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Implementing a busy light for my office desk

I work full time in the office. Whilst more and more people are coming back to the office, there are still people choosing to work remotely so we still conduct our meetings via Google Meet – even though I am in the office I don’t use meeting rooms: I still dial in from my desk.

Since I use simple Apple earpods on calls it’s not always obvious I am on a call (or just listening to music) and I noticed people would come to discuss something with me whilst I’m on a call which is disruptive so I decided to come up with something that indicates to people I’m busy on a call (at my desk).

Iteration One

My first iteration I wanted a solution that was cheap and didn’t take long to set up – as I wanted to see whether this would reduce my interruptions whilst on calls without a huge investment of time or money.

Solution: a simple battery powered light box above my monitor which indicates I’m on a call with a manual switch on the side to turn it on.

Cost: I found one at a thrift store for 50 cents and wrote “ON AIR” on it with a marker – it took me less than 10 mins total to set up and install. Low cost.

My first “busy” light

Benefits: Low cost, stands out, does its job

Downsides: Have to remember to switch it on/off, not multi-directional, need to replace battery

Iteration Two

Whilst the light in iteration one served its purpose in that it was quick and cheap to implement – and showed it could be effective in reducing interruptions, I found having to remember to turn it on and off meant sometimes it wouldn’t be on when I was in a meeting, or off when I’d finished one.

I started to think of how I could connect this to my meeting schedule to automatically update.

I would firstly need a new light – the 50 cent lightbox had no way of controlling it remotely. Secondly, I would need a datasource to control it – either Google Calendar or Google Meet.

Smart Light

I found a smart light at Kmart for AUD$25 (~$20USD) which seemed like it would be suitable.

The key features were:

  1. USB powered so I could use the USB ports on my desk to power it (no batteries)
  2. Wifi controlled so I could send signals to it to control it
  3. Coloured so I could change the colour displayed to signal I’m busy
  4. Circular so it can be seen in any direction from my desk in the office

Datasource

I was thinking of using Google Meet or Google Calendar to set the busy light. The benefits of Google Meet would be if I was on an ad-hoc call, or finished a call early, the light would reflect that. The downsides to Google Meet was I couldn’t find a way to easily access the Google Meet status.

Google Calendar is an easier approach in that IFTTT supports Google Calendar events which I can wire up to my smart light.

Solution

I set up my smart light using the TUYA app that it came with. This app allows you to control the light using Google Home, Alexa and/or Samsung SmartThings.

I investigated how to connect my Google Calendar to a smart light and came across IFTTT which currently only supports SmartThings out of the list of home automation services my smart light supports – so I added my light to SmartThings, set it to be coloured red, and then set up two “applets” in IFTTT to control my light.

One to turn it on:

And another to turn it off:

IFTTT only provides and ON/OFF switch for SmartThings – which means I set my light to be permanently red and it shows as busy when lit, and not busy it turns off.

I found a way to get it to turn Green by setting up “simulated switches” and “home automation” in SmartThings but the complexity of this outweighed the benefits of having a green light IMO.

My new “smart” busy light

Benefits: Smart, don’t need to remember to switch on/off, multi-directional, don’t need to replace batteries

Downsides: More expensive than previous light, more complicated set up

It took me about 1 hour to get it all working which is much longer than previous iteration but I’m hoping that because it automatically updates this will mean the light is more useful than previously.

How do you manage interruptions in an office environment?

3 replies on “Implementing a busy light for my office desk”

Not in an office, but at home I run Home Assistant (https://www.home-assistant.io/) and have an automation set up to turn on and off my desk fan via smart plug whenever my computer is unlocked (and connected to my monitors). So when I’m working I have a cool breeze, but as soon as my computer locks it turns off. I also have a keyboard shortcut for manually toggling it.

I’ve seen projects from people online triggering something like your status light whenever their webcam is active, since that will work no matter what meeting software you’re using or if the meeting is scheduled or ad-hoc.

Assuming you don’t want to run Home Assistant on your work computer you could check out http://www.hammerspoon.org/ which allows a lot of local Mac automation/scripting.

Thanks I found home assistant during my search to find a bridge but since it’s in our office I didn’t really want to be running my own hardware so I used a internet hosted service. I’ll check out hammerspoon.

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