“Alexa can hear us”
– How the use of new socio-technical systems in digitized
organizations change our workspaces
Chair of Sociology of Technology and Organization (STO)
RWTH Aachen University
Corresponding Author: Jacqueline Lemm
Co-Author: Erlinda Limani
Table of contents
1. Introduction ............................................................................................................................ 3
2. New Work .............................................................................................................................. 4
2.1 The flexible workplace and agile employees ................................................................... 5
2.2 Smart offices ..................................................................................................................... 6
2.3 Office concepts ................................................................................................................. 9
2.4 Individual room/space layout of the company ............................................................... 10
3. Synaesthetic room design ..................................................................................................... 11
3.1 What does synaesthetic room design mean for an office? .............................................. 12
4. Relational sociology of space and digitization ..................................................................... 13
5. Trend: Alexa as new colleague? ........................................................................................... 14
5.1 Data protection ............................................................................................................... 17
5.2 Communication and resonance ....................................................................................... 18
6. Need for physical space? ...................................................................................................... 20
7. Consequences of changed working environments ............................................................... 22
8. Change of profession for architects ...................................................................................... 23
9. Summary .............................................................................................................................. 25
Table of figures ........................................................................................................................ 26
Literature .................................................................................................................................. 27
Employees in logistics are equipped with hand scanners that are technically capable of
transferring data, e.g. on inventory, immediately to purchasing/sales and controlling via the
intranet. At the same time, the performance (speed, e.g. in warehouse logistics) of employees
can be tracked via hand scanners and works councils advise on data protection limits through
the use of such socio-technical systems, which simplify the work (e.g. by displaying the right
storage shelves on AR glasses, in combination with hand scanners) on the one hand, but on the
other hand also allow weak performance of employees to be traced. At the end of a shift,
colleagues can be compared with each other: Who put their goods on the storage shelves faster
with the help of hand scanners and/or smart glasses? What socio-economic/psychological
consequences does this possible performance comparison have, which may still be rewarded
with a "digital cup"/a kind of "highscore" and is stored in the system until the next shift as an
incentive for other employees to also achieve highscores?
Fully automated production, operation of large machines via tablet app, employees who do not
need to have mechatronic, but information technology knowledge about the machines to be
operated and the associated fear of empty production halls - humans find themselves in a
technicalised world, whether at work or at home.
At work, employees at the shop floor level use digitized user interfaces; at the management
level, up to five terminals of the latest information and communication technology are often
used in order to be accessible at all times and to be able to obtain information at any time and
from anywhere, provided a good Internet connection, which has become indispensable for many
professions, which can possibly provide economic competitive advantages. In private, Echo
(Amazon) & the digital assistant Alexa are entering our private living spaces and the debates
about what such speech control computers, according to Amazon advertisements, can or can't
hear despite loud noises and music, are somersaulting. Equipped with seven microphones, the
networked loudspeaker Echo from Amazon touches our personal areas and those of our guests.
It may be comfortable to ask Alexa to set the alarm for the next day before falling asleep in the
evening, but it is also amazing how quickly you can find advertising for a new alarm clock in
your private e-mail account the next day.
Although it is possible to switch off the "continuous noising/listening" by pressing the "Mute"
or "Microphone off" button, this immediately restricts the user in the essential functions. Users
will therefore have to weigh up the choice between comfort and long-term listening. If I agree
to the continuous listening, do I immediately agree to the forwarding of my data to servers
abroad, where the data protection regulations are not handled as strictly as in Germany? Are we
dealing with a helpful assistance system and can overlook advanced Amazon advertising, or
are these microphone-equipped devices communicating with clouds a danger of theoretically
permanent surveillance in our ever-digitalizing, data-collecting home?
Are such devices and digital assistants also conceivable in the working world and will it be
possible to make large purchases for corporations with Alexa in the future instead of private
purchases? Who is liable in case of incorrect procurement because Alexa may have misheard
or misunderstood - With Alexa for Business, Amazon has entered the era of the voice-controlled
office. Appointments can be organized via voice control, conference rooms can be booked and
sales presentations can be called up. The benefits for Amazon? For example, companies could
receive discounts if they order office supplies by voice control.
One of New York‘s office providers Wework is taking part in a beta test of Alexa for Business
and enabling its employees and customers to control the lights in the company's premises by
voice command and book conference rooms. In a luxurious hotel in Las Vegas (Wynn's), Echo
devices are installed in every room to be able to switch on and off or order food only with the
power of his voice and TV.
How will workspaces of the future be designed that take such socio-technical systems into
account in their architecture, etc.? Will the architecture of the future have to design only
physical-material space or also virtureal space? How will the tasks of architecture change? In
the profession of architect?
The contribution is offered from an organizational and spatial sociological perspective.
2. New Work
Work doesn't always begin and end with the office chair and the office desk: "Even on the train
ride to work, we get an overview of upcoming appointments on our smartphone and answer our
first e-mails, while having coffee with our colleague we come up with a new idea, and on the
way to the desk we take a look at the board to find out about the development status of various
projects. So we've done quite a bit before we even sit down on an office chair that is often freely
chosen" (Nopper-Pflügler 2019: 6; own translation). Favoured by the implementation of various
new (cultural) techniques and the need for and promotion of expandable mobility, work is less
and less tied to a fixed workplace. Thus, employees move within the company between creative
zones, meeting rooms and quiet workplaces and outside between home office, train journey
and/or coworking space (cf. ibid.). In the course of digitisation, modern working requires new
spatial concepts, which is why more and more offices are being planned, redesigned and
furnished anew (cf. Waldbröl 2017: 1).
A flexible workplace, intelligent offices with invisible technology, expanded office concepts
and all of this individually tailored to the respective company: the new working world.
2.1 The flexible workplace and agile employees
In order to ensure the future viability of the company, more and more companies are relying on
agile and flexible concepts (see Fig. 1) with the aim of increasing and maintaining employee
productivity. This creates spaces for collaborative work and also rooms with retreats for
concentrated work (cf. Bakschas 2019: 40).
Figure 1: Flexible tables and chairs. In: officemd (2018): New Work, May 2018 edition, 32. Photo: materia.se. URL:
An office design with only a few fixed elements, the possibility of designing the office
configuration flexibly and changeably, this supplemented by modular office furniture is an
important prerequisite for successful and agile work (cf. Geuder 2020: 28). A varied office life
and the choice of workstation will set organisation in motion, encourage exchange and create a
space for performance and inspiration (cf. Ahrens 2016b: 3).
In Vitras Welt - a furniture manufacturer and professional in furnishing office spaces - this
means in particular diversity in interior design and furnishing: from height-adjustable desk
landscapes, workstations (see Fig. 2), to lounges, armchairs and sofas, to multifunctional
workstations that can be pushed into the corner on wheels with just a few movements (cf.
Ahrens 2016b: 3).
Figure 2: Vitras Tyde Workstation. Photo: Vitra. URL: https://www.vitra.com/de-de/office/product/details/tyde-workstations.
However, flexibility does not mean the exclusive freedom of choice of the specific workplace
and its configuration, but also the choice of tools with which employees are confronted and
work (cf. Geuder 2019: 30). The use of new technology and location-independent devices
promotes agile working and enables fast communication and collaboration that is detached from
the workplace. In this new form of working, however, the ergonomic aspect is not well covered
or not covered at all. The office ergonomics developed over decades with research and existing
regulations for an ergonomic and healthy workplace refers mainly to the traditional office
workplace. Companies must adhere to the minimum requirements for workplaces, as they are
jointly responsible for the health and safety of their employees. "This also means that the more
flexible the office is, the more frequently the health and safety officers must check that
occupational health and safety is being observed" (Bakschas 2019: 41; own translation).
2.2 Smart offices
The desk and its environment automatically adapt to the current task. The desk moves to the
ergonomically correct height, while the light is well dosed and the correct room temperature is
found. Environments that react intelligently to individual requirements are called "cognitive
workplaces" (cf. Benitz/Zimmermann 2019: 20). Ideally, digital buildings act independently
and adapt to individual needs by studying user behavior, the Customized Smart Building:
"Artificial intelligence recognizes, for example, that there are different numbers of people
present in the building at different times of the day and week and reacts accordingly. With the
help of tracking sensors, the AI determines which rooms are unused and automatically reduces
the energy consumption for heating, cooling, ventilation and lighting. This not only saves costs,
but is also environmentally friendly" (Dederichs 2019: 69; own translation). Desks, lights, air
conditioning, printers and beamers are controlled via universal networking and autonomously
controlled artificial intelligence: the result of the Internet of Things (cf. Benitz/Zimmermann
Office buildings are not the terminus of artificial intelligence: certain sensors can not only
coordinate and control processes within a building, but also the energy and water supply, public
transport or leisure activities (cf. Dederichs 2019: 69f.). Investments in the private environment
are reduced by the expansion of the urban infrastructure (cf. Benitz 2017: 20).
But what could a technical urban lifestyle look like in a differentiated society?
One example is provided by Europe's largest telecommunications company, Deutsche Telekom:
In developing hardware and software for smart home solutions, the company relies on design
thinking methods. Smart Home solutions have long since ceased to be used in an unfiltered
way. Instead, individualized solutions are determined very precisely by clear target group
segmentation. To this end, Telekom has developed personas that combine socio-demographic
coordinates with the people's living environment and attitudes so that corresponding target
groups can be well described and products and services can be developed specifically for these
target groups (cf. Benitz 2017: 20f.).
In the Design Gallery, Deutsche Telekom is not only showing future smart home applications,
but is also taking other environments such as the car and public transport with it; the focus is
on smart cities: "For example, I could imagine people passing the time waiting at a bus stop
playing computer games together. Or the routing in a city could be supported digitally. Or
personal work content could be uploaded to displays in trams and trains. Or there is digital
instead of physical graffiti on public display walls" (Benitz 2017: 22; own translation).
Intelligent power and data networks, traffic control, street lighting - the establishment of public
infrastructure reduces private investment (cf. ibid.).
Smart systems and networks of building services engineering will in future be largely invisible
in these smart cities. Thus, interior design will be influenced more by the disappearance of
technology than by newly added technical elements (cf. Krautter 2020: 34). These include, for
example, network technologies such as Bluetooth mesh, with which functionalities are
increasingly being shifted to abstract software levels and these in turn are being transferred to
mobile devices and the cloud. In this way, future lighting control will be virtual: Apart from a
radio module and a Bluetooth-capable mobile device, no further hardware or wiring is required
for lighting control. All appropriately equipped luminaires and other devices form a radio
network that communicates with each other (cf. Krautter 2019: 50). The establishment of such
invisible network technologies not only influences people's habits and lifestyles, but also has
an impact on the design of architecture and spaces: "Planners and designers in the building
industry who are aware of these current technological possibilities can make optimal use of the
new freedoms, for example in the placement of lights, switches and other technical elements,
for themselves and their clients" (Krautter 2020: 34; own translation). The building technology
revolutionised by Bluetooth mesh requires neither visible switch cabinets nor cable carriers (cf.
Krautter 2019: 50).
Language assistants complement the trend in the new working world. More and more people
are using voice-based search: "A Mindshare report estimates that 600 million people use voice-
activated personal assistants at least once a week globally, whether that is through Echo and
Google Home devices or on mobile devices" (Wong 2018a: 1). Voice-activated personal
assistants use voice-activated search for activities and tasks that require hands-free assistance
or minimal disruption, such as driving, cooking or showering. This form of task search by voice
enables speed, efficiency and multitasking without pulling the person out of the moment of
Speech assistants have long since ceased to be used only at home or at work alone, and are
increasingly establishing themselves in public spaces such as transportation or restaurants (cf.
Wong 2018a: 1). Furthermore, the research and consulting company Gartner predicts the
increased use of virtual assistants at the workplace in the future and mainly names industries
and application areas such as insurance companies, financial service providers, IT in customer
service and information requests (cf. Struck 2019: 1).
Various providers are developing language assistants for private and also professional everyday
life. Alexa for Business started the way to the workplace and employee support.
But how exactly should Amazon's language assistant support and facilitate the employee? "The
digital assistant enters appointments in the calendar, reminds the employee of a meeting and
organizes a conference room by accessing the room booking tool. In meetings, Alexa starts the
meeting and calls the participants. And if there are problems with IT or office supplies need to
be re-ordered, Alexa is a contact person who will put you through to the right people" (Schnell
2018: 1; own translation).
2.3 Office concepts
Collaboration, concentration and contemplation, form the concept of new work spaces (cf.
Ahrens 2016b: 3). "Whereas in the past, when planning office buildings, a ratio of 80 to 20
percent between office and special areas was valid, this ratio is now shifting towards 50 to 50"
(Friedl 2019: 18; own translation). Company boundaries are increasingly being dissolved, silo
thinking is receding into the background and cellular and open-plan offices are losing their
relevance. This is being replaced by multi-structured offices and activity-based workspaces,
which offer many jointly usable work opportunities (cf. ibid.).
The flexible multi-structured offices are characterised by the many different ways in which
employees can use them, in which working landscapes offer a mixture of areas of different
characteristics (cf. ibid.).
Activity-based workspaces are geared to the respective activity, so that employees can choose
the real and virtual space that suits them and can change continuously, while work opportunities
continue to be shared (cf. ibid). "With Activity Based Working, the workplace is where
employees can perform their tasks with optimal support: Whether it is the space where
individual work or concentrated work takes place or areas where people can meet spontaneously
or formally in pairs or in larger groups. This room can be on the move, in the home office or in
the virtual world. Meaningful integration into the business model is a major strategic
achievement in its implementation" (Friedl 2019: 19; own translation)
Architects designed, for example, for a medical technology company, with a desire for a
combination of seriousness and modernity, a differentiated range of rooms, which should
promote openness, transparency and internal communication through spaces, spots and rooms
(cf. Remmele 2012: 46), see Fig. 3.
Figure 3: Spaces, Spots, Rooms. In: Remmele, Mathias (2012): Differenziertes Raumangebot. Büroetagen für Carl Zeiss
Meditec in Berlin. In: db deutsche bauzeitung. Zeitschrift für Architekten und Bauingenieure: Arbeitswelten. 146.
Jahrgang, Issue 10.2012, 44-49. Photo: Stefan Meyer. URL: https://www.architonic.com/de/project/carpet-concept-
Spaces are designed as public, open and bright areas. The linear arrangement of table groups
and half-height filing cabinets in this space give this zone a uniform structure. Colours play an
important role here: the cabinet doors are covered with different coloured textile panels. The
use of blue and green tones ensures a lively yet matter-of-factly sober look (cf. Remmele 2012:
Spots form circular furniture elements that differ in their respective use in terms of their
diameter, height and degree of opening: "While the low room islands serve as reception desks
or tea kitchens, the higher spots are more or less semi-public, temporarily used places of retreat:
for working alone or in small groups, for meetings and presentations with a maximum of eight
people" (Remmele 2012: 49; own translation).
Rooms form closed individual and group offices. In contrast to the Spaces, the Rooms are
characterised by subdued light combined with darker and muted colours. This colour
environment creates an introverted, quiet working atmosphere and is therefore ideal for
promoting concentrated work (cf. ibid.).
This changing space with atmospheric diversity presented here is intended to provide an open
and communicative office world, although this still needs to be evaluated in user tests.
2.4 Individual room/space layout of the company
"The most creative ideas of interior designers and planners for office design
come to nothing if the new premises do not suit the company"
(Frech 2019: 54; own translation).
As different and complex as different companies are, so different are the office tasks and
demands on the working environment (cf. Remmele 2012: 17). Companies with modern
working environments that integrate Activity Based Working not only support their employees'
activities, but also create clarity about the company's vision of the future and question the
requirements of the activities. Thus, the focus is not only on optimising the company, but rather
on a deep examination of their own corporate identity. It is only from this reflection that the
activity-oriented workplace ensures optimal employee support (cf. Friedl 2019: 16): "Work
environment design is not a question of better or more modern interior design. The design must
be derived from the identity and the future image of the company. Because if a company is
given a working world that does not match its own identity, it is given an aesthetically and
functionally unsuitable design, which consequently leads to inappropriate behaviour" (Friedl
2019: 16; own translation).
In addition to the analysis of the current situation, in which the attitudes, feelings and ambitions
of the people who (should) work in this working world are taken into account, a catalogue of
objectives is to be formulated, which is made up of four dimensions - culture, social affairs,
structure and profitability. The cultural promotion and development in the company and the
consideration of social aspects ensure a more successful company and increase the performance
of employees. Authenticity should be achieved among employees as well as customers, partners
and the public. A closer look at the structural level - i.e. a deeper insight into the organizational
and operational structure and essential management, business and support processes - also
promotes higher productivity. And the economic investments in the new working world should
lead to a concrete contribution to value creation (cf. ibid.: 18).
3. Synaesthetic room design
"I'm experiencing a room, so I am"
(Müller 2017: 13; own translation)
The simultaneous experience of a room and one's own person is hardly separable (cf. Müller
2017: 13). What exactly is perceived with one's own sensory impressions - seeing, hearing,
touching, feeling, smelling, tasting - applies to a selective, seemingly closed and evaluated
perception or unconscious interpretation of the biological-physical reality or the self (cf. ibid.:
310). The intuitive feeling of well-being of the interior space is promoted by the possibility of
crossing spatial boundaries by opening windows and doors. If this possibility is not given, this
promotes a profound sense of unease, since one's own survival would be called into question
by spatial boundaries that cannot be crossed (cf. ibid.: 311): "As I said, my consciousness can
be understood simply as my experience of the world (the immediate environment). From a
neuroscientific-representationalist perspective, one can now interpret my experience of the
study (the interior), my experience of the walls, the doors and the windows (the border) as well
as my experience of the street (the exterior) as belonging to a space of consciousness" (Müller
2017: 311f.; own translation). People experience themselves in their immediate environment or
in certain interior spaces (cf. ibid.: 312).
But not only space and self are hardly separable from each other, the inseparability of
materiality and symbolism also demands attention to expressiveness and consequently leads to
expressive and symbolic architecture (cf. Delitz 2009: 21, 78). The choice of the materials to
be used, such as wood, concrete, steel or glass, is based on their energetic potential and the
associated own tendency towards form and information (cf. ibid.: 85f.). Architecture thus does
not represent a linguistically analogous or speechless aspect: "Architecture is seen, walked
through, touched; we lie, sit, stand in it" (Delitz 2009: 87; own translation). Three-
dimensionality is essential in architecture, as are tactility and kinaesthetics (cf. ibid.).
3.1 What does synaesthetic room design mean for an office?
"A human being has five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch. Interior designers have a
sixth. In their work they conceive spaces and receive sensory impressions"
(Neves Pimenta 2019: 88; own translation).
How the workplace is furnished and equipped has an impact on the employee's well-being. For
example, non-optimal lighting conditions can lead to fatigue, exhaustion and headaches and
thus influence the health and productivity of the employee (cf. Beule 2019: 45). One solution
is offered by biologically effective light, also known as Human Centric Lighting. Artificial light
supports the clocking of the inner clock and imitates both the illuminance and colour of the
natural course of the day: in the morning an activating, cool white light shines and in the evening
a warm white light (cf. ibid.). If the light is combined with an app on the smartphone or a voice-
controlled personal assistant, the lighting scene can be pre-programmed manually or by voice
to the specific time of year and/or changed independently by adjusting the colour of the light
(cf. Das Haus o.D.: 1).
However, not only the adaptation of lighting conditions to the biorhythm promotes well-being
and productivity, in future these aspects are to be made measurable by cognitive environments:
"Sensors close to the workplace, for example in furniture or lights, record temperature, air
quality and noise levels and ensure optimal conditions for the respective activity, for example
concentration, creativity and recreation" (Rief et al. 2019: 60; own translation). Thus, in
addition to lighting and air-conditioning systems, swivel chairs and height-adjustable tables can
also be equipped with sensors that actively address the user as required (cf. ibid.: 61).
Corresponding systems read the needs of the employees from the schedulers and link these to
individual requirements and dispositions. Thus, rooms can be designed adaptively and
individually through the use of digital technologies (cf. ibid.: 60).
For quality in the design of products, buildings and the shaping of our environment, it is not
enough to select suitable materials according to decision-making aspects such as aesthetics,
technology and monetary arguments, but rather the haptic experience and tactile perception is
becoming increasingly important in a digital world (cf. Bäuerle 2020: 54f.). The use of smooth
glass surfaces is contrasted with "real" impressions and surface qualities that can be
experienced, so that haptic perception is sensitised by constantly exploring different materials
(cf. ibid.: 56). Creative spaces and surfaces in the working world that appear both homely and
natural, health promotion through acoustics, sport and well-being, and natural materials through
the choice of wood and moss, which convey sensory stimuli, promote the transition to the
conceptual and creative age (cf. Benitz 2019: 73).
4. Relational sociology of space and digitization
New working cultures are therefore characterized by less defined elements, more movement
and the promotion of exchange. In particular, the use of new technology and location-
independent equipment promotes the flexible work described here. The office becomes more
intelligent. The universal use of technology with autonomously controlled artificial intelligence
operates various office elements, light and temperature. The interior design is preferably
influenced by the disappearance of technology and the introduction of certain and new network
technologies. Last but not least, the increased implementation of language-based assistants such
as Alexa for Business should support employees in their working day.
Therefore, the question can be asked: Does the multiple implementation of such spatial concepts
in the working world have an influence on our perception of space itself?
This is followed by a presentation of the relational sociology of space according to Löw in
connection with digitization.
"Space is a relational arrangement of social goods
and people (living beings) in places"
(Löw 2019: 224; own translation).
Social goods here represent material goods in particular, since they can be placed in places,
whereas place means a place or place that can be specifically named and usually marked
geographically. A space is created by the elements and their relational relationship and thus by
placements that are in relation to other placements (cf. Löw 2019: 224).
Space is thereby separated by two space-constituting processes: Spacing means "[...] the
placement of social goods or living beings or the placing of social goods or living beings or the
placing of the same, building, erecting or measuring, also the positioning of primarily symbolic
markings in order to make ensembles of goods and people recognisable as such, the placing of
information [...]" (Löw 2019: 225; own translation), while the achievement of synthesis is
connected with these placement processes and means the active linking of existing elements by
people (cf. Löw/Sturm 2005: 17). Space-constituting synthesis thus refers to the active
(re)production of spaces by people and social goods under pre-structured conditions via
processes of imagination, perception and memory (cf. Löw 2019: 225). Löw goes on to explain
that action is shaped by the "[...] idea of living in a uniform, homogeneous space, but this can
no longer be assumed to be the only idea of space" (Löw 2019: 101). If the originally earth-
heavy space is extended by a virtual sphere, new possibilities and variables for spatial action
related to each other (spacing) and thus to new spatial constitutions and perceptions arise (cf.
ibid.: 102f.), whereby it is not technology that provides the connection between earth-heavy
spaces and virtual spaces, but the body (cf. ibid.: 96).
If the constitution of space in the interaction of structure(s) and action is transferred to
digitisation, this can mean, for example, the IT infrastructure (spacing) and its use at the
workplace (synthesis). Social and spatial structures can be reproduced through digitization. For
example, the office and the associated administrative tasks such as organizing shift schedules
can be transferred to whatsapp groups. The use of new information and communication
technology (ICT) such as flat screens in open offices, electronic whiteboards and Echo/Alexa
shapes the atmosphere in the work context. Accordingly, the multiple implementation of such
spatial concepts in the working world has an influence on our perception of space.
Thus the thesis can be set up: A new spatial constitution is created through the use of new socio-
technical systems: Human-Technology-Space-Relation (HTSR).
5. Trend: Alexa as new colleague?
New working environments will have a higher proportion of flexibly used retreat locations and
the office will be characterised by its integrating function (cf. Rief et al. 2019: 61). The
boundaries between the physical world and the virtual world are becoming increasingly blurred:
"In fact, technology and intelligence will be embedded in everything we do. It will be the
underlying force that helps companies exploit digital transformation initiatives to better align
the physical and virtual worlds of their customers, employees, and partners" (Bayley 2019: 1).
Technological progress and changes in user behavior are also reflected in the development from
written searches and manual tasks to voice searches and virtual assistants (cf. Morris 2018: 1).
Speech-based search is used more and more often and more language assistants are installed,
see Fig. 4.
Figure 4: Smart speaker installed base to reach 100m in 2018 (Canalys 2018).
The growing popularity of language-based searches is reflected in the fact that 40 percent of
adults use language searches on a daily basis (cf. Wong 2018a: 1). To date, smart speakers have
been most commonly used in common areas such as the living room or kitchen (cf. Statista
Research Department 2020) and tasks such as playing music, setting the alarm clock or
checking the weather are delegated (cf. Wong 2018a: 1), see Fig. 5.
Figure 5: Voice searches uses (Wong 2018a).
Algorithms and assistance systems can relieve employees in certain tasks in times of
networking beyond company boundaries and thus allow more time for the design of
individualized products: "The new colleague could be a robot" (Rief et al. 2019: 61; own
Amazon's Alexa for Business starts the journey to the office and acts as a personal assistant to
the employees: "Organisation and communication across the office could become streamlined
and personalised to meet the needs of the individual and the company" (Wong 2018b: 1). Alexa
is supposed to simplify and make communication more efficient by networking various
conference technologies, so that instead of wiring up a telephone, laptop and camera, only one
'Alexa, start the meeting' is sufficient. It also handles routine administrative tasks, while
employees can continue to work in a focused manner (cf. ibid.). An important challenge is the
training of virtual assistants to ensure that communication is better context-sensitive and
tailored to the user's experience (cf. Finnell 2018: 1). Alexa can also be equipped and expanded
with her skills in the business environment, allowing the assistant to be tailored to the individual
needs of the company (cf. Rentrop/Augsten 2018: 1).
Figure 6: Alexa for Business - requests (Wong 2018b: 1).
Alexa can also take orders and thus order office supplies and other items for employees. But
what happens if Alexa mishears and inadvertently orders items that should not be ordered?
A newscaster triggered a mass order on Amazon in a US news broadcast: The report about a
girl who bought herself a dollhouse through Alexa and the corresponding sentence of the
newscaster "I love this little girl as she says 'Alexa ordered me a dollhouse'" activated Alexa in
the watching households by ordering a dollhouse. In order to reduce such mis-orders, the
standard activation of the purchase option can be turned off, or a PIN can be stored so that each
purchase must be confirmed beforehand. Incorrect orders can be cancelled in the Amazon
account and also returned free of charge (cf. Kaltschmidt 2017: 1). Amazon Customer Service
tells you that when ordering via Alexa, the item from the previous order history is prioritized
first. If the desired article has never been ordered before, Alexa may recommend a product from
the Amazon's Choice series (cf. Amazon).
5.1 Data protection
The installation of language-based assistants, whether at home or in the office, also raises data
protection issues: Is Alexa a spy? And what consequences does Alexa's installation have for the
The communication interface through digital language assistants between man and machine
will be further advanced by providers such as Amazon and Co. German and European
companies in particular are expressing concerns about data protection: "The common smart
home solutions from Echo to Google Home are considered extremely curious and transmit
information to the parent companies" (Schnell 2018: 1; own translation). Also in view of the
new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, corporate compliance must be
adapted accordingly and employees should be informed about the data transfer. The Amazon
cloud is always involved with Alexa's installation (cf. Rentrop/Augsten 2018: 1). A permanent
recording and storage of call contents - including the misuse of the voice assistants by third
parties - cannot be excluded. As soon as Alexa listens in and records personal data, the employer
is obliged to obtain the consent of the persons concerned, but it cannot be guaranteed
beforehand which data will actually be heard and therefore which persons concerned would
have to give their consent (cf. Schwär 2018: 1). The success of these assistants is therefore also
dependent on how the recorded data is handled: "As long as individuals retain autonomy over
their data, such environments will be popular" (Rief et al. 2019: 60).
Amazon has begun to address companies' concerns about data storage in cloud environments,
particularly the issue of networking personal Alexa nodes and private echo devices with a
business account. Because the nodes are located in a sandbox - an isolated environment with
strict restrictions - personal user information cannot be made visible to businesses. In addition,
the networked nodes must meet the company's authentication standards (cf. Finnell 2018: 1).
Customer confidence in the security and reliability of these systems in the face of hacker attacks
and the resulting lack of privacy and security of supply offers offline solutions. In contrast to
offerings such as Apple Homekit, Google Nest and even Amazon's Alexa, providers such as
Loxone or Busch-Jaeger have identified a corresponding need for action with their systems, so
that they know how to set themselves apart from large digital corporations in Silicon Valley:
Smart home servers or their voice control can function offline with the latter providers, i.e. "[...]
without a connection to external servers on the Internet" (Krautter 2020: 34; own translation).
5.2 Communication and resonance
By setting up new media and location-independent devices such as smartphones and tablets,
employees can be reached everywhere and at all times. Previous workplace-oriented
communication is about to change to fast communication and collaboration detached from the
workplace (cf. Ahrens 2016a: 1, Bakschas 2019: 1). In particular, hands-free working and the
multitasking made possible by this promotes the efficiency of employees (cf. Wong 2018a: 1),
but also working across departments and companies, and thus working across spatial distances,
creates time and productivity (cf. Rief et al. 2019: 61).
However, human communication is primarily determined by non-verbal forms of expression
such as gestures and facial expressions and the tactility developed through them. Not only what
we see and hear is important for communication, but also the other senses are involved. For
reasons of efficiency and convenience of digital media, real personal contact is increasingly
being avoided, which means that the real person opposite increasingly disappears and digital
communication becomes more and more disembodied and antithetical. Through the use of
digital media, human communication lacks tactility and physicality. In addition, the digital
promotes short-termism and short-sightedness, so that everything long and slow is faded out
and experiences of negativity, such as unlearning the complex way of thinking, are encouraged.
The digital weakens the ability to deal with negativity and at the same time promotes a
communication of looking past one another: "Digital communication is a communication with
few eyes" (Han 2013: 36; own translation) (cf. Han 2013: 33ff.).
According to Hartmut Rosa, experiences of resonance are the antidote to all-round alienation
(cf. Thomä 2016: 1). Nothing is left to chance: Late modern society is characterized by the
desire to control, to work off and efficient working solutions. The unavailable should be made
available (cf. Opitz 2019: 1).
According to Rosa, the resonance is characterized by four features: First of all, something must
grasp the person through touch or invocation and touch him/her inwardly, to which, secondly,
there must be a reaction in the form of an answer. Thirdly, through these actions, the world
relationship changes and the person thus becomes curious, stays awake and does not fall silent.
Fourthly, a successful experience of resonance also essentially includes the (missing)
unavailability (cf. Opitz 2019: 1). The generation of mutual oscillations shows the relationship
that arises from resonance experiences: "When body and soul or man and environment are
brought into harmony with each other, a resonance space is created" (Bethke 2016: 1; own
The digitalised world of life opens up new chances and opportunities to resonate with the world:
"Digital terminals allow and enable cognitive, auditory, visual and in some cases even more
extensive sensual connections to distant parts of the world: To people, to artifacts and works of
art, to natural things like plants and animals etc. [...] They thus also open up spaces for
resonance experiences" (Rosa 2020a: 9). Resonance is not characterized by an echo but by a
response relationship and must fulfil the prerequisite that both sides can speak with their own
voice (cf. Rosa 2020b: 298).
On the one hand, the use of digital media thus promotes disembodied and antithetical human
communication and short-termism and short-sightedness. Human communication thus lacks
tactility and the ability to look at each other through the use of digital media. On the other hand,
the use of voice-controlled assistance, such as Amazon's Alexa, can open up new resonance
spaces and thus counteract alienation. As a digital medium, Alexa provides answers to questions
with its own voice and can, for example, create the right lighting conditions for the employee
and thus generate resonance.
The socio-technical system provides a new level of end-to-end networking compared to the
original conditions in everyday office life (spacing). The placement of Alexa in the office and
the interaction with her brings new, extended networking through the possibility of (almost)
universal access (synthesis). Through universal access, a wide variety of tasks can be covered
with just one device (telephoning, starting meetings, completing orders, etc.). The
communication between man and machine is imitated the man-to-man communication, so that
answers resemble a resonance as close to the human being as possible. At the same time, the
perception of the office space changes, as the space is physically closed but virtually opened up
by the networking of the socio-technical system.
The supplementation of virtu-reality causes the expansion of the homogeneous conception of
space through new possibilities for interrelated spatial action, thus creating a new spatial
constitution (cf. Löw 2019: 101ff.). Resonance experiences in particular, such as the voice and
response of the voice-based assistant Alexa, extend this concept of spatial constitution
according to Löw to include technological resonance.
The preceding thesis: A new spatial constitution is created through the use of new socio-
technical systems: Human-Technology-Space-Relation (HTSR) can thus be verified.
6. Need for physical space?
New digital media and tools simplify and change work processes, data acquisition and, in
particular, communication, in that it is possible to communicate regardless of all hierarchies
and across spatio-temporal boundaries by using a wide variety of ICT (cf. Mauer 2018: 56).
With Amazon's virtual assistant Alexa for Business, echo devices can be connected from home
to the company (cf. Finnell 2018: 1). Such a possibility of constant accessibility and flexibility
at work and the resulting flexibility in everyday life, which benefits childcare, for example, also
harbors dangers, however: "Not so long ago, the two major areas of life were clearly separated
for most employees: work on the one hand, and leisure and family on the other. Anyone who
left the office, the practice, the craft business in the afternoon was not only drawing a line
between work and private life" (Turzer 2019: 1). A major danger to be named is the extension
of working life to private life, so that the home can lose its function as a place of retreat and
thus an increasing dissolution of the boundaries between work and private life can result from
the use and application of new ICT (cf. ibid.).
The demarcation between private and working life is mainly achieved by the implementation -
the placement (spacing) - of digital technologies in one's own and private four walls. The use
of computers and integrated digital communication tools - and thus the active linking of existing
elements by people (synthesis performance) - enables the networking of private and
professional living space.
The number of companies that enable employees to have a home office has increased in recent
years (cf. Suhr 2019: 1). Nevertheless, employees seem to want to spend most of their working
time in the office: While 41 percent prefer to spend only a few days a week in the home office,
28 percent of those surveyed prefer to stay in the office completely according to a Bitkom
survey (cf. Statista Research Department 2009).
This can have various reasons: On the one hand, this desire can be related to social reasons.
Employees are in personal contact with colleagues at their place of work and it can be important
to them to work in a team. On the other hand, office presence can also be related to fear that not
being present will have an impact on the assessment of superiors and thus also entail
disadvantages in possible salary negotiations (cf. Heuzeroth 2019: 1). But the home office trend
also brings new challenges for employers: "In many cases, working from home is difficult to
reconcile with provisions of the Working Hours Act. Home workers often violate maximum
working hours and rest periods. This applies to the eight-hour working day and the eleven-hour
minimum rest period" (Heuzeroth 2019: 1; own translation).
Work in the office or home office is obviously perceived very differently. On the one hand, this
may be due to a lack of technical and ergonomic equipment in the home office (spacing aspects)
and on the other hand, social aspects in particular, such as the lack of personal communication
with colleagues and the resulting lack of feedback and resonance, are mentioned here. The
increasing use of resonance-generating socio-technical systems such as Amazon's Alexa can
therefore mitigate this lack of communication. In addition, Alexa can be programmed to remind
employees of breaks and work hours and thus support a regular working day.
The office kitchen is usually regarded as a central place for discussions, but smoking corners
or café meetings are also places where informal communication takes place: "Informal
organisational structures are in principle informal communication structures" (Schmiede et al.
2005: 194; own translation). At these places, not only private conversations are discussed, but
also work-related content that serves the company's goals and can help overcome social and
professional conflicts. Informal communication structures therefore represent an important
place for employees and shape a kind of relationship structure. These structures can not only
promote concrete work activities and facilitate cooperation, but also represent an important
condition for mutual support and thus promote identification with the work and the company
7. Consequences of changed working environments
The new working environments should be smarter, more creative and more comfortable. Alexa
for Business communicates with employees in the office and also at home and shapes the daily
work routine with efficiency and important feedback. But what are the consequences of the new
design in terms of health hazards, increased blue light due to more screens and energy
Changing working conditions also mean changing health risks such as lack of exercise,
psychosocial stress, ergonomic factors, thermal stress, etc. (cf. VNR Verlag für die Deutsche
Wirtschaft AG 2017: 1). And can smart lighting, which creates appropriate lighting conditions
in harmony with one's own inner clock, also be harmful? There is the danger of unnecessarily
activating employees in the evening hours by the light and thus increasing performance. This
change can lead to sleep rhythm disturbances and health problems. These risks exist in
particular among people who are exposed to the wrong light during night work, the Federal
Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) has determined in a study (cf. Beule 2019:
The new working environments presented here can counteract the aspects of lack of exercise,
ergonomic factors and thermal and psychosocial stress: Through spaces, spots and rooms and
the design of a varied office life with modular furniture, the employer promotes agile employees
and thus brings movement into everyday life (cf. Geuder 2020: 28, Ahrens 2016b: 3). Although
future office ergonomics must still be covered by sufficient research and regulations (cf.
Bakschas 2019: 41), height-adjustable tables, for example, already make an important
contribution (cf. Ahrens 2016b: 3). The establishment of cognitive workplaces with integrated
sensors can provide optimal temperature conditions, while the expansion of informal
communication structures allows important time off and offers mutual support (cf. Rief et al.
2019: 60, Schmiede et al. 2005: 194).
The placement of material goods, such as height-adjustable, ergonomic desks and the use of
cognitive workstations that use integrated sensors to keep the room at an optimal temperature
for people (Spacing) respond to the individual needs of the employee who uses these goods in
his working life and thus connects with the room (Synthesis performance). The use of placed
goods that respond to individual (subconscious) needs - for example the implementation of
Human Centric Lighting, which imitates the human biorhythm with light - interacts actively
with the employee and provides answers of the (sub)conscious mind.
People who sit in front of screens and work with smartphones, tablets and laptops are exposed
to excessive blue light and are therefore more prone to age-related macular degeneration
(AMD), irritation and dry eyes. In addition, blue light inhibits the production of the sleep
hormone melatonin and signals the brain to be awake, which is why the daily and late exposure
to blue light can lead to problems falling asleep and sleep disturbances (cf. Therefore 2019: 19).
The higher the blue levels, the more alert the person is kept. Some devices have a night mode
so that in the evening no or only a few blue light components are emitted from the display. One
solution is glasses with an integrated blue filter: These glasses only filter the wavelength range
from 380 to 440 nanometers. They do not filter the blue range beyond that, since blue light is
only harmful up to 400 nanometers. Anything beyond that is considered to be helpful light that
is not harmful to the eye: "Even without long-term studies on the subject: glasses, whether with
or without prescription, cannot do any harm with a blue filter" (Stein 2019: 1) (cf. Stein 2019:
In terms of energy consumption, sustainability is at the top of the list: On the one hand, glass
partitions offer the advantage of a sustainable reduction in maintenance and renovation costs
and, on the other hand, ensure communication despite acoustic separation in the office. The
energy-autonomous office should not require heating or air conditioning through the use of
large-scale photovoltaic systems on the roof, as individual rooms can be microclimate-
controlled: "At peak values, absolute comfort is dispensed with. Effective sun protection as well
as a large storage mass due to the activation of the building components allow for economical
operation in summer as well as in winter" (Volgger 2012: 25; own translation). In addition to
the selection of suitable sustainable materials, transport and environmental impact should also
be kept as low as possible so that a reduction of CO2 can be achieved (cf. ibid.).
8. Change of profession for architects
"Good architecture is not suitable for eternity, rooms change,
because life in rooms is subject to permanent change and is ultimately finite"
(Schricker 2019: 58; own translation).
The dynamic working environments that have developed bring new responsibilities for
architects and their design of changed workplaces (cf. Mauer 2018: 56). An office and working
world should not only serve to fulfil entrepreneurially pre-formulated goals, but should rather
enable employees to identify with their own company. In order to support creativity and
entrepreneurial thinking in the employee, a suitable, supportive environment "[...] which
reflects professional structures, supports communication and facilitates internal meetings"
(Mauer 2018: 57; own translation). The future trend is to move away from the office to a free
choice of professional environment. At the same time, architects should create flexible working
environments with a high quality of stay (cf. ibid.). An individually tailored interior experience
through the transformation of almost any surface into intelligent user interfaces, linked with
sensor technology and interaction: "It is true that hardly any other discipline is so overloaded
with longings and hopes as interior design. It is also true, however, that other disciplines are no
longer able to meet all these profoundly human demands or are even no longer considered
problem solvers. Interior design, on the other hand, must be careful that it always finds credible
solutions in a humane context and does not become a vicarious agent of the digitally feasible.
Humane interior design works even in the event of a power failure" (Schricker 2019: 59; own
translation). New working worlds and thus an individual concept specifically geared to the
company additionally extends the job profile of the architect to include the role of a
management consultant (Benitz 2019: 72).
But not only what will be changed by interior designers in the future, but also how: New, digital
tools such as Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MR), Virtual Reality (VR) and also
Building Information Modeling (BIM) will decisively change architectural practice in the future
(cf. Metzner/Anastassiou 2018: 1). The use of these technologies and visualization applications
will not only facilitate the architect's own review of his work, but also more concrete
communication with the project team and craftsmen and ultimately the experience of spatial
relationships for the client (cf. ibid.).
In the future, architects will therefore not only design physical-material space, but also virtual
space when working with these technologies. As has already been shown, the implementation
of socio-technical systems reconstitutes space: this human-technology-space relation must
accordingly be taken into account in the design of office spaces. Here, interior design is
responsible for the spacing of these systems and solves the opportunities and risks associated
with digital use. Accordingly, interior design will follow digitalization in the future.
The new working world is characterised by flexibility: agile and flexible furniture and concepts
and the use of socio-technical systems not only extend the place of residence but also the
working hours. Location-independent devices promote fast communication and collaboration
across spatial and temporal boundaries. In the office, cognitive workplaces ensure an all-round
feeling of well-being: office desks move automatically and as required to the ergonomically
correct height, the room heats up automatically and the light follows the inner clock in a well-
dosed manner. Thanks to Bluetooth mesh, everything can happen without visible cabling of the
devices. Blue light filter glasses protect against health hazards from the blue activating light
due to the increased use of different screens. The goal of companies with office design tailored
to the individual company: to promote collaboration, concentration and contemplation.
The attention to synaesthesia shows the inseparability of space and person on the one hand and
materiality and symbolism on the other. The space is perceived and unconsciously interpreted
and thus responds to its own self.
More and more language-based searches and installed assistants are being recorded. With
Amazon's Alexa for Business, Echo is expanding its previous point of view from the home into
the office. Compliance with data protection regulations continues to pose a major challenge, as
permanent recording and storage of call content by voice assistants cannot be ruled out. Some
providers therefore rely on offline solutions so that no connection to external servers on the
Internet is necessary when using voice assistants.
In an accelerated world with the highest possible productivity and efficiency and the use of
digital media, human communication lacks physicality and tactility. Resonance experiences,
such as the answers of the language assistant Alexa, counteract the all-round alienation and thus
open up new resonance spaces.
The spread of home office and the possibility of coupling Alexa for Business with the echo
device at home can lead to a dissolution of the boundaries between work and private life. The
home can thus lose its important function as a place of retreat. Furthermore, informal
communication places in the company offer a place of recreation and can facilitate cooperation,
promote identification with work and the company and create a place for mutual support.
In the future, architects will increasingly use technologies and visualization applications to
design, present and experience spaces and thus not only design the physical-material space, but
also previously the virtual space and follow digitization.
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