How the smart home is influencing the smart office

Both homes and offices are getting smarter thanks to rapidly advancing technology – although not at the same pace.

October 30, 2019

As homes steadily embrace smart technology, offices are rushing to catch up.

Growing numbers of homes now use technology to control temperature and lighting and manage building security – as well as boasting connected appliances. As people increasingly prize convenience, and become more comfortable with new technologies, workplaces will equally need to adapt to the digital shift.

 “When people are used to a certain ease of functioning in domestic life, they expect a similar experience in the office,” says Tom Carroll, Head of EMEA Corporate Research at JLL. “The smart home illustrates some of the trends that will be embedded in the smart office in the future.”

The rise of voice assistants 

Voice assistants are among the most popular home technology, with about one in five UK households owning a smart speaker that can play music and turn on connected lightbulbs on demand.

Despite privacy concerns over how users’ voice data is used or stored, the role of voice tech will evolve quickly within the living space, predicts Nick Whitten, Director of UK Research – Residential, JLL. At present, voice assistants are frequently used to order goods online; in the future they could provide a safety net for older people as the number of single households continues to rise or pre-emptively buy fresh groceries based on shopping history.

In the workplace, voice technology is nowhere near as prevalent, Carroll says, but that could change as voice assistants become more indispensable for domestic tasks.

Whitten agrees, adding, “Though a voice assistant doesn’t do anything life-changing right now, it’s how it could develop that’s interesting, not only to operate a smart home, but as a more instant way to access the web.”

The next generation of voice tech could be more integrated into office systems, for example, enabling employees to book meeting rooms or interact with workplace apps.

Smart lighting and heating

When it comes to smart lighting and temperature control, smart offices are on par with smart homes.

Smart home heating systems such as Hive and Nest that automate heating based on users’ daily routines are growing in popularity. The energy savings from heating based on room occupancy have also spurred companies to invest in such smart systems, says Carroll – especially as they become cheaper to buy.

More offices are also introducing motion sensors to turn off lights in empty rooms, though it’s still far from the norm.  

In both homes and offices, the benefits of energy efficiency will be the critical driver for rising adoption of smart heating and lighting. “It’s not only about the convenience,” says Whitten. “Households and businesses can be more eco-friendly in their energy use and save money in the process.”

Smart security

With one quarter of US households and just 10 percent of UK homes having smart security systems, this is one area where offices are ahead.

Remote monitoring, video surveillance, motion sensors, and keycard or biometric entry are a common part of modern corporate security, but often now feature in home security solutions.

“The big difference is security systems in offices are highly professionally managed, with rigorous support technologies,” says Carroll.

Companies are increasingly examining new technologies such as facial recognition to boost security and facilitate access for employees.

“There are discussions about the privacy implications of facial recognition, but this barrier will be reduced as people become more comfortable with the technology in everyday life, for example, through unlocking their smartphones,” Carroll says. “In any case, cybersecurity is a massive consideration when it comes to adopting this or any new feature.”

Down the line, home security could take further inspiration from office security, Whitten says, incorporating convenience features such as smart locks that recognise residents, eliminating the age-old issue of forgotten keys.

Fully connected homes and offices?

Despite the popularity of smart speakers, the number of homes with more than one smart device is still very low, at around 1 percent.

And although there are early adopter examples of smart buildings bristling with smart sensors – such as for motion and air quality - most corporate owners and occupiers are still considering where best to invest in real estate technology.

“Offices are at an inflexion point in terms of introducing tech,” says Carroll. “Technology is a top investment priority but it is also evolving quickly and companies want to get longer-term value from their investments.”

The situation is similar in smart homes, says Whitten, as smart devices remain relatively isolated from each other. Improving interaction not only between appliances and the people using them but also among the devices themselves would help to unlock their potential, he adds.

A smart home might analyse its occupants’ rate of blinking to suggest bedtime, then turn down the lighting. Equally a smart desk might react to employees’ smartphones or body sensors, for example, advising a break based on their heart rate. “Personalised applications like this are where it gets interesting,” says Whitten.

A tech-driven future

Despite similar tech being used in offices and homes, Carroll predicts it could be a number of years before the corporate sphere catches up to the domestic.

“Fundamentally offices and homes are managed differently, and corporate adoption of new technology can face additional hurdles including procurement processes and a more robust approach to cyber security,” he says.

And with more technology entering the market, both the office and the home are only going to get smarter.