How will offices evolve?

by on January 18, 2013 at 11:55 am in Science | Permalink

Designers talk of digital walls, which have sensors embedded so you can interact with them.

Or, if you want the professor’s technical explanation, “dye sensitised solar cells with titanium oxide layers on a surface with light absorbing dye molecules adsorbed on surface which can generate electricity”.

These walls will build up a profile of you and change your working environment accordingly.

This could mean the lighting around your desk dims slightly when you arrive, or a pre-determined microclimate is created for your meeting.
Nano state

The technology that enables this interaction, known as “nano-coating”, will basically turn your cold, unfeeling office into an expressive medium

It could mean the moment you enter the building your workspace starts preparing itself for your imminent arrival – even if you are hot-desking.

Here is more, via Michelle Dawson.

dead serious January 18, 2013 at 12:07 pm

There’s no need for any of this if the company invests in good remote access technology.

msgkings January 18, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Not really true, no matter how good that tech gets companies will always strive for actual meatspace interaction. Serendipitous mixing and so on are proven facilitators. Note the design of the new Apple HQ.

dead serious January 18, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Note the lack of innovation that’s been coming out of Apple recently.

Innovation: make the iPhone larger and the iPad smaller!

We’re just scratching the surface with remote working and collaboration, but I can tell you that it’s improving.

dan1111 January 19, 2013 at 3:14 am

Even with current technology like video calling, an impressive level of remote interaction is possible. Of course it isn’t “serendipitous”, but it’s easy to imagine a system in which workers can always have an open audio/video connection, which would allow for the kind of spontaneous conversations that happen in an office.

Sure, it will never match the in-person experience, but if it comes fairly close, then offices will no longer be beneficial. The costs of maintaining a physical building, workers having to commute, and requiring workers to live close to the workplace are huge.

Just think about the last point. Imagine if companies can hire (and you can work) anywhere in the country. There will be a much more competitive job market with much better matching between workers and jobs. The productivity benefits of this will outweigh some losses due to lack of in-person interaction.

thom January 19, 2013 at 10:04 am

Changing to a work at home culture will be a big part of how our energy issues are eventually resolved. Additionally, the public savings in infrastructure, etc are huge, and cannot be ignored.

Andreas Moser January 18, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Especially when employees will insist on being able to work remotely.
There is nothing better than working at home in your pyjamas, or to set up an “office” in a garden or a park: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2011/12/20/office-in-malta/

Rahul January 18, 2013 at 12:23 pm

How many years into the future is he talking about for this to become even somewhat common?

dan1111 January 19, 2013 at 3:32 am

The “smart house”, with similar features like climate control and lights that tailor to your preferences, has been predicted since at least the early 90’s. The technology has existed since then, and it is not very expensive. But nobody has a smart house (except Bill Gates, of course). It turns out that it’s not that hard to flip a light switch or turn up the thermostat manually.

I think this idea is similar. It may have a big “wow factor” but its actual usefulness is questionable. If companies wanted their workers’ offices to be an “expressive medium” they would be doing it now with traditional technologies (such as a dimmer switch or individual thermostats). But I don’t see them doing so. And being able to adjust your own light and heat is the actually beneficial part of the concept. Doing so automatically with some kind of smart wall that senses your presence is trivial in comparison.

IVV January 18, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Yeah, what’s up with this “moment you enter the building” thing? Won’t companies save a fortune when they no longer have to lease facilities?

JWatts January 18, 2013 at 12:43 pm

None of this seems a likely answer to the problem they seem to be trying to solve. I would expect I could have an app running on my smart phone that automatically broadcasts my temperature and lighting preferences. If their are no conflicts the room can automatically adjust.

Beyond a room automatically going from dim/dark to lit and air-conditioned when a human comes in there’s not a whole lot of reasons to make a room very smart. The smart phone everyone will carry in 20 years can handle that much more efficiently.

dan1111 January 19, 2013 at 3:34 am

I think the problem that needed to be solved was finding an application for their sensor-coated wall technology.

Matt January 18, 2013 at 12:48 pm

I’ve yet to work at a place where they got the macroclimate anywhere close to right, so I have little faith that we’ll see microclimates anytime soon.

Mark Thorson January 18, 2013 at 5:48 pm

I worked at a place where they put a locked cage around the thermostat to keep employees from fiddling with it. I’ve heard of places that install dummy thermostats to give the employees the feeling that they can do something about the ambient environment.

I’m sure it would be even more effective to have a little fan that blows air at you and a web-based app that shows your personalized environment adjusting itself to your individual preferences while doing nothing. That would make controlling the environment the same way we’ve done it for the last 100 years a little more palatable. 68F and constant will seem warmer if the app tells you it’s 72F and rising toward your personal setpoint of 75F.

Bill January 18, 2013 at 1:17 pm

One added feature of the wall coating

is that you will wear special glasses

so only you can see

the pornography on the walls.

Brian Donohue January 18, 2013 at 1:50 pm

I have this pretty slick set-up at work. Just inside my office, on the wall, is a little switch at elbow-level that controls lighting for the entire office. Because of its super-convenient location (I can’t but help but walk past the switch on my way in or out of the office) the whole process is virtually effortless.

Finch January 18, 2013 at 2:13 pm

I have a motion detector in addition to the switch.

But what I really want is individual control over heating and cooling. You could double my work HVAC costs and it would be rounding error on my pay, but god-forbid the landlord can’t promote energy efficiency accolades.

Urso January 18, 2013 at 1:55 pm

File this under “incredibly complicated solutions for problems you didn’t know you had.”

Alex Knapp January 18, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Are the authors of this article aware that Titanium Oxide is a carcinogen and that occupational exposure to it is tightly regulated? I’m guessing not.

Bill January 18, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Once again, THE MAN is standing in the way of progress.

And,

Cancer.

Ronald Brak January 19, 2013 at 9:30 am

The sunscreen lotion at my local supermarket is 6% titanium oxide by weight and we use it to prevent cancer. So far there is no sign that slathering ourselves in it is a problem. So while I wouldn’t recommend breaking open the wall sensors and licking the contents, I doubt they’re a big cancer risk.

James K January 18, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Apart from academics, who even has an office any more?

Aid an walsh January 18, 2013 at 3:11 pm

You have probably already seen this: man outsources own job to China: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/breaking/2013/0117/breaking31.html

dan1111 January 19, 2013 at 3:20 am

Dude, at least read the previous posts (and click on all the “Assorted Links”) before recommending a story!

axa January 18, 2013 at 3:16 pm

don’t mistake “office” for “cubicle”.

this kind of ridicule equipment is expected to be found on “offices” where contracts are signed, and not in “cubicles” or “home” where work is actually done.

Ryan January 18, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Are cubicles big enough for digital walls? Maybe we could make one wall digital, and then just let all of the cubicle users borrow it for a few minutes. When the worker gets up, could the wall begin loading?

And then there’s this: do robots even need walls?

Lupus Yonderboy January 18, 2013 at 8:15 pm

Tyler, ever thy cyberpunk connoisseur ;)

I have a mobile retro version I built as an Art Installation. It uses an early 1980s voting booth that collapses into a briefcase. A bit more punk than the techno fetish described here. And don’t think about it, it is covered by IP law kids.

Pearl Y January 18, 2013 at 10:40 pm

No, no, no. The office of the future is small, windowless, and tan.

Rich Berger January 19, 2013 at 6:36 am

I think Tyler is coated with a sick skin.

Rich Berger January 19, 2013 at 6:37 am

Thick skin.

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