Blog: Smart Buildings: the evolution of the smart workplace

Smart buildings have changed the way businesses view their real-estate. These intelligent structures connected to the wider world by the Internet of Things (IoT) use technology systems to enhance the experience of occupants and reduce the costs of building operations. Where firms once treated their workplaces as an expensive necessity of doing business, they now appreciate how investment can directly further corporate objectives. Kas Mohammed of  Schneider Electric reports.

Data and workplace practices

Rising real estate costs are forcing businesses to squeeze more value from their office space. But in order to cut costs and make offices truly efficient companies must understand where space is under-utilised and where improvements are required. Fortunately smart building technologies are enabling companies to capture invaluable environmental and occupation data in real-time. This allows managers to measure how effectively the space is being used, enabling better decision-making.

Sensors that gauge how effectively companies are using their space are becoming more widespread. ‘Social physics’, the science of using large data sets captured from smartphones, wearables and sociometric badges to measure how and when people interact and share ideas, can provide invaluable insight into what drives business successes.

With the right facilities and tools to work more productively, a company’s workforce becomes a driver for growth. Realising this, companies are gradually overcoming traditional models of workplace design in favour of more dynamic, agile models that specialise in analytics and encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing.

Getting smart about wellness

According to PwC, absenteeism costs UK businesses £29 billion per year. Wellness initiatives that reduce the number of sick days make sensible investments that can significantly boost business performance. With salaries and benefits comprising up to 90% of the operating costs of large businesses, even modest increases in productivity arising from better working environments can significantly improve the bottom line.

Improving employee fitness, access to natural light, good food and healthy temperatures are playing a more important role in workplace design due to their impact on absenteeism and staff turnover. Recent scientific research has been able to demonstrate that higher levels of physical activity can lead to more effective employees. Gartner estimates that 10,000 companies gave fitness trackers to their staff in 2014 in order to combat sedentary lifestyles. Some have even trialled fitness bands that capture data on employee physical activity. Sensors have also come to the market which help prevent back, neck and muscle pain, and for good reason. The Office for National Statistics reports that in 2013 30 million work days were wasted due to musculoskeletal problems.

Air quality can also impact the productivity and wellbeing of occupants. High CO2 levels have been shown to increase feelings of tiredness and negatively affect decision-making in a number of studies. To prevent this, many firms have installed sensors to detect and measure levels of CO2, allowing the building management system (BMS) to adjust heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) settings when needed. Natural ventilation or mixed-mode conditioning can bring about a number of benefits, including savings on health costs, HVAC energy and increased productivity.

Connectivity, efficiency and productivity

The innovative use of smart sensors and data is exemplified by the Edge, an office building in Amsterdam and one of the world’s smartest and most sustainable buildings. Within the structure, a variety of services are available via an integrated building app. Occupants can find working spaces, reserve meeting rooms and even locate their colleagues simply by using their smartphones. Even better is that once you have entered your meeting room the BMS will automatically adjust lighting and air conditioning levels to suit your individual preferences, maximising comfort and productivity.

In this way, through the monitoring the environment and activity of the workplace, companies are able to better understand how the workspace impacts its employees. Spurred on by rising costs and increasing competition to attract and retain the best talent,  companies are creating new ways to secure more value from their real estate.

Smart building systems and sensors create valuable insight to optimise the business helping them realise productivity gains, and ensure the comfort of their employees. This shift has prompted facilities to get smarter as companies realise the competitive advantages that can be secured from adopting a well-considered workplace technology strategy. The notion of the office as a dumb container for work, has been shaken by fluid, agile workplaces using data to augment wellness and improve performance.

To learn more about how technology is transforming the working environment, read Schneider Electric and Unwork’s full Smart Working report here.

Kas Mohammed is BMS Business Manager at Schneider Electric