Words by KAY SARGENT
“Thirty years ago you could go off the grid, you could fix your own car, you could manually control almost everything. Somehow we’ve lost that control”
There are lots of conversations today about smart buildings and there are a lot of really innovative and sophisticated solutions. But somehow smart technology is bumping up against human acceptance. We’re still trying to define what smart actually means and what our comfort zone is. Right now, we’re grappling with what the right level of smart is. The danger is that we go so high-tech that we forget that we are human.
Recently I was listening to a speaker describe a technology that could be used in the workplace today. Everyone in the audience was totally intrigued up to a certain point, and then they became really uncomfortable. Because not only could it be used to tell how many people were in a room, but who was in the room — and that 10 minutes into the meeting, one of them started to fall asleep. By using facial recognition and biometrics, it could tell that when one person started talking, another got agitated, or who was engaged and who wasn’t.
Most people are very hesitant to allow their employer to track everything that they’re doing. There’s a whole lot of things that we can do today that we just aren’t leveraging. The auto industry is forging ahead. I can walk up to my car and it knows it’s me, so it unlocks the car and automatically adjusts everything — the seat, the mirrors, the temperature, the radio — to how I like it. We have the ability to do that in the workplace right now, but we’re not.
As the Internet of Things comes online, it will revolutionize facilities management. Buildings will be able to automate themselves to control cleaning, security, maintenance and temperature. People are comfortable with things like that being taken over, because they see the benefit for themselves. One of the best examples is Coor Service Management’s HQ in Stockholm. They have created a lab where they test things like automated receptionists and cleaning robots, using all kinds of technology to take FM to the next level.
But what makes it such a great space is that they also balance the human elements — it’s all about service. The technology is human-centric and intuitive, meaning it focuses more on enhancing the experience and less on tracking the use. And there’s a sense of connectivity and community that is created via the internal atrium and social spaces, using technology as an enhancement and enabler.
"We need to focus on how to bring people together and what draws people to a space. That’s the secret sauce"
Going forward we believe that the IoT will shift the role of the facility manager to creating compelling places, great experiences and a community that people want to be part of — smart not from a technology standpoint, but from a human standpoint. We need to focus on how to bring people together and what draws people to a space. That’s the secret sauce. The best spaces balance the two to make people feel welcome and empowered. A high-tech space is only successful if people feel comfortable in it.
Thirty or 40 years ago you could go off the grid, you could fix your own car, you could manually control almost everything. Somehow we’ve lost that control, and I don’t think we all collectively sat down and said we were ready to give that up. If you had told people that getting a smartphone was going to mean that they’d be on 24/7, there might have been a little bit more pushback.
The more high-tech we’re going, there’s a grittier, Black Mirror side coming out. One of the biggest trends in design right now is transparency, raw materials and authenticity. It’s not an accident, it’s our human instinct fighting back, saying we are still organic beings, we want to be in touch with nature and we want some control. A balance between our high tech and human side — that’s a smart solution.
Kay Sargent is senior principal and director of workplace at HOK
Photo: Coor Service Management