Last February, Benjamin's Desk, an event space in Philadelphia, hosted a presentation for a tax attorney. Her signature color is shocking pink--and, for the duration of her event, so were the lighting accents in Benjamin's Desk's new superconnected "smart space." Co-founder Michael Maher pulled off that design magic by spending $1,800 on 30 Philips Hue smart light bulbs. At $60 each, the lights used smartphone photos uploaded into an app and calibrated to match the shade of the client's outfit.

That investment quickly paid off: Maher's bookings have gone up 30 percent, and he's now able to charge more per event thanks to the "wow factor," he says.

So how much should you spend seeking that wow factor? Maher has invested in several other smart devices to improve office security, save energy, and add pizzazz, connecting them all with a Staples Connect hub ($50) and software designed by startup Zonoff. But it can be hard to tell what's useful versus what's wasteful when it comes to embracing the Internet of Things in the office. Our guide can help you get started.

SMART BUY?

 

Must have

 

Maybe

 

Luxury

1. Security Cameras

D-Link wireless camera: $120
Dropcam Pro: $199
Pro: These networked cameras can send streaming video straight to your mobile device, allowing you to see who's approaching and leaving your front door--or other sensitive spaces, like your server room. Gabriel Weinberg, CEO of search-engine startup DuckDuckGo, says he was "uneasy" about his employees working at odd hours without a receptionist. But now, the company's smart cameras "give us peace of mind."

2. Sensitive planters

Parrot Flower Power wireless indoor/outdoor Bluetooth smart plant sensor: $60
PlantLink (one station and one link): $79
Pro: Wireless monitors text your smartphone when your plants need water, fertilizer, or sunlight.
Con: You still have to do the watering.

3. Snazzy lighting

Philips Hue three-bulb starter kit:  $200
Con: That's one pricey light bulb set. Unless you host a lot of events, this should probably stay on the wish list for now.

4. Doorbell

DoorBot: $199
Pro: See and talk to delivery drivers or other visitors via your smartphone--even if you're not at the office.
Con: The "glitchy" device needs better video quality, per online reviews.

5. Everyday lighting

Lutron Caseta wireless dimmer kit: $60
Leviton Vizia RF + light switch: $85
Pro: Dim and control lighting from your smartphone, or program the lights to turn off automatically at a designated time. If you've got a smart lock, you can link the lights so they turn on when the door opens.
Con: It's hard to beat the simplicity of the basic light switch.

6. Locks

Kwikset Z-Wave smart door lock: $200
Yale Real Living push button deadbolt: $200
Schlage Z-Wave home keypad lever: $200
Pro: Never worry about losing your keys or rushing to change your locks when an employee leaves abruptly. Instead, just update your key codes on your smartphone.

7. Climate control

Honeywell Z-Wave enabled programmable thermostat: $150
Pro: Program your office's thermostats for the nights and weekends, so you're not air-conditioning or heating empty cubicles. Maher of Benjamin's Desk estimates that his five smart thermostats, which cost about $1,000 total, save him up to $2,400 in yearly energy bills.

8. Water gauges

Aotec water sensor: $35
Pro: Check the water levels on your fish tank--or get notified of leaks and floods in your office. Those flood alerts can be crucial, and they make this sensor one of the most popular smart-office gadgets sold by Staples.
Con: Location matters: It senses floods only if it actually touches the water.

9. Window Shades

Lutron Serena shades: $399 to $1,533, depending on type and window size
Pro: Reduce energy costs by programming your shades to move with the sun.
Con: It's not that hard to lower the blinds.

10. Motion sensors

Ecolink wireless motion detector: $50
Pro: Program your lights to turn on and off when people enter and leave, and have the system alert you when someone's entered the office.
Con: Good for security and saving energy, but may be overkill for convenience.

11. Conference room reservations

Robin's presence-sensing software: Averages about $25 per room plus Bluetooth beacon ($5 to $30)
Pro: Robin, a startup that specializes in smart-office software, seeks to automate conference room reservations. As soon as you walk into a meeting room, Robin's software will recognize your phone and book the room on the spot. CEO Sam Dunn says the program will soon also be able to tee up your PowerPoint presentation on a projector the moment you enter. 
Con: Do you really need an app to book the room you're already in? 

From the November 2014 issue of Inc. magazine