“Buildings are crucial enablers of economic activity but, if we’re honest about it, they frequently fail to live up to our collective expectations based on our experiences everywhere we live, work and play”, begins a new report by Schneider Electric’s, Preeti Bajaj.
We have talked a lot about smart buildings providing more than just energy efficiency. They will be connecting us, sensing our needs and learning our habits in order to make our lives more efficient and enjoyable. In the case of smart office buildings this means making us more productive at our jobs.
The challenging question facing many businesses is; will investment in smart building technology actually make our staff more productive and our workplaces more efficient?
To answer that question we might first start by looking at environmental control in a smart building. By using air quality, humidity and light sensors placed around the workspace, and combining that with occupancy and individual preferences, a smart office can use HVAC and lighting systems to create the perfect environmental conditions for productive work.
Building regulations have led to well-insulated office spaces, reducing temperature fluctuations but also reducing fresh air circulation. Typical outdoor CO2 concentrations hover around 380 parts per million (ppm), while within offices CO2 concentrations were found to be as high as several thousand ppm. In addition, the limited spectrum of traditional fluorescent lamps in offices creates an artificial light-scape that does not interact well with our natural solar day-night cycle.
Smart workspaces can make us more comfortable and guide us through the day with lighting systems that mimic sunlight patterns. Furthermore, smart offices are tackling the issue of office drowsiness and the “post-lunch dip”, which has been found to primarily be a result of poor air quality. So smart workspaces literally keep workers awake and provide more oxygen to their brains.
We might also look at the building’s ability to act as a "virtual super secretary" for the entire building and even connected to other smart buildings. These buildings as a service may track the whereabouts of users inside and outside of a building. Then knowing all their schedules and locations, the building may suggest that a meeting should be held in a different room, perhaps even a different location in the city to account for transport delays or obstacles to the participants of that meeting reaching the building on time.
“A smart building is a building that helps the owners or the occupants fulfil the mission of that building. So if you’re an educator, the mission may be higher test scores. If it’s a hospital, it may be better patient outcomes, or productivity if you’re a publicly traded company” said Honeywell VP Frank Pennisi.
In the smart building and smart city sectors, deep learning is fostering the evolution of smarter sensors and reducing the overwhelming demands created by centralised big data.
Going beyond simple pattern recognition Deep learning is allowing buildings to understand our needs and preferences in the workspace, and is paving the way for the seemingly inevitable future of artificial intelligence.
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Beyond the instant impact of smart technology on the current workforce, we might also consider the longer term impacts of locating your office in a smart building. On one level we could imagine that compounded improvement in air quality and reduction in stress levels could have continuing benefits for the productivity of employees.
On another level we can assume that smart buildings will attract smarter employees. As the millennial generation becomes the mainstream workforce; the tech savvy, always connected cohort would favour organisations that offer the benefits of smart workspaces. And if organisations with smart workspaces attract better employees their productivity will increase relative to other organisations.
With the advent of the Internet of Things we are seeing the Transformation of BAS into the Building Internet of Things (BIoT). In the case of smart office buildings, this evolution could and should be designed to bring about greater productivity of workers and the organisation as a whole. Considering the nature of the IoT, if productivity is not increased, the smart office sector will no doubt keep tweaking the technology until it is.