Was “social distancing” a term before COVID-19? I don’t recall hearing it before March 2020 (and keep in mind, I once worked as an intern studying global pandemic influenza)!
But now “social distancing” is our watchword, and rightly so as COVID-19 spreads, seemingly unabated. Given this reality, organizations must have tools to understand how many people are in a space in order to manage risk and help people stay safe.
Three months ago we took steps to partner with a leading provider of people counting systems called Density.io. Now an preferred partner with certifications in Density’s tools, Creating Margin is excited to share the range of functions of occupancy tools with our current and prospective customers.
Density works using a hardware/software combination that allows eye-safe depth sensing laser technology to see a person moving into or out of an entryway. Placed specifically at the entrance(s) of a room, one or many sensors can accurately track the number of people in that room at any given time. Importantly – given recent privacy concerns – Density is completely anonymous. The technology is unable to distinguish any Personally Identifiable Information (PII), much less store it.
Among the many attractive features of the Density software suite is the ability to easily configure the devices using the Set Up App, and start tracking occupancy in your rooms of choice. The administrative UI is quite simple, allowing for SMS Text or Email alerts to be sent to your mobile device in the event a room is over-occupied, so that a group may be warned of the possible danger.
Density’s tools are immediately valuable during this pandemic and beyond, and the Creating Margin team can implement these solutions quickly as you plan a return to work, campus, coffee shop and more.
As we continue to define the makeup of safe workspaces, Creating Margin will share our insights with you – our valued customer – as we continue to strive to be your embedded technology partner.
This is the third of three entries where I’ve shared Creating Margin’s experience with the COVID-19 pandemic, the worldwide shift to Work from Home, and how these dynamics may forever change our expectations of the workplace.
In the first entry, I shared about Creating Margin and our experience moving the team to work from home in response to COVID-19.
In the second entry I shared some insights into the global shift to Work from Home, and discussed modern concepts of the workplace including the failed Open Office and the more popular Activity Based Workspace.
The Rise of the Engaging Workplace
On a visit to OtterBox in Fort Collins Colorado around 2012, I was impressed that they had installed a steel slide for staff and visitors to get from the second floor office spaces down to the lobby of the building. We learned that OtterBox used flexible meeting spaces, digital signage, meeting room signs for quick booking, and even booking apps on their cell phones. They had a kitchen and coffee shop in the office, and opportunities to get outside for a refresher while walking between buildings.
Otterbox was one of my first visits to what I’ll call an “engaging workplace”. The visit helped me realize that workplaces could be genuinely fun, exploratory, technologically “easy to use”, comfort zone-stretching places. In the corporate world, seated behind a desk for most of the day, we’ve all grown up a little too fast.
Otterbox was one of my first visits to what I’ll call an “engaging workplace.” The visit helped me realize that workplaces could be genuinely fun, exploratory, technologically “easy to use”, comfort zone-stretching places.
Many companies understand the opportunity. On a recent visit with Humana in Louisville, Kentucky we had another example of an engaging workplace. They were serving gourmet food in the cafeteria. We had meetings in a variety of room types (a recording studio and the executive boardrooms stood out). We learned that the treadmill desks on the second floor are nearly always in use. Visiting with Humana, I understood a clear purpose to each space and an overall design vision geared towards encouraging collaboration.
While Humana’s scale and business challenges are entirely different than Otterbox’s – and my visits were over eight years apart – I sense that the solution to “bringing people back into work” after COVID-19 will look similar for most companies today.
Five Defining Features of An Engaging Workplace
I recently watched an interview with Senator Lindsey Graham concerning the economic stimulus package addressing COVID-19. Graham was concerned that with this relief bill, laid-off workers will receive more money than what they were making at work. Graham predicted that this may end up deterring people from returning to work.
While the majority of office workers are salaried (US Bureau of Labor Statistics), Graham’s concerns about whether those who have lost their jobs will return to work may apply to white collar workers. With wide ranging layoffs now impacting Corporate America, workplaces designed around engaging concepts will be more successful convincing staff that it’s worth it to return to work.
Let’s define what an Engaging workplace might look like. As we do this, I’d like to consider how two of the technologies that Creating Margin has specialized in now for over six years – digital signage and workplace management/booking systems – might play a part in this shift.
Here are five features of the Engaging Workplace.
Provide Ready Access to Important Data and Information
An Engaging Workplace will provide ready access to relevant and updated data and information across devices.
Content Management Systems (CMS) and digital signage networks can help facilitate this ready access. In a CMS, content updates can be made by staff, a third party, or feed from a database. Content can be created and sent to specific screen or group of screens.
The placement of digital signage displays is important, and in our experience, customers will choose heavily trafficked areas. That said, management often requests multizone dashboards to summarize KPIs and allow for what has been called visual management.
In order to share data widely, one must collect it. A meeting management solution like Pronestor can be helpful in tracking different types of meetings, equipment, and catering bookings. Pronestor’s Insights tool allows for data about workspace and technology use to be summarized. Using digital signage, dashboards can be shared across the organization.
Allow for Flexibility and Team Building Activities
Engaging Workspaces will allow for flexibility of seating and unusual team building activities, and foster culture in the process.
Activity Based Workspaces are known for their flexibility. In an ABW, teams can blend and management often sits among their team in the same space. In his book Team of Teams, General Stanley McChrystal argues that organizations will look to teams made up of members of different teams to improve communications and efficiency. Helping blended teams to form while remaining connected to their department will play a big part in the Engaging Workplace.
But let’s take this a step further. How can our workspaces also encourage team building activities? I think about the ropes course that I visited with a project team during my IMBA program. Or the trust fall exercise where you fall back and depend on team members to catch you. An Engaging Workplace could allow for activities like these to foster connection and learn about team members’ strengths and weaknesses. What are other examples of what this looks like? Open spaces in the office, fitness equipment, or encouraging employees to take breaks and engage in activities.
Some of the word “Engaging” speaks to company culture, and this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Companies who are concerned about culture will make sure that the workplace aligns with that vision.
Digital signage can make the use of flexible spaces more efficient. If a huddle area isn’t in use, why not repurpose the screen to show announcements and pertinent info? Live-streaming company addresses is a common use of digital signage tools.
It takes advanced software technologies to keep flexible workspaces from becoming a free for all. Pronestor is what we recommend for this advanced technology suite. Pronestor allows for spontaneous booking of defined rooms and hot desking. Using the simple user interface (UI), even complex meetings can be created or updated.
Blend the Physical and Virtual Worlds
Engaging workplaces will find creative ways to blend the physical and virtual worlds.
The physical and virtual worlds can be blend in a variety of ways. This video wall in Netflix’s Los Angeles headquarters is an example. Standing in the room surrounded by screens, you can be placed in a different world as the content changes.
Consider too the idea of a “virtual office” with digital meeting rooms which can be occupied by Avatars of employees. We might call this the “context aware workplace” where staff may be distant but can still feel connected in a digital space made to look and feel like an office. This would be a sort of Second Life for Business.
Digital signage can play a part here as well. What if a screen on the wall could also play host to meeting participants’ Avatars? This would allow staff who are in the office to observe the meeting as if outside the meeting room. Adding a tangible element to a virtual meeting would improve the physical office’s energy, provide evidence of productivity, and help accountability for meetings.
Pronestor’s Planner software is built around the process of booking meetings and managing both physical and virtual resources.
Hardware Testing Areas
The engaging workplace has a dedicated space for testing solutions before they are delivered to customers.
One of the most useful areas in Creating Margin’s office here in Boise Idaho is our hardware lab. In the hardware lab we can take software applications and test on the hardware that we’ll in the field. Our emphasis on the QA process is important to confirm that the solutions we are providing are stable.
We test digital signage in our hardware lab. Staff can track an order of priority for application testing, and myriad other tasks.
Incorporate Showrooms for Demonstrating Real World Applications
Engaging workplaces will allow for real-world applications to be installed and running, so that visitors can see technology in action.
Using the office as a showroom to wow potential customers must be as old as the office itself. I’m sure that business owners on the early manufacturing floors would proudly show how efficiently the business was running. I’ve seen these “customer experience centers” (CECs), across industries and in both B2B and B2C companies. Even A/V Integrator companies are now implementing showrooms. This shows how valuable the “showroom as a sales tool” can be.
In conclusion, I want to encourage you. There is much to be hopeful about in this time despite the prevailing bad news. Society continues to advance, despite the lives lost to COVID-19. Companies will come out of this crisis with better awareness of the importance of the office space.
Overall, I challenge you to take COVID-19 as an opportunity to return to your workplace re-energized, open to ideas of how to upgrade it to achieve its full potential.
Think We Could Help?
Creating Margin has teamed up with Density.io to create a revolutionary workspace and campus occupancy solution.
Maybe the title of this article is a dead give away. But, in a world where messages are constantly flung each and every direction, it’s comforting to know that digital signage has become a very established form of communication. Digital Signage owns the “catch your eye” factor of marketing while communicating more effectively than any static ad you’ll ever see.
So why does digital signage build trust with customers?
1. It embeds in the mind of the viewer as a good source of information
Take digital menu boards for example. Although it might be one of the simplest forms of communication, it has already established a ‘mental handshake’ with the viewer. It states what the restaurant offers, and the viewer turns that into a course of action and orders a burger. Even digital signage located inside light rail cars become an essential source of information. Stated upcoming stops and the current stops for the people riding the train are vital for shuttling individuals across a city. Again, it establishes that “you’re taken care of,” feeling for the viewer.
2. Digital Signage fills the gap of a knowledge dependency
You’re lost in the middle of a huge airport, and you’re running late. Suddenly, you see a giant touch screen right next to the escalators! You to find a map of the airport, and you’re off in the right direction. Digital Signage can show people when flight times are, or what is delayed. It can even be helpful in educating people on something they may not have experienced before, like an EF5 Tornado in New York City. Digital Signage can help your customers know what new promotions are happening in a bank branch. The list goes on, and digital signage can be useful in spreading any type of knowledge.
3. It re-affirms your brand image
Sure. The marketing and communications world is obsessed with brand consistency and brand image. But, it makes a huge difference. Digital signage builds trust like a bridge to the viewer and makes an introduction. Whether it’s the first time or the hundredth time, customers can be reassured by consistent messaging in a small area. Familiarity and positive brand experiences build trust. This might be anything from a company lobby to a Nike Store where viewers can interact with the brand in an uplifting way. With technology like that, it’s hard to forget a tactile experience.
I don’t travel as extensively as I once did, but I’m still blessed to get around our beautiful country, and occasionally outside of it, a few times a year. As a long-time digital signage vet (they say once you start, you can’t stop!) I always notice digital signage andBuilding Map Designs wherever I go.
One question I have is why aren’t there more digital menu boards out there? It has always seemed to be a logical application of digital signage. Beyond the talk of an FDA mandate for nutritional data, digital menus are often billed as an easy way to update menus, add animations of certain content (e.g. steam coming off a hamburger), push specials during certain times, integrate with POS inventories (“stop selling burritos when the tortillas are gone”!), and more.
Despite the myriad of reasons to implement digital menu boards, most restaurants I go to don’t have them. Here are four reasons why I believe digital menus will become more widespread.
1.Decreasing Cost of Hardware (Displays and Players)
Historically, displays have been fairly expensive, which has stymied growth into commercial use. While most Americans have TVs in their living rooms (at least 96.7% according to Nielson), the numbers need to work for businesses to make the leap from paper/poster/dry erase board to digital. As supply chains tighten and demand grows, the price of televisions is dropping. We see this both with retail televisions, and commercial TVs (in various sales, though data isn’t readily available).
Another component of the hardware required to implement digital signage is the “player” – typically a device running a propriety software on Windows, Android or even Linux. These players range anywhere from $35.00 to $1,200.00 – a Linux based Raspberry Pi 3 on the low end (case not included), to a Windows-based unit with Intel processor on the high end (think Windows 10 Pro with Intel i7.
We find that in certain situations a Raspberry Pi is sufficient. These are no-frills devices, that excel at playing HTML5/“web” content. We recommend finding a device in the mid-range that bundles some hardware monitoring software. Bright Sign is a great choice, with hardware costs from $350.00 to $850.00 and built-in device management. The $350.00 HD222 is plenty for digital menu boards. If these prices don’t seem right, Google has also entered the market with their Chrome Box (available from DELL, ASUS, HP, ACER, and others) and SaaS-based device management.
2. Reduced Cost of Software
Software is an aspect of your investment that deserves research and planning. Software is often confused with “content.” But, it is the toolset that you need to do things like load new content, schedule an image or video for a time of day, remotely restart screens, and more.
Feature-rich software for digital signage is most often required when you’re building an interactive kiosk, incorporating wayfinding (plotting location on a building map), integrating with a database, etc. In the case of digital menu boards, displaying static graphics is sufficient for most users. Your options for software are many, and oftentimes free! Doing your research and being familiar with your team’s skillsets will help you here. Even though some software will allow you to, “update menu data from a spreadsheet,” it’s actually easier for your design team to export a new image from Photoshop. While including animations is nice, expect additional hardware requirements and higher costs per unit if you add a lot of video to your digital menu boards.
Even among providers of feature-rich solutions, it’s clear that to compete in the menu board space, their prices need to be lower. Look for a monthly cost of around $30.00 or an upfront cost of $1000.00 max for software. All that said, you should be able to find a free software product that will more than serve your needs for a single digital menu.
3. Better Uptime (Menus Can’t “Go Down!”)
Nothing can be more detrimental to a restaurant’s quality of service than a turned-off screen in place of a menu. We regularly hear from prospects who are fearful when technology is a part of a menu – without a menu, food sales can be affected. But one of the top benefits of the maturing digital signage market has been the increased reliability. You can now be much more confident that a digital menu in your restaurant will be lit and working during all business hours.
One key to assuring our customers of better uptime is redundancy. That is, we use multiple layered technologies so if one layer (the player, let’s say) fails, the screen can fall back on a USB drive. There are various other ways to do this, where a simple guide for the store manager can allow for redundant layers to be used where necessary. This ensures that all of the advantages of digital menus can be leveraged, while the downside of black screens is all but eliminated.
4. Store Owners Realize the Benefits
When it comes to technology, the market majority are late adopters. This has certainly been the case with digital menu boards, where even as the technology grows more affordable, ownership just feels more comfortable with old school methods. This can be changed by getting the word out, providing examples of where the technology can improve food sales or improve the customer experience.
Let’s rehash the benefits. For operations using a hub and spoke system where multiple stores use shared “commissaries” or “depots” for inventory, shortages of certain ingredients can update at the stores immediately. Where nutritional information needs to be listed, or where new menu items are regularly added, the design and alignment of content on the screens can be updated seamlessly. Where videos and animations can be eye-catching and street-facing, menu specials can be highlighted to accelerate sales.
And the bottom line is that, if a static (paper/magnetic/etc.) menu board costs $300.00 to purchase and $600 in labor to deliver, hang, and maintain, then the cost of static versus a digital menu board becomes roughly equivalent. Replacing this static board leads to costs over and above making it digital. One common complaint – energy consumption of televisions – is less of an issue, with modern televisions costing about $10.00 a month to keep on.
NOTE: In this shortlist, I’ve omitted situations where there isn’t enough physical space for screens, or screens simply don’t fit in the environment. Digital menus are a particular fit for QSR environments where customers walk up to the counter and order from a menu (typically behind the cashier).
It’s amazing how digital signage works to augment our day-to-day reality. Earlier this week, I watched a clip from the NFL Network, where the commentators used an interactive touch screen application to show a March Madness bracket to project the “best future NFL player”. Charles Barkley simply tapped once on the team he liked, and the ‘team’ would move onto round 2 of the predictive competition.
The commentators started with the top eight players ranked in this year’s NFL Draft (April 23rd for those interested in watching). They were making many assumptions about how all of the professional football players would pan out. “How can you project the possible outcome of these strangers’ careers?” I asked myself.
But the show was still fun to watch because of the context – we’re all watching NCAA Basketball’s March Madness play out as well as any year I remember. It’s almost completely unpredictable, and I think that’s what’s so intriguing about it. Really, Yale? Wichita State? It’s always a good show.
It was entertainment because of the technology – I can touch the screen to advance a team or individual to the next round. We can all imagine that two talking heads would be less entertaining if not grounded by the “visual aid” of the interactive screen. There’s nothing like an interactive screen as an aid, versus a static graphic.
It’s clear that, even with an occasional blooper by Charles Barkley, touch screen technologies augment our reality and make the great American pastime of watching TV that much more entertaining! Seth Davis takes on the second half of tapping through his guesses on the touch screen soon after.
Technology is amazing. What’s one way that technology has changed your day-to-day? I’d love to hear from you.
Digital wayfinding has been one of the most popular developments in digital signage in the last 6 years when we saw a noticeable uptake in customers evaluating solutions based on support for “wayfinding,” in general- driving rapid growth for several digital signage software leaders, including the San Jose-based 22Miles and Montreal-based X2O/Barco.
Leading digital wayfinding signage systems tout the ability to take an image of a map (often enhanced from a basic CAD file to highlight particular areas of a building or campus, with clearly labeled rooms and points-of-interest) and make it interactive, for zooming and such. In many cases, animated paths can be drawn from the “You Are Here” location (the kiosk) to a destination the user has selected from a list.
This type of wayfinding has come to be called “interactive pathfinding”. But it’s not the only type of wayfinding you can use for digital signage. In fact, in certain cases interactive pathfinding may be unnecessary, and end up being under-utilized (the worst possible fate for your technology investment). At Creating Margin, drawing from over 10 years of experience implementing wayfinding systems of all kinds, we have identified different types of digital wayfinding which we’ll explain below.
If you have questions about how different digital wayfinding signage systems might work for your business, send us a note using the contact form below.
STATIC WAYFINDING – MAP ONLY
Static Wayfinding is helpful if you’re looking to start with the basics. It doesn’t always need to be interactive to help people navigate!
STATIC WAYFINDING – WITH LEGEND
Wayfinding with icons and a key are very helpful for large facilities. Especially airports, hospitals, universities and more.
DYNAMIC BEACON WAYFINDING
Showing an events list, that shows the location of the event on the map, is also a valuable form of wayfinding. This could be great for large corporate offices.
Interactive Wayfinding can be as simple as a tap. If the user tapped the event on the right side, an animated path would appear on the left.
TURN BY TURN DIRECTIONS
Even with the animated path, it’s also helpful if wayfinding includes instructions on how to get to the next point. Consider adding steps into your wayfinding.
INTERACTIVE MAP WITH POP-UPS
Ever seen this in the lobby of a hotel? They might have popular things to do listed on a page, and have it open up to a Google Maps page on a large screen for you to look at.
Yes, another form of wayfinding is something we use every day; GPS systems! Google Maps, Waze, and i-Maps are all examples of these.
BLUETOOTH ENABLED WAYFINDING
With a dynamic wayfinding beacon, users can connect to the beacon using their smartphone. This allows them to navigate from wherever they are, rather than needing to be in front of a kiosk.
ROOM BOOKING APPS
Finally, dynamic wayfinding can even include apps that help the user book a room for a meeting, all while using Bluetooth.
What’s your favorite type of digital wayfinding? Share with us below on a way you use this for your office, store, or your building. With the digital signage constantly improving, it’s great to hear how wayfinding affects your lifestyle.