The Role of IoT in the Modern Workplace

Businesses have always been in lockstep with technology. Once-standard practices will invariably buckle under the pressure of new technological innovations that boost efficiency in one way or another.

Innovative technology, in particular the internet of things, creates pressure for businesses. Every organization with at least a lick of sense and foresight is keeping close tabs on it. It’s no wonder, then, that global IoT spending is estimated to reach a shocking $15 trillion between 2019 and 2025.

The scope of the consequences that will follow IoT’s takeover is near impossible to predict. However, we can already see its part in the development of how employees and employers alike view the workplace. The introduction of connected devices to professional life is resulting in some pretty interesting changes (and even more fascinating ones down the line).

So, let’s see what impact IoT tech is having on the modern workplace.

The Rise of Remote Work

Remote work is hardly a new concept. It’s been around in some form for decades, but it has never been as relevant as it is today. And we have IoT to thank for that.

The popularity of connected devices has contributed to the workers’ control over how they wish to do their job. Now, they may decide according to what makes them more productive. As such, working from home has not only become a viable option, but it is often preferred.

But it needn’t really be from home, either. While it’s true that the traditional office space is going the way of the dodo, another setting is slowly assuming its place. Around 19,000 shared office spaces opened their doors to remote workers in 2019, and speculations only see that number growing in the future. As time goes by, these shared working spaces will inevitably gain more relevance in the working world.

No matter the place, though, remote workers are – and will be – more capable of productive work than ever before. Connected devices are paving the way for them to interact with data at a speed and level beyond anything in the past. Not only that, but employers will also enjoy an unprecedented data feed about their staff’s performance, giving them the knowledge to make decisions that benefit everyone involved.

Streamlining Through Automation

The idea of automation is met with generally mixed feelings for a multitude of reasons. There really are legitimate concerns about low-skill jobs becoming obsolete by the hands of automated machines. That said, a more general streamlining of workplace processes can prove to be a great benefit for everyone.

The possible applications of IoT in that respect are numerous, to say the least. To illustrate the depth to which this technology can go, consider the smart garbage bin. This bin essentially tracks its own level of content without anyone having to check it personally. Once filled to the brim, the bin alerts the person charged with waste disposal. It’s not much, but it demonstrates how IoT devices can assist more vulnerable occupations without putting them at risk of becoming less useful.

The above example may be small, but the beauty of IoT lies in its ability to accumulate small benefits. A workplace teeming with smart devices that observe and track data can spot even the tiniest inefficiencies. Sources of discomfort or distraction can all be properly addressed. The responsibility of carrying out minor tasks can rest on the shoulders of automated protocols. Underused or unused assets quickly start sticking out like sore thumbs. 

The result? A greatly streamlined working environment that no longer leaks profits left and right.

A Customized Working Environment

Every organization is unique, as well as every department and every individual therein. Therefore, each working environment deals with its own struggles, both great and small. With the help of IoT, though, many of these struggles get diminished. A much-valued aspect of IoT technology is that it provides extremely personalized solutions to virtually any problem.

Take, for example, the humble air conditioner. Odds are you’re familiar with the disagreements that arise from everyone in the office insisting on a different AC setting. But what if that AC was “smart” and could monitor your preferred, consensus-oriented settings to imitate on its own a few days later?

Here’s another example for you, though not as contested as the first one. The lighting in an office can mean the difference between inspiration and misery depending on its quality. Imagine, then, a smart system that adjusted the indoor lights to the optimal specifications (brightness, color, and the like). On top of that, wouldn’t it be amazing if it could also change the amount of outside light coming in through moving window shades?

These two are instances of IoT applications that already exist, those being the Google Nest Thermostat and the Philips Hue. Aside from being money-savers, they illustrate the capabilities of connected devices to adapt and then provide a service of unparalleled convenience.

Safer Through IoT

An experienced worker can, at times, easily forget just how dangerous their workplace really is. Granted, the severity of that danger varies wildly from one profession to the next, but it’s practically impossible to find a perfectly safe one.

While we can’t do much to change that, we can remove other factors that cause workplace injuries. One such factor is a lack of understanding of the environment: safety orientations, job risks, proper procedures, and so on. Education goes a long way to alleviate ignorance of workplace safety, but more can be done.

This is where IoT wearables play a pivotal role. Equipment with information feeds can greatly increase the awareness a worker has of their surroundings and its inherent hazards. Something like goggles that tell a car assembly technician when they’re being exposed to too much heat and light would help them evade potential accidents.

As far as injuries and health conditions go, wearable smart devices can closely monitor a person’s physical state. If they happen to be working themselves to the point of illness or injury, the sensors they’re wearing could alert them and recommend that they take a breather. All records of fluctuations in this person’s health would also be recorded so that they may be used for medical consultations.

There is a myriad of steps employers can take to ensure a comprehensively safe environment for their workers. While not all stick the landing due to flawed human nature, IoT, at the very least, gives us the ability to know more about what’s happening in our immediate proximity and beyond. And that knowledge is the kind that saves lives.

The Smart Worker

There’s an incredibly tempting notion about IoT that it allows us to perform with more data in mind than ever. All of that information can play into our decision making, which would become more refined than ever. For lack of a better word, this technology helps us become “truly smart” workers.

A thousand micro-factors go over our heads every day at work without us noticing them. On their own, they may not benefit your overall effectiveness, but rest assured that they do when put together. Smart devices have the power to catch these elusive variables and turn them to our advantage.

Connected technology can also help us on a macro level, as it were, by suggesting more optimized working schedules, for example. By tracking our work, an IoT system is able to provide constructive feedback and point out areas where there’s room for improvement. It can then offer you a more fruitful working model, taking into account all the suggestions it makes.

One of the perks with IoT is that companies will be more than willing to embrace it because it enhances the individual. Employers dream of workers that excel at what they do, and that dream becomes that much closer to reality in the hands of connected devices. As such, businesses are – and will be – eager to leverage this technology and boost their employees’ output.

Bumpy Times Ahead

You may have noticed at this point that much of this article discusses what could be rather than what is. That’s because IoT technology is still very much inat its infancy at the moment. To be sure, it’s highly transformative, as evidenced by all of the above. But it’s still a growing field, and we’re caught right in the middle of its development – growing pains and all.

Sadly, those who believe that integration of IoT solutions will be smooth throughout need to curb their enthusiasm for now. The truth remains that we still don’t quite know how to apply the concept to practice perfectly. Some serious challenges stand in the way of us doing that.

For one, alarms raised about cyber-security issues are justified. Subpar hardware and update mechanisms, along with dusty OS and software, create glaring openings for hackers. There’s also questionable data storage and a worrying lack of standardization among manufacturers. Add to that the sheer number of connected machines per workplace, and it becomes hard to ignore the issue.

It makes sense that so many of us feel caught up imagining what IoT can do. This truly is a life-changing piece of technology, and we should push the concept to its limit. Despite being so recent, it’s forever changing the way we work and view the workplace in general. But it’s equally important to understand where it is right now and how it can reach the expectations we set for it. 

So far, so good, it seems.

(Guest Submission by Marko Miljkovic. Opinions are of the author.)

Marko Miljkovic