Help! My Smart Office is Spying on Me

The smart office has become more common in workplaces across the country. The Digital workplace has evolved to make our workplaces more efficient and adaptable to the changing needs of office

By incorporating smart devices such as motion sensors, thermostats, smart switches and cameras organisations can reduce energy consumption, improve staff morale and improve productivity. Since commercial buildings account for around 40% of global energy consumption embedding sensors in walls and ceilings can have significant impact on the only using resources such as lighting, heating or cooling only when staff are present.

These sensors can be connected to the company network and using visualisation techniques can provide a view of working patterns. In turn, this can lead to energy savings of between 20-40%. Whilst the cost of creating the smart office is not insignificant potential benefits for businesses can be realised in relatively short periods.

The rise and growth of these IoT devices continues exponentially and helps create efficiencies in floor space usage and space planning. These devices can improve the experience for workers and allow the creation of personalised workspaces where individual lighting and cooling can be controlled either by an App or by your smart desk.

However, this does not come without its privacy challenges. If your smart desk recognises you through RFID tagging as you approach, and creates your personalised settings you are immediately engaged and hopefully more efficient.

The challenge comes with how much your desk then knows about you. Heat and motion sensors, RFID tags and proximity sensors mean that workers are potentially under constant surveillance. Sensors can track when people are at desks, moving around, present or not present, whether individual workers are happy with this level of surveillance remains to be seen.

Concerns are starting to be raised around what data may be being collected by sensors. We come back to the privacy paradox around what people are willing to sacrifice in terms of their privacy for convenience. Most data will be collected anonymously bit that does not preclude future use for other purposes. There is a fine line between efficiency and surveillance as some organisations have found out to their cost.

We may be entering the age of the Smart Building, but it may find itself in competition with the smart human. Will the last person to leave switch off the lights? no need for that the building will do that itself. It may not be Big Brother that is watching you; it may be Big Building.

About Bill McGloin

Bill is Computacenter's Chief Technologist for Information

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