspace. For some companies, they ended up being for meetings with their own clientele,” Woodhouse says. “Some have the living room approach. So, even client-facing, they’re using that space as more relaxed, not-so-structured, space.”