Smart offices are becoming more and more relevant as IoT (Internet of Things) devices invade more and more of our productive work spaces. For example, entire smart systems are now dedicated to make every modern establishment both energy and management efficient.

The average user is typically stuck with the option of choosing separate devices to fulfil our smart system needs. But do you really need a smart thermostat? Or auto-flipping switches just to save energy or manage your home device and appliances?

Due to their not-immediately-apparent benefits, these products can be hard sells for consumers, despite the potential gains. This is especially true when we consider the mounting upfront costs needed for every single tiny smart device you intend to use.

Nonetheless, in a workplace context, there are some key use cases to explore. We believe that there are definite benefits to be had from investing in them.

So how can smart devices improve productivity? Let us count the ways...

Smart writing media

Specific niche products have attempted to cater to the persistence of paper in our modern world. After all, the traditional pen and paper does have its ageless charm.

As such, smart writing media provide a very clear distinction of necessity. Work spaces that cannot be optimized by pen and paper - such as data transcription, webpage editing or blog management - will typically not need it in any effective manner.

But any other regular activity that thrives on spontaneous generation of ideas will find it a very welcome addition on a work desk. Essentially because almost all smart pens and notebooks have these four basic features:

Automated scanning – snapping photos of speaker slides on your phone? A smart notebook does it better with automated identification processes. These products often provide options such as image enhancement, instant page border detection, auto-save to specific locations, and other types of seamless analog-to-digital file conversion perks.n
Paper 'button' access – usable paper on these smart notebooks can be recognized by the same system as specific inputs, though methods can greatly vary per product. For example, the Livescribe 3 smart pen can press the button icons on the paper as if it is an actual button.
Direct to digital transcription – smart pens can recognize writing strokes, and can accordingly save such analog data as character inputs for a written digital document. A basic staple feature for all smart writing media.
Note integration – smart pens and notebooks can be directly integrated with most types of cloud-storage based solutions, or any online file management system such as Dropbox or Google Drive.
Universal reusability – developers of these smart writing products also recognize the convenience of reusability. There is usually some sort of perk or gimmick (microwaveable pages, off-shelf cartridge refills, etc.) that allows components of the product to be reused.

There are of course certain inherent limitations, such as access latency, the fact that you need two relatively bulky devices to work with, and of course, cost. But if you brainstorm often, then going one step up above grabbing pens and reams of paper may be the best 'smart' choice you will ever do.

Smart voice assistants

Smart voice assistants, as cool and futuristic as their concept seem, are often treated as fancy and gimmicky internet toys.

It’s not that these products don’t have wide applications, it’s just that they aren't used in a universal manner. Not all people order online with Amazon Echo for instance, and Google Home doesn’t have as much support from third-party devices as it should.

Despite this, voice assistants have features and options that make them directly usable. The voice interface - when compared with other input processes - tends to be shorter, faster, more direct, and no physical device access is required.

In the workplace these devices are going to aid efficient information retrieval, meeting automation, and accessibility.

Smart task assistants

Lastly, we also need to take a brief look at the various smart task assistants made available commercially over the years. Unlike the more access and network driven simple smart devices out there, these gadgets typically provide enhancement and extension via convenience.

A few ones that you might want to look out for are:

Smart sticky notes – very simple and directly useful, smart sticky notes make use of a tiny screen that is designed only to show notifications. Think of the same fridge sticky notes, but faster, more connected, and is instant. SeeNote is perhaps the only serious contender for such line of products at the moment, but expect more similar products to appear in the future as the concept becomes more popular.
Smart ear buds – it is a bit of a stretch to consider earphones as 'office' devices. However smart ear buds do have features theoretically designed to improve productivity. Products such as the recently released Samsung Gear IconX cancels soft ambient sounds while enhancing the clarity of calls received.
Smartwatches – the classic hand gadget that perhaps started the whole wearables versus practicality debate, smartwatches still maintain their niche within the access latency reduction realm. Still a hard sell to most casual users, but can be more of a staple for notification-intensive task warriors.

Perhaps some of these smart devices have the potential to become a convenient staple for your own work desk!

Photo by Bence ▲ Boros on Unsplash.