The past two years were a busy time for real estate professionals. While commercial buildings like office towers, shopping malls and hotels stood empty for months in a row as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, building owners and their corporate tenants were pondering how to bring people back to their properties. Technology plays a big role in these plans.
As part of their return-to-work plans, a couple of European investment banks have decided to smarten their employees' work stations by placing under-desk sensors to optimize office occupancy.
The technology is similar to that used to manage parking spots. The use of sensors limited to occupancy seems fairly harmless, although it would not take much to move from smart office to something potentially more nefarious.
Technologies that can capture virtually every aspect of employee behavior in their work spaces already exist: employers can determine how much time they work, whom they interact with and for what purposes, even how they feel.
The list goes on to the extent that human behavior can be fully captured by ad-hoc technologies developed by so-called proptech (property technology) companies. These technologies are known as background or calm technologies, meaning they capture a user's attention only when necessary and remain in the background most of the time.
They are pervasive although totally invisible to their users, who are oblivious to their presence. When employees step into an office building or visitors enter a shopping mall, for example, they're often unaware they're surrounded by technological apparatus that constantly interacts with them.