The Fourth Industrial Revolution

What interests me is how the technological innovations likely to make their mark in the next few years may affect workspace management. Let’s just call it the “Bring your own Big Data Workspace of Things” to keep it simple… but first some background. The first three revolutions take us through the last 250 years or so covering steam/water power, electricity and the computer-controlled age respectively. One and two lasted about a hundred years each but three is reckoned to be ending soon after less than fifty heralding an era of “cyber-physical” systems. In other words, really smart machines that can learn and communicate with each other and us.

Assuming our jobs are not all about to be replaced by ‘droids, and we can cope with ‘smart’ office chairs telling us we’ve put on weight, how will workplaces adapt to this new era? And what about those of us whose job it is to provide better tools to manage them? We know that there will be a lot more information. “Big Data” has been around as a talking point for some time but few organisations have been able to leverage the vast resources of data they are generating. This has partially been due to the difficulties caused by it building up in different silos with issues of compatibility and ownership but the main problem has been a lack of good (and easily available) analytical tools – this has to improve and better techniques will evolve in the coming years.

A key factor in this revolutionary period is likely to be an explosion of the Internet of Things which will add more data to the mix almost exponentially. Sensors and smart componentry will become a part of everything we buy for home or the workplace meaning that there will be inexpensive, intelligent devices everywhere providing telemetry that (with good analytical tools) we can use to manage building services and working spaces alike. We won’t go out and buy sensors, they will be part of the fabric of everything we have, like it or not. This will make Space Utilization easy to measure and the focus will switch away from “how many people are in the office?” to “what are they actually doing?” and then perhaps to “how good are they feeling about it?”. This takes space management away from being purely a cost controlling exercise and puts it front and center in the battle to win and retain good staff by keeping them engaged and happy with where they work.

How happy they will be if we start to attach sensors directly to them is another matter. It has already begun to occur with European companies trialling under-skin microchip implants and other less invasive systems. It’s also possible for companies (with a legal precedent already set for employee communication analysis) to use natural language processing to determine levels of emotion, stress and engagement within emails, texts and chats. It’s obviously nonsense to try and gauge people’s happiness by doing something that makes them unhappy so a balance needs to be struck. There is also a generational shift occurring in the workplace over this period with people bringing/wearing their own technology and coming to us with different aspirations and behaviour patterns – and perhaps less fear of technology than some of us have. It will be an interesting few years.