How innovation saved my Christmas dinner

I received a call the day before Christmas. When I hung up, the guest list for my Christmas dinner was two names longer.  My first thought, “Wonderful, the more the merrier,” was quickly followed by, ”Uh-oh, that means buying more food – and fast!” So, on one of the busiest days of the year I found myself taking the plunge and joining the shopping frenzy on a quest to buy groceries for two extra guests.

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While it’s normal to expect a long line at the grocery store when shopping for your last-minute Christmas gifts and food items, nothing is worse than struggling through frantic, heavy traffic to get to the last store open on Christmas Eve. Well, nothing was worse until I found myself in the longest line of cars ever – all of us waiting to enter the parking garage for the last store open on Christmas Eve. My prospects weren’t looking good.

In this moment, I still hadn’t grasped the similarity between finding an open parking space on Christmas Eve and finding a free workstation on a busy day in a full office.

Back in line, I was surprised with an early Christmas gift. This particular parking garage had created an innovative and effective way to make available parking spaces in the garage easier for customers to find. Red and green lights above the parking spaces – shining bright like Christmas tree toppers – indicated whether a spot was free or not.

Now, instead of wasting time circling the garage for an open space, everyone could just look for a green light to find a spot promptly. A quick Google search shows that parking during the holiday season is not the only time this solution would be welcome. Throughout the year, the time it takes to park is a problem people across the globe are frustrated with, resulting in studies that even go so far as to rank the worst cities to find parking.  In fact, drivers in London spend an average of 15 minutes looking for a suitable parking spot.

So, what if a system – like green and red lights in a parking garage – was applied to the workplace?

In many buildings where flexible workplace concepts have become the norm and fixed workstations are a thing of the past, employees may spend a considerable amount time trying to find a suitable place to set up for work. This lack of availability can often affect productivity and employee satisfaction by adding unnecessary frustration to the work day.

A screen installed inside a building’s lobby or near the elevators could use a similar color-coding system  to indicate when and where rooms and work spaces within the building were available or already in use. A number of organizations already use sensor technology to lead their employees to available workstations this way.  These systems could also provide other services such as making it easier for colleagues to find workstations in the right vicinity to meet or work together during the day. It also supports workplace adaptability, especially for offices looking to reorganize limited space and reduce wasted time.

And the Christmas dinner? The lines at the store may have been long, but the dinner turned out wonderful. More importantly, the two unexpected guests made the night even more enjoyable and festive.

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