The annual Consumer Electronics Show was a virtual event this year, as most other events have been, but there was still a lot to digest for the digital workplace.

Smart homes and smart buildings were a favorite topic, but there was also a lot of talk about the smart enterprise. The Internet of Things (IoT) and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are making Internet-enabled devices a more common feature of business.

And given the fact that millions of workers are now communicating virtually, the role of the IoT in the digital workplace has piqued a great deal of interest. Here are a few ways IoT technologies are developing in response.

Enabling More Productive Remote Work

Since the onset of the global lockdown, the IoT has gained traction as an enabler of productive remote work and unhindered team collaboration across industries, said Igor Efremov, head of HR at Itransition, a Denver-based software development company. With the pandemic showing few signs of subsiding, existing IoT use cases for remote work will proliferate and new ones will continue to emerge.

For one thing, he said, IoT will prove indispensable in sectors relying on human labor such as manufacturing. The infrastructure of sensors, cameras and endpoints will allow technicians to monitor and maintain asset performance in real time without being physically present. In 2021, manufacturers can be expected to invest in AI and predictive analytics to render their smart factory infrastructures even more self-sufficient. The effects will be felt further down the supply chain as well.

“IoT will continue being valuable for the retail and supply chain industries, enabling their workers to remotely keep tabs on inventory levels, warehouse space utilization and storage conditions,” Efremov said. “This year, due to 5G-induced advancements in self-driving technology, more and more companies are likely to shift to unmanned shipments.”

Beyond this, more remote workers across industries will equip their home offices with IoT tools. While voice assistants will be increasingly used for organizational tasks like arranging calls and taking notes during meetings, IoT-wired cameras will create the participation effect during video calls and smart HVAC devices will maintain productivity-promoting working conditions.

Related Article: How the Internet of Things Enables Remote Workers

Specialized IoT Applications

It is necessary at this stage of development to build new technologies designed for specific industries, said David Karczewski, chief technology officer at Poland-based Ideamotive.

“It's not that easy to think of many generic things that would fit every workplace and I think that we are in a place now in which we should focus more on finding solutions that fit specific industries, where IoT use might be a lot more beneficial,” he said. “On production lines and in warehouses the produced and stored items might be easily tracked with IoT devices, in geodesy or architecture IoT devices can be used to quickly generate measurement reports and maps.”

If some of the things outlined are already in use, Karczewski believes that this year will bring standardization and expansion of these technologies making them available to the broader audience.

Related Article: Digital Workplace Tech Expanded in the Pandemic. Here's What's Next

IoT and Reopening the Office

The IoT and its use in the digital workplace, just like other areas of tech, has been dramatically impacted by the rise of remote working. As businesses across the globe prepare to reopen offices, these environments will look drastically different than before the pandemic, said Asanka Abeysinghe, chief technology evangelist at Mountain View, Calif.-based WSO2. Touchless devices such as wearables and sensors will be critical for keeping workspaces safe and sanitized, leading to a potential need for larger budgets.

Learning Opportunities

Key to making this work is APIs, he added. Using API technology will be critical for the implementation of these cloud-based access control systems, which can connect businesses’ technology with other applications like wearable devices. APIs also empower employee management systems to control the amount of people in a building at a time, as well as help with automating new digital check-in procedures. API technology will also be crucial for hands-free functionality, rapidly improved reliability and remote access and removing the demand for IT teams to constantly be on-site.

Using these integrated technologies will no longer be an option, but rather integral to a safe and comfortable workplace for all. Identity and access management will be critical for implementing policies and governance in a digital-native manner.

Related Article: How the Internet of Things Is Faring in a Remote Working World

Office Space Optimization

There is a bigger picture here, too. Smart building programs have been focused on efficiency improvements and lacked quantifiable evidence beyond sustainability, said Michael C. Skurla, chief technology officer of Dallas-based Radix IoT. This is changing as IoT platforms evolve, in some places taking over from audio-visual technology integration.

The ability to tie disjointed systems together has offered insight to allow artificial intelligence and business intelligence tools to impact the work environment in ways that simple AV integration strived for but could never fully achieve. IoT platforms now enable a growing host of features that have emerged in parallel with changing workplace dynamics. As people return to office spaces post-COVID, IoT platforms and the sensory network behind them enable positives for employee, employer and the building owner.

With the rise of remote work, offices will be less about a place to sit 9-to-5 and more about a place to collaborate and use company resources locally as needed, said Skurla. Advancements such as indoor locations services and indoor geolocation will allow employees to schedule time, understand where people are and find desks and meeting spots on the fly when they choose to go into an office. Tightly integrated IoT platforms will allow them to have environmental control over their workplace through their phone, free of the complexity of AV systems.

But it is not just employees that gain from IoT in the enterprise. Digital workplace managers are gaining too. The IoT helps them understand the use of their space more accurately and how it is functioning from an employee perspective. Smart phone apps using IoT allow employees to report building problems and address maintenance issues without tracking down service workers.

Employers can also better understand real-time occupancy and space utilization to drive planning and space optimization and leasing. They will be able get real-time information from the building infrastructure and subsystems to address problems as they happen and do preventative maintenance and continuous commissioning. Building owners can understand and respond to tenant issues and control energy costs, while also having insight into operations to plan for capital improvement projects.