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Magic windows and more

As 44 moves into its new offices, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the kind of environment we want to create for ourselves to foster collaboration, creativity and our culture. 44’s Head of Digital, Alan Coates, explores what digital innovations might help you achieve all this without having to change your address.

I once had a conversation with a friend who showed me how her office had a magic window. It looked out towards the rest of her team, but by touching what looked like a light switch on the wall, the window turned frosty and opaque, so she could have some privacy.

I was suitably impressed. Years later, I find myself thinking about digital office innovation and I think about that window – but perhaps I can do better.

I think the first thing to note is that innovations can seem like fads, until they don’t. It’s not the first time I’ve referenced this link to where people who should know better, make terrible predictions about telephones, the wireless, iPhones and delivering mail by guided missiles.

So let’s explore these ideas with an open mind.

Digital news wall

Often in business, knowledge is everything and what better way to keep up-to-date than to create a custom digital news wall? Every office has ‘that wall’ – where we have a piece of artwork, the company logo, or even nothing at all. Replacing this with six, eight or more digital panel screens will provide a rich canvas to display whatever you like.

You can then either hook this up to a rolling news feed, or if you’re feeling really ambitious, have somebody create for you a custom dashboard that contains your share prices, social feeds, local weather reports, company news headlines and national and business news feeds.

A smart environment

As soon as winter comes, we often start having conversations about the legal requirements of how warm the office needs to be. It turns out that in the UK the minimum is 16ºC (or 13ºC if employees are doing physical work). But, as well as temperature, why not think about lighting?

You may have already come across the idea of colour temperature, and the rise of people having their sleep affected through constant exposure to the ‘blue’ light that comes from computer monitors and mobile devices. Measured in Kelvin (heat), warm/orange light is at the softer end of the scale at 3000k, while blue sits in the middle at 4000k and white light at 5000k.

Why is this important? Well, in the office environment, there are a few shades you should know:

– In the general office area, you want a cool white colour, that influences productivity, and keeps people alert and clear.

– In a breakout area, you may want to soften this to a warm orange to give their senses a well-deserved break.

– In any kitchen or bathroom area you will want a bright white to help foster cleanliness and hygiene.

Artificial intelligence

I can’t mention fads and not include artificial intelligence. There’s been a lot of hype and a lot of let down with AI. From Microsoft’s Twitter AI ‘Tay’ self-destructing spectacularly, to your Alexa at home buying products they heard on the TV.

For the most part, AI isn’t really artificial intelligence. Not many products on the market are actually smart enough to learn, and grow, and adapt to their surroundings or even come close to passing the famous Turing Test.

They’re really devices that have been precoded with an awful lot of phrases, responses and actions. There’s so many of these that it appears that the device has done the thinking, but instead, it’s just a really good search engine.

Thinking of it this way, having an AI assistant for your company isn’t such a bad idea. Imagine having an app or an Alexa-like pod in every pocket or desk, where colleagues can ask questions like “What is my holiday allowance this year?”, “When is the deadline for claiming expenses?”, or “Where can I find our health and safety policy?”.

You wouldn’t need to navigate the intranet. You wouldn’t need to call the HR team. You don’t need to search through your emails for when the latest policy was shared. Everything would be instant, searchable and personalised.

I suppose it’s just like the magic window. A simple idea, that can turn an opaque situation into something much clearer.

Call me!