Workplaces disrupted: What does rethinking office spaces really mean

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is changing everything. Even our experiences of time and space. As mobility has become severely restricted by lockdown and quarantine constraints, and new home-office realities have emerged, businesses have been forced to rethink their working environment. How can buildings and city infrastructures adapt to this new touch-free scenario? How can IoT play a role in addressing these challenges?

Answers are not clear as the corona crisis also forces us to daily reinterpret the present. Yet, in a new webinar jointly organized by the IOT Solutions World Congress and the Industrial Internet Consortium, Elisa Rönkä, Head of Smart Office Europe at Siemens Smart Infrastructure; Roy Halstead, IoT-Industry 4.0 Manager at Deloitte; Matthew Marson, Head of Smart Spaces at WSP; Olli Kilpeläinen, Director at Kone; and Eric Zhang, Vice President at Vanke 2049 Future City Lab shed some light on how to connect people with spaces and pull all the data together to really create smart.

Conducted by Rich Karpinski, Research Director at 451 Research, and sponsored by the Ministry for Digital Policy and Public Administration of the Generalitat de Catalunya, the session entitled Reinforcing Infrastructure: IoT as a Catalyst for Resilience in Times of Uncertainty, made it clear that human centricity in the office environment is not a buzzword anymore. For cause. Karpinski highlighted that “more than 1/3 of businesses expect to operate under altered working conditions beyond 2020 and more than 20% also predict their office to be at least 25% smaller in the future.”

That will drive significant changes. “We talk about the New Normal, but I think it’s just a matter of repurposing the spaces that we use and figuring out how to operate under a new kind of circumstances,” said Elisa Rönkä. “We have to think about how to be flexible and agile. In this regard, technology plays a key role because it’s the vehicle for transparency, it’s the vehicle for driving change,” she added.

Olli Kilpeläinen followed up by enhancing that “we need to understand the whole built environment.” “Good people flow happens when users, solutions and operations are in perfect harmony,” he said while pointing out that building resilience for an elevator and escalator company means “utilizing IoT and data together.”

However, using IoT doesn’t equal connecting everything no matter what. “We need buildings that are not only connected but smart,” put Roy Halstead. The question is: how do we move from the existing connected buildings to the smart ones?

It’s about moving from collecting data and information to actually use it to make proper decisions,” insisted Halstead. “We need to work together to build the real smart buildings, the real smart city,” noted Eric Zhang.

The challenges ahead are significant. How to ensure safety from a physical and even a psychological standpoint in this new context? Obviously, this goes further than knowing how many people are in the elevator or whether social distancing is respected. “We need to take care that people’s concerns are really addressed properly when deploying technology in a building,” put Rönkä. In this regard, Matthew Marson shared his four golden rules for cybersecurity in buildings and advised to “lockdown devices and change standard passwords, segment comms with VLANs, use MUD to control what’s allowed on the network and have a plan for when it goes wrong.”

All in all, the experts made it clear that there are opportunities around smart buildings but “solutions need to have business value around specific users and customers.” In the end, “we need to shift from the Internet of Things to the Internet of Experiences,” concluded Elisa Rönkä. How we will experience things in a contactless society is another matter.

By Anna Solana

Pedro Mier

Pedro Mier holds a degree in Telecommunications Engineer ing from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, MBA from ESADE and PADE from IESE. He is currently President of AMETIC (Association of Electronics, Information Technology and Telecommunications Companies of Spain), Shareholder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of TRYO Aerospace & Electronics, Board Member of the Premo Group and Committee of CTTC. member of Space Angels Network and Member of the Sc ientific Advisory