The Design Manager team has been reporting everything interior designers need to know about the evolving impact of the coronavirus on our society, from local to global scale. Today, we are taking a deep dive into home technology that will be on the rise due to the cultural changes brought on by the COVID-19 crisis. Designers and business owners, read on to learn about home technologies that will make your clients’ homes the multi-functional spaces they now need.
WiFi and Extenders
Even if the coronavirus is eradicated, the likelihood of a future pandemic of a new virus makes investing in work-from-home infrastructure a smart move. Besides, even when the need subsides, employees may prefer to work from home, and employers are likely to be more open to it than ever before. And after this long experiment of doing everything remotely, people may continue to prefer to interact with service providers, like interior designers, on a remote basis as much as possible.
While there is a plethora of technology to support a lifestyle built around virtual connection, the foundation is a strong WiFi signal. First and foremost, invest in a high-speed connection with a strong signal throughout your entire home, in case your at-home office gets taken over by other people sharing your space (like children with cabin-fever). WiFi extenders, will ensure you have maximum coverage, and are easily purchased online or at big electronic retailers.
The latest iteration of WiFi is known as WiFi 6, which became widely available in January, 2020. This version is faster than WiFi 5, but more importantly, it supports more devices operating at high speed simultaneously –nine to be exact (WiFi 5 supports approximately five). If you are planning a project where multiple people will be inhabiting the space, WiFi 6 will ensure a strong connection for all. Be aware, however, that taking advantage of this technology requires an upgraded modem and compatible equipment, such as laptops, printers, and smartphones. Installing WiFi 6 may be a bigger investment for clients than it first appears on the surface, so investigate these details for each project before giving a cost estimate.
Is WiFi 6 worth it? A strong signal with high-speed connectivity is needed to support all further technologies discussed here. If you are working with a client who needs to make their home compatible with a “stay home” lifestyle, now is a good time to invest in this infrastructure. Think about how many of their necessary applications will be cloud-based going forward, and then imagine them working at home while other family members are streaming movies or playing video games online, etc.
Preparing Spaces for Videoconferencing
Videoconferencing is the new way to work for the foreseeable future. This is one of the reasons why high-speed internet with a strong signal is imperative. People are using applications like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Slack to conduct business, connect with their networks, and to facilitate homeschooling. A strong internet connection will ensure you have smooth video chats that do not freeze, go dark, or lose audio for no apparent reason.
Your clients will also need at least one space in their home with a comprehensive set-up for video chats and FaceTime calls, which includes proper lighting, seating and desk heights (which can be best provided for multiple users by adjustable-height desks) that frame the upper half of one’s body, and other accessories such as a phone stand, an HD camera, and high-quality, external microphones – especially if they work in a field where their voice needs to be recorded or shared with a wide audience. A neutral, professionally appropriate background is also a must for the omnipresent video chat. Luckily, interior designers have a good understanding of how to produce a stage as such. However, it can’t hurt to research the right technological tools to produce the best results for this specific purpose.
“Connected Homes” to “Smart Homes”
Smart Home technology has been one of the hottest trends in electronics for the last decade. Lighting, audio, televisions, kitchen appliances, thermostats, motorized blinds — basically everything electronically powered — is now made to connect to the internet so that users can control them remotely or with voice commands. Welcome to IoT, the Internet of Things.
In the past, each of these components were separate and had to be controlled individually, which is called “connected” technology. New innovations are making it possible for all of these individual components to work together. For example, when you open your front door, which can be done key-less, the entryway light will turn on. Your music playlist, triggered by sensors, will follow you from room to room, then turn off when you turn on the TV.
One thing making the Smart Home a reality is that as of December 2019, the three platforms that different connected products are built on, Apple, Google’s Android, and Amazon, have agreed to work together on a universal, standardized system. For example, in the past you could not use Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa, to guide your Apple TV; now you can. This breaking down of virtual walls opens up a whole world of possibility for interconnected devices throughout the home. For clients seeking ultimate comfort and convenience, a Smart Home will be highly desirable.
Smart home technologies are complicated. While in the past an interior designer may have worked with an Audio Visual (AV) consultant to choose and install televisions and integrated sound systems, a Smart Home requires an Custom Integration (CI) consultant. A CI consultant will know the best products that can work together to suit your clients’ needs, make sure the system is installed to allow for remote access for management and repairs, and ensure the system has top-notch security features. CI consultants will likely be valuable business partners for interior designers moving forward.
Home & Digital Security
In a sharply increasing digital world, security is of utmost importance. Security in this context is not just an alarm system, or cameras placed around a property, although those are also important and can be enabled with smart technology. But security is now a much more comprehensive term that includes protection of the virtual network that runs a space, which is another reason why installing IoT products with remote access is important. Interior designers should work with a CI consultant to develop a security plan for each client using IoT products. At the very least, clients should protect their private WiFi with highly specific Service Set Identifier (SSID) names, passwords, and two-step authentication.
Companies like Vivant and Frontpoint offer smart technology enabled packages that include equipment and around the clock monitoring for a monthly fee. They also have apps that allow users to access surveillance cameras, check alarms, and lock doors remotely.
There is no doubt that technology will quickly respond to our fast-changing needs as our personal and professional lives become much more home-centric. Particularly with the growth of smart technology and breaking advancements in artificial intelligence and robotics, a flood of innovation is on the verge of breaking that will materially elevate our at-home experience.
To stay on the cutting-edge of what your clients need in this fast evolving technological landscape, stay tuned!