Even with many employees continuing to work remotely, as many as 80% of workers are expected to return to the workplace in the next few months. This represents a massive challenge for organizations that need to adhere to social distancing and worker hygiene requirements.
Some of the key challenges will be to ensure a contactless work environment, from the entry and exit points, to the employees’ actual work area. This has resulted in a rethinking of the office space as a “smart office” – a workplace where sophisticated technological innovations like password-less authentication, augmented reality and Internet of Things (IoT) devices help employees work smarter, better and faster.
Here are some of the top trends we see influencing the smart office in the coming weeks and months.
- IoT-enabled devices for hands-off operations: IoT-based solutions can provide the real-time monitoring and alerting needed to ensure safety and compliance at the workplace. Using IoT-enabled technologies, businesses can enable automatic temperature control, voice-activated lighting, biometrically controlled access to buildings and rooms, and wireless audio-visual technology in conference rooms. IoT can also enable location-aware mobile applications with QR codes that scan employee identities to allow contactless access and interact with other sensors to detect temperature changes in the environment.
IoT devices can strengthen security and limit access by authenticating digital identity through retinal and facial recognition. The same identification can be used to enable users’ access to their personalized desktops, wireless printers and critical corporate data. Smart assistant technologies like Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Microsoft Cortana will remove the need for physically pushing a button or touching any surface in an office.
One of the biggest challenges for office buildings, retail stores and recreation centers today is gauging the physical distance between individuals and enforcing social distance requirements. Here smart cameras, combined with data-stream analytics, can help companies follow best practices in physical distancing and alert users via their smartphones and audio-visual prompts on strategically placed screens.
Our work with a leading heavy equipment manufacturer provides an idea of how IoT-enabled contactless operations could work. Previously, the business dispatched technicians to its manufacturing plants in order to collect data on its equipment. We worked with the company to implement a unified Microsoft Azure-based IoT platform to manage and analyze telemetry data from all of its equipment and products. By leveraging Azure Event Hubs and the open source-based Apache Storm for streaming analytics, the platform centralizes data collection from newly deployed IoT sensors. This automated the collection and exchange of information across applications, thereby eliminating the need for human contact.
- AR/VR solutions for higher productivity and cost-savings: Augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) is growing at an unprecedented rate and is projected to be valued over $136.9 billion by 2024. In the workplace, AR/VR can help improve work conditions and productivity by enabling high levels of interactivity between the real world and computer-generated objects.
By integrating IoT with AR/VR, organizations can collect data through sensors and feed it into an engine that helps workers visualize, simulate and interact with the data, enabling real-time insights. For example, the temperature, climate and required maintenance tasks within an indoor farm can be easily visualized on a mobile device using IoT and AR/VR. We believe AR/VR will be further used in the following ways:
- Employee onboarding: New hires will be able to quickly learn about the work environment and business unit they’re associated with. Through an AR-enabled experience, companies can provide a virtual tour of the office, including its daily life, culture, prospective co-workers and insights into the core business.
- End-user experiences: AR/VR can bring on-site and remote employees together during meetings, training and conferences to collectively visualize objects in real time. This can help teams better understand each other’s views and assist in making product improvements or enhancements.
- Prototyping and design. AR/VR can enable remote workers to prototype and make design changes without re-implementing a solution from scratch. This will result in significant saving in costs, time and effort.
- Passwordless authentication for improved employee experience: Passwords have always been a weak link in security. When end-users are required to use multiple passwords to access different applications, it can lead to user dissatisfaction, a poor user experience and increased help-desk costs for handling frequent password-reset requests.
Organizations should consider moving away from legacy password authentication processes to passwordless authentication with multi-factor authentication. Not only can this improve the end-user experience, but it can also reduce the risk of phishing and other cyberattacks. Gartner predicts that 60% of enterprises and 90% of midsize businesses will move to passwordless authentication by 2022.
Businesses can leverage either two-factor authentication or an app-based multi-factor authentication (MFA) approach, combined with OTP (one-time password) or biometric authentication. With Windows 10, Microsoft has introduced Windows Hello for businesses, which replaces passwords with strong MFA on PCs and mobile devices. Users can sign into devices with a facial/iris scan, fingerprint or PIN, and also access enterprise applications, content and resources without a password being stored on their device or a network.
In this scenario, smartcard readers with multi-factor credential technologies allow access to applications and other corporate resources with single identity recognition, thereby strengthening security and enhancing the end user experience.
Smart offices will elevate the traditional workplace left empty by the pandemic and turn it into a more effective environment that is safe, secure and attractive to employees. To ensure the new workplace is ready for employees to return, organizations should employ Agile practices that deliver usable functionality with each release and result in highly configurable solutions that can scale and grow with their business.
Mortha Venkat Naidu, Senior Solution Architect in Cognizant’s Digital Workplace Services Practice, contributed to this blog.
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