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By Kas Mohammed, BMS Business Manager at Schneider Electric
The way companies work has been transformed over the past decade. As Schneider Electric and Unwork’s latest collaboration, the Smart Working Report, reveals the confluence of new ideas, technological innovation and a new generation of workers has upended longstanding approaches to not only the way we work, but the expectations we have of the environments we work in.
As the role of the workplace changes, so too does the kind of buildings companies look to locate in. For most companies, buildings now need to provide much more than the traditional lease – they need to support business aims, help organisations attract the best talent, and energise and inspire their staff as well.
Smart Buildings and Smarter Workplaces
Smart buildings can do all of these things, and more. Using intelligent software to capitalise on megatrends including the Internet of Things (IoT) and big data, smart buildings provide new business insights which can be used to enhance the experience of employees, and create more attractive and desirable places to work.
Sensors employed in a smart building can be used to record data on the location of office users within buildings, and report how they’re using space. In fact, it’s now possible to use solutions to monitor building occupancy to support the effective use of agile working environments. This can be done using a network of connected sensors and anonymous tags inserted into the badge holders of building users. These tags can transmit information to the sensors, allowing the real-time usage of different spaces to be reported, visualised and managed.
Insights gathered from these and other devices could then in time be used to measure the impact of space design on business performance. In fact, techniques for correlating the movement and interactions that take place in an office with the development of new products and ideas is a fast-growing area of scientific research.
Sociometric badges, a wearable badge developed at MIT, can record where an employee goes in an office, who they interact with, and the tone and nature of these interactions. At a pharmaceutical company where these badges were employed, the data they collected showed a positive correlation between cross-team interactions and higher sales. The company used this data to justify installing a large canteen facility and replace their existing coffee points with bigger ones shared between more employees. Following the redesign, sales rose by $200 million dollars – more than proving the business case for the upgrades to their office.
How workplace design relates to the physical and mental wellbeing of employees is also becoming increasingly well understood. A number of studies have shown that high levels of CO2 in office buildings can induce feelings of tiredness and impact decision-making. CO2 at levels as low as 600 parts per million (ppm) can have a significantly detrimental impact on individual performance, despite this figure being well below the normally accepted level of 1000 ppm. In a smart building, sensors can detect and measure levels of CO2, directing other building systems to adjust HVAC settings accordingly.Furthermore, smart buildings can positively impact employee experience.
In a smart building, a variety of services are generally available via a building app. At The Edge, an office building in Amsterdam, building users can find working spaces, reserve meeting spaces and even locate their colleagues using their smartphones. Other services, such as ordering food and beverages, checking the availability of car parking spaces, and scheduling classes in the building’s gym, can also be made available via an app, with all the relevant data being provided by a smart building’s management software.
Companies are increasingly aware of the competitive advantages that can be secured from adopting a well-considered workplace and real estate strategy. Investments in a company’s workplaces can support business aims and help attract the best people. Smart building technologies – which not only provide insights and data, but also create whole new experiences for employees and building users – are essential for this.