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The Future of the Connected Office

Tony Scherba
August 16, 2015

We usually think about the Internet of Things in terms of home automation, focusing on technologies such as smart thermostats, security systems, and smoke alarms; and in terms of fitness and leisure, with connected entertainment systems and tech wearables like the Fitbit and Apple Watch.

The traditional office is another arena that’s primed for disruption through IoT technology. Mid-sized and enterprise companies have capital at their disposal, and it’s in their best interest to focus on adopting technologies that can help them boost efficiencies and optimize employee performance.

So what technologies are optimizing our work lives now, and where will they go from here? As an app development agency, my team spends a lot of time considering how modern technologies can impact our lives at home, at play, and at work. Here’s a look at the potential of the future of the office, using the IoT tools already at our disposal today.

Safety and security enhancements through wireless and Bluetooth LE technology

Networked security cameras send streaming video straight to your mobile device, allowing you to see who's approaching and leaving your front door--or other sensitive spaces, like your server room. When you have employees coming and going at odd hours without a receptionist, it’s a good “peace of mind” technology. Such technologies also rely on motion sensors to develop custom algorithms to determine when people are likely to be at work, and can automatically alert you if anything “abnormal” takes place, such as your door opening at 3 AM.

Mobile locks like August and Lockitron allow you to bolt and unbolt your office door from your device through “geofencing,” which uses GPS data in real-time to trigger responses on connected devices.

Prediction: In the future, employees will no longer need key fobs or time clocks—through interfacing with their smartphones, connected devices can automatically unlock doors, track when people come and go, keep records of their time onsite, and record video in an ongoing stream that can be monitored from anywhere.

A effortlessly customized workplace experience for each employee

Apps that dim and control lighting from your smartphone, or program the lights to turn off automatically at a designated time, can also link into your smart lock, so you can link the lights to turn on when the door opens. Connected thermostats like Nest and the Honeywell ZWSTAT allow you to save energy on the nights and weekends, so you're not air-conditioning or heating empty cubicles. Such devices are already capable of identifying patterns, so they can automatically decrease energy usage based on typical scheduling.

Prediction: Workstations can be heavily customized, and highly automated—both for the sake of saving money, and for employee experience. If one employee likes his office set at 68 degrees with dim lighting, and needs a soundtrack of Sigur Ros to start his day, his smartphone will be able to set the thermostat, lighting, and sound system in motion based on these preferences as soon as he is entering the building. For hourly workers, such technology can also tie in to scheduling apps, so each employee’s workstation will be ready based on her personalized schedule.

You’ll never run out of staples again

Today, many offices rely on administrators to manually track inventory, update data in software, and place orders when they need more supplies. While there are some automated tools available for restocking based on a certain schedule, most offices still need to manually place orders or risk ending up with too much or too little of a supply if demand is higher or lower than they’d anticipated.

Prediction: By using IoT technology to track inventory using sensors that can gauge how much of a supply you have in stock, your office will never run out of pens or printer cartridges again—the new order will be automatically placed and fulfilled before you even realize you need more. IoT auto-replenishment will also prove especially valuable for manufacturers, ensuring that the supply chain for products is always fully managed.

Real-time building data is accessible to everyone

Today’s technology makes it possible to track when certain rooms or buildings are occupied with sensor data. While such technology is today primarily used at larger venues such as stadiums, it could easily translate to a typical office environment.

Prediction: Need to use the bathroom? A real-time dashboard will tell you if there’s a wait for the ladies’ room on your floor or if you should use the one upstairs instead. While scheduling apps can already tell you if a conference room is booked, IoT data will show you in real-time if a meeting is running long, and automatically reschedule you and your colleagues to an open room instead. And for companies that use open-plan offices, an interactive dashboard can let employees see which spots are vacant when setting up their laptops.

Office admins will become obsolete

With the increased use of email and online apps for scheduling, and phone systems for connecting to different extensions, the need for administrative assistance has already diminished, and in financially trying times, such support jobs are often the first to go. In the UK, for instance, 47% of administrative jobs vanished between 2001 and 2013.

Prediction: SaaS scheduling and communication apps give employees the tools to easily self-manage their own administrative needs, and IoT-based replenishment systems will track and order necessary office supplies. When a visitor is coming to the office, a smartphone app can help her find her way and alert the employee that his guest has arrived. Automated alerts and reminders, tied to real-time data, can replace the need for a human assistant.

While we are all excited about the future of the connected home, we’re likely to see a much faster IoT adoption rate in the workplace than in the consumer market. As executives and developers collaborate to find technology solutions for pressing business problems, the workplace will pave the way in the next level of IoT innovation.

Tony Scherba is a CEO + Founding Partner at Yeti. Tony has been developing software since high school and has worked on digital products for global brands such as Google, MIT, Qualcomm, Hershey’s, Britney Spears and Harmon/Kardon. Tony’s writing about innovation and technology has been featured in Forbes, Huffington Post and Inc. At Yeti, Tony works on strategy, product design and day to day operations, hopping in and working with the development teams when needed. Follow Tony on Twitter.

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