Nav: Home

Can't concentrate at work? This AI system knows why

June 04, 2020

Computer scientists have developed a way to measure staff comfort and concentration in flexible working spaces using artificial intelligence.

While hot desking and activity-based working allow cost savings and greater flexibility - and are said to increase staff collaboration and satisfaction - studies also show the noise and lack of privacy can be distracting.

With coronavirus restrictions beginning to ease in some parts of the world and employers planning the return to office-based work, a new sensor-based system developed by RMIT and Arup can offer insights on how to get the best out of these flexible working spaces.

The RMIT team behind the study are experts in using AI to uncover patterns in human behaviour.

For this project they worked with psychologists to identify several key variables for concentration and comfort levels in work environments, then set about measuring these with sensors.

They worked with global design and engineering firm Arup to develop and test their new AI-driven system on 31 staff in two of the company's activity-based working offices over four weeks. Study lead author and Research Fellow in RMIT University's School of Science, Dr Mohammad Saiedur Rahaman, said data was collected on noise levels, indoor temperature and air quality, humidity, air pressure, and even electromagnetic fields. "We used that information along with survey data to train machine learning algorithms that could identify patterns in perceived concentration and activity, and then provided solutions for making these spaces work best for people," Rahaman said.

What they found

Staff were generally supportive of their activity-based working setup.

However, data showed different people concentrated better in different zones, as well as other important insights for managing staff in the space.

For example, many people had a favourite spot - such as near the window, kitchen or their manager - and found concentrating more difficult if they weren't able to sit there. They were also more sensitive to the office temperature not being exactly right if they missed out on their favourite seat.

Regardless of where they sat, office temperature was a major factor in how comfortable and focused people were.

Most found temperatures below 22.5C too cold to fully concentrate and, as the day progressed, it was observed that people became increasingly sensitive to this.

A major influence on perceived concentration in the mornings, unsurprisingly, was sleep quality the night before.

The number of formal and informal meetings was also shown to have a large impact on perceived concentration, with those who had five formal meetings in a day reporting lower concentration levels compared with those who had fewer.

'Informal meetings' - run-ins encouraged by activity based working - were also measured. While they were preferred by some workers and could be used to reduce the number of formal meetings, they were seen as another source of distraction for others.

Rahaman said high CO2 levels, due to high occupant densities, were also a barrier in people's ability to concentrate.

"The results for CO2 and thermal comfort underline just how important a high-quality heating, cooling and ventilation system is in office design, as well as indoor plants to reduce CO2," Rahaman said.

Making work spaces work better

"We see this type of system having the potential to eventually be used to enable informed decision-making regarding workplace design and layout, or even to suggest to people when to take breaks, what zone might suit them best and so on," Rahaman said.

Arup engineer and project partner, Shaw Kudo, said beyond the useful insights on their own office, they also saw it as an opportunity to help the wider property industry.

"Modern offices, new and existing, are likely to undergo change and potentially redesign workplaces post COVID-19," he said.

"The valuable findings from this work can feed into future designs and allow Arup to better service our clients as they plan their future workplace - whether this is a new-build, or a return to the office after COVID-19.'

Fellow Arup engineer Tim Rawling said they were also looking to adapting the work to assess the impact of working from home on people's work experience given variability in spaces.

"Given the changing landscape of work environments, we're excited by the opportunity to explore application of this research to new working environments and flexible working arrangements," he said.

Study leader from RMIT's School of Science, Associate Professor Flora Salim, said recent technological developments and the proliferation of pervasive technologies had opened up many opportunities to collect data from various sensors and smart devices.

"Despite the myriad applications harnessing this data for smart decision-making systems, this is the first research we're aware of that has used pervasive sensing passively to measure workers perceived concentration levels while they are at work," Salim said.

"We hope it can make a real contribution to work practices that reflect what people need to perform their best."
The study 'An Ambient-Physical System to Infer Concentration in Open-plan Workplace' is published in the IEEE Internet of Things Journal (DOI: 10.1109/JIOT.2020.2996219).

RMIT University

Related Artificial Intelligence Articles:

A hidden history of artificial intelligence in primary care
Artificial intelligence methods are being utilized in radiology, cardiology and other medical specialty fields to quickly and accurately process large quantities of health data to improve the diagnostic and treatment power of health care teams.
Identifying light sources using artificial intelligence
Identifying sources of light plays an important role in the development of many photonic technologies, such as lidar, remote sensing, and microscopy.
Artificial intelligence could serve as backup to radiologists' eyes
Deploying artificial intelligence could help radiologists to more accurately classify lung diseases.
Reducing the carbon footprint of artificial intelligence
MIT system cuts the energy required for training and running neural networks.
Researchers rebuild the bridge between neuroscience and artificial intelligence
In an article in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers reveal that they have successfully rebuilt the bridge between experimental neuroscience and advanced artificial intelligence learning algorithms.
Artificial intelligence can help some businesses but may not work for others
The temptation for businesses to use artificial intelligence and other technology to improve performance, drive down labor costs, and better the bottom line is understandable.
Artificial intelligence could help predict future diabetes cases
A type of artificial intelligence called machine learning can help predict which patients will develop diabetes, according to an ENDO 2020 abstract that will be published in a special supplemental section of the Journal of the Endocrine Society.
Artificial intelligence for very young brains
Montreal's CHU Sainte-Justine children's hospital and the ÉTS engineering school pool their expertise to develop an innovative new technology for the segmentation of neonatal brain images.
Putting artificial intelligence to work in the lab
An Australian-German collaboration has demonstrated fully-autonomous SPM operation, applying artificial intelligence and deep learning to remove the need for constant human supervision.
Composing new proteins with artificial intelligence
Scientists have long studied how to improve proteins or design new ones.
More Artificial Intelligence News and Artificial Intelligence Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Biology Of Sex
Original broadcast date: May 8, 2020. Many of us were taught biological sex is a question of female or male, XX or XY ... but it's far more complicated. This hour, TED speakers explore what determines our sex. Guests on the show include artist Emily Quinn, journalist Molly Webster, neuroscientist Lisa Mosconi, and structural biologist Karissa Sanbonmatsu.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#569 Facing Fear
What do you fear? I mean really fear? Well, ok, maybe right now that's tough. We're living in a new age and definition of fear. But what do we do about it? Eva Holland has faced her fears, including trauma and phobia. She lived to tell the tale and write a book: "Nerve: Adventures in the Science of Fear".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Wubi Effect
When we think of China today, we think of a technological superpower. From Huweai and 5G to TikTok and viral social media, China is stride for stride with the United States in the world of computing. However, China's technological renaissance almost didn't happen. And for one very basic reason: The Chinese language, with its 70,000 plus characters, couldn't fit on a keyboard.  Today, we tell the story of Professor Wang Yongmin, a hard headed computer programmer who solved this puzzle and laid the foundation for the China we know today. This episode was reported and produced by Simon Adler with reporting assistance from Yang Yang. Special thanks to Martin Howard. You can view his renowned collection of typewriters at: Support Radiolab today at