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20 February 2019
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Human evolution

24 September 2014  

Technology has a habit of fundamentally changing our behaviour before we even notice it’s done so.

Who now picks up a map when they can check not only their current location, but also their eventual destination – all from their smartphone? Most of us now have a high-definition video camera, radio, television, remote control and voice recorder that can run for days or weeks on end. Hell, it’s even a torch. ‘Mobile phone’ is a poor name for a device so multi-faceted.

Initially we marvel at the very idea of the behavourial changes these devices bring – but then, within a blink of an eye, they’ve become so much of a day-to-day expectation that we find ourselves annoyed when they’re not available. Watch the video of Apple introducing its original iPhone and hear the gasps of astonishment when the ‘pinch to zoom’ gesture is first demonstrated. Today it’s as mundane a function as so many other examples of once revolutionary technological change.

In support of the workplace, mobile technology of this kind has already transformed the lives of M&E engineers, fleet managers and any number of people whose job involves auditing or measuring occupied space. And now the next step is here – something which has the potential to have an even more profound implication for the workplace; the personalisation of health data, analysed through phones and delivered to people through a new generation of wearable technology.

For someone who knows the typical number of Maltesers in a so-called family bag (47 – far fewer than you’d think, right?), the notion of being able to customise my personal eating and physical activity habits based on my location is a bit disconcerting. But just as I’ve adapted to using the phone as an A to Z or word processor, I’m sure I’ll pick it up faster than I imagine. The point is that workplaces will adapt, and we’ve already reported on offices with staircases marked with calorie consumption details for those who climb them. That’s just the start; we’ll soon be using our phones’ barometers and accelerometers to measure our relative elevation as we walk up and down the office.

Workers’ attitudes to the use of this technology will be interesting to watch. For example, delegates to November’s Workplace Week convention in London will be in for a treat when Kieron Sparrowhawk of MyCognition speaks. His firm carries out a Q&A test of people to assess their levels of cognition across five ‘domains’ (working memory, episodic memory, attention, psychomotive speed and executive function). The firm then generates a video game customised to that specific individual, designed to improve their powers of cognition. Greater productivity ensues - and signs are that workers are happy to engage with this kind of activity. In a world of worker wellbeing initiatives, this brain training, coupled with health and fitness initiatives, could profoundly change the type of workplace demanded by organisations.

A final thought on Ismena Clout, the BIFM’s former chairman who lost her battle with breast cancer last week. It’s humbling to note the grace with which she accepted her fate, and the passion she had for both the facilities management sector and the BIFM. She will, of course, be greatly missed by all who knew and worked with her.

Martin Read is managing editor at FM World