Moving beyond digital signage in the workplace

At first, thinking about digital signage in the workplace makes perfect sense. We’re all familiar with big screens in airports, hotel foyers and sports stadiums, so, yes, how about seeing similar kit in business environments, for example in headquarter lobbies, or indeed in coffee rooms?
Yes of course, the concept can find plenty of use. Corporate visitors can be offered videos, presentations and data. Employees can more easily be briefed and can share their own content, such as the latest inter-departmental soccer results. Touch screens and kiosks also have a place, for campus navigation and training information dissemination.
The benefits are pretty straightforward — not only that content can be updated faster, or printing costs can be saved but also increased staff motivation and wellbeing, improved health and safety knowledge, higher productivity have been cited. As hardware costs come down, business cases become more evident (though of course, remember to account for the overheads of managing real-time content).
So, what’s the problem? Let’s take a look. Ultimately, such a signage-centric, “Let’s take what is working over there and deploy it over here” mindset is missing a trick. It’s worth reviewing a number of other areas where screen use is prevalent, and seeing these as input to the decision process.
First, the smart screen has come a long way. Back in the early nineties, I can remember de-boxing a whiteboard with a built in printer; since then such devices have become giant input and output panels. Pioneer in the field is education: from sharing an office with a manufacturer of interactive whiteboards for this sector, I’ve seen just how much of a difference such technologies can have on classrooms.
Most importantly, it’s not about the screen but the environment. Consider, for example, the ability to create information on a tablet computer, then share it onto a screen for somebody else to edit. Imagine being able to do this on a wall screen in the meeting room, with input from people in another office.
It should be straightforward, and both schools and home tutors are using such capabilities all the time, but they have yet to make an impact in the workplace.
Second, ‘telepresence’, the term coined by Cisco and also offered by HP to describe the immersive impact of seeing full-sized people on screens in a videoconference. Apart from (addressable through software) issues with eye movement, it’s like they are in the room.
When they were launched a few years ago, such technologies were too costly for all but head office installations. With today’s network bandwidth and with screen costs having plummeted, the ‘telepresence’ notion has a much broader appeal.
And third, we can look to transactional areas of the business for best practice in terms of screen use. ‘Starship Enterprise’ style, centralised network and equipment management hubs have plenty to offer in terms of what should be visible on the big screen, and how it should be presented relative to individualised views on smaller desktops.
Similarly, call centres and sales environments make extensive use of screens. From these parts of the organisation we can learn not only the options available, but also how to strike a balance between operational efficiency and keeping staff motivated.
Learning from these areas, the bottom line is that digital signage is only part of the opportunity offered by either passive or interactive screens. Direct information sharing, collaboration, workflow management, employee feedback, resource scheduling and booking, training, brainstorming and team building are just a few areas that a deployment can achieve.
Perhaps, yes, a quick win is to deploy some screens for the purpose of disseminating information. But,as some sectors are already discovering — such as non-obtrusive up-selling in the hospitality sector— active interaction yields new opportunities for enablement and empowerment, beyond passive information sharing.
So, it’s worth thinking outside the box, and treating screens as a viewport onto a shared data set, which can also be accessed via other devices. What starts as digital signage becomes a series of windows onto a brave new world, which drives a set of considerations, not least in terms of type, size and location, that should be considered before any deployment.