A building with brains – using connectivity to make the most out of office space

by: on 04 February 2015

John Newbold from 383 talks us through how they have transformed their working environment into a place that breeds productivity and efficiency

On average, a British employee spends nearly 40 hours at work each week, or 1920 hours over the course of the working year. With such a significant amount of time spent in the office, ensuring it is physically and digitally set up in a way which promotes efficiency and creativity is crucial. You want a building with brains, one that works intelligently.

Here at 383, we decided to put this approach into practice. Having moved into an old Victorian pen factory earlier this year, we began the process of converting it into an environment which really worked hard for us. We focussed on a few key issues which are common to lots of workplaces, and assessed how we could utilise technology to create a more useful experience for our team.

At the centre of it all was a new application programming interface (API) that we created, which would underpin the new digital and physical services. The API serves as the command-station or ‘brain’ of the building, connecting the office’s different services and devices within one central hub.

So what were the key issues we wanted to solve within the 383 office?

Knowing who’s in the office:

The team at 383 has grown quickly over the past few years, and our new office is spread across three storeys.  One of the most common questions from everyone is therefore “is X in today?” To tackle this, the Lab team at 383 built an app that runs on employees’ phones. This app then communicates with a network of iBeacons (Bluetooth low-energy devices) within the office, automatically checking everyone in when they arrive at the studio.

We then have the information about who is present, but we still needed to display it in a simple, accessible way for everyone. We did this by creating a physical in/out board, with a photo of each staff member being illuminated by a red / green LED to denote their presence at the office. Simple and effective.

We made the iBeacon technology work even harder for us, by using it to signal not only if someone is in, but where in the studio they are. Our office spans 7000sqft across three floors, and we often switch desks on a daily basis. This is why an at-glance approximation of where someone is is extremely useful, and helps us to avoid roaming the office floors. We can all flick to a virtual floor plan to get a quick visualisation of where someone else is in the office. (Naturally we kept beacons away from the toilets, as that would have been oversharing…)

Prepping the office for visitors:

Previously, prepping the 383 office for visitors involved a number of manual processes, from physically signing guests in to setting up the meeting room. Now however, we’ve simplified and automated many of the processes via our API.

Whenever a meeting is booked, a 383 team member uses our Launchpad platform to pick a meeting room, invite attendees and choose a time. Behind the scenes, information is passed between Launchpad, our client CRM and Google calendar to create the booking.

Previously, an ugly paper sign-in book sat at reception to greet visitors and record their key details such as their name and who they were visiting. Now we already have this information, thanks to the shared data from the calendar invite, which has been inputted through the API. This meant that we just need guests to confirm that they had arrived in the building.

We therefore created a sign-in app that sits in reception on an iPad. The app contains a list of all meetings which are scheduled for the day, along with expected attendees. Guests now just sign themselves in with a few taps, and the API takes note of their arrival. Furthermore, the API notifies the event organiser the client has arrived to our visitor Slack channel, all done automatically.

Behind the scenes, we used Lightwave RF hardware to ensure that the temperature in meeting rooms is at a comfortable level, ahead of time. A few minutes before someone is shown into the meeting room, we can remotely queue up a ‘friendly’ playlist which plays at a sensible volume, again, utilising the accessibility of the Sonos API.

Room availability:

Given the great office space we work in, we wanted to encourage people to make use of it as much as possible. Quite often people would work in one place all day for fear of messing up a space that might be needed later on for a client meeting. Instead, we wanted people to be able to easily see if a room was free if they walked past, and encourage teams to jump in and use it without having to check first via the online calendar.

We therefore mounted a small tablet outside each meeting room with a traffic light-themed user interface to determine, at a glance, if the room was free and when it was next booked. The tablet could also be used to pick a preferred playlist to play music in the room.

Overall, we had great fun experimenting with our organisational API and the process allowed us to bring together multiple sources of hardware and digital data to create a richer experience our staff and visitors.

Each of the apps we’ve developed so far has been quick and efficient with a lot of the heavy lifting already been taken care of by the API. Having a central platform to build on top of has meant we avoid repetition of the same coding tasks over and over, and that different systems can share their benefits with one another.

We’re looking forward to iterating more over the coming months and experimenting with other useful solutions to make life at 383 that bit easier. Next up we’re playing with Slackbot help to provide natural language IT support via the API. Given how hard we all work within the office, it’s nice to see the office working that bit harder for us!  

By John Newbold, founder & creative director at 383