The pandemic changed how we think about buildings. Instead of just being places where we do things like live, work, or play, they became potential influences over our health. Concerns grew about how the virus spreads whether by touch on shared surfaces or handshakes, or via airborne methods like close proximity and HVAC systems. Then the world started to focus on common processes within buildings whether related to cleaning or occupant habits as a way to protect people.
An area with a lot of attention became indoor air quality (IAQ). This remains a heightened focus as people look to buildings to keep them healthy beyond protection from COVID-19. IAQ can monitor and maintain a good balance of oxygen and fresh air as well as remove harmful contaminants. Everything from filtration to system run time has been reexamined to see if there’s a better way to do it. Fortunately, there is because technology has dramatically improved since these processes were created and it’s about time building owners and operators are able to take advantage of it.
Then there’s another big outcome from the pandemic, the prevalence and overall success of working remotely. A recent survey by JLL showed that a majority of workers want to work two or more days a week at home; only 26% of those surveyed want to remain at home full time. While this may seem like bittersweet news for those owning and operating commercial office buildings, it’s truly a hint about what’s going to be important next and how to bring people back to the office.
The next priority in building technology is going to be the one that causes the least disruption. As teams become hybrid between fully remote, partially remote, or full time at the office, they need to know where people are. Knowing who is where and when accelerates and enables productivity while eliminating concerns about access control and safety. It also helps in managing expectations to plan for the future for occupants and building staff alike.
This next movement will include many things and at two main levels, the data sources and the data integrator. It will thrive on occupancy data through occupancy sensors and access control systems. This priority will be possible through integrating many sources of data so that they can speak and listen to each other, creating a predictable and seamless experience for occupants.
Workforces that have a remote component still need face-to-face collaboration time which Zoom comes close to but doesn’t quite replicate. With flexible schedules, it’s possible that individuals on a team could each come into the office for four hours a day three times a week and yet never actually see each other. For that reason, it’s important to integrate a higher level of scheduling into this “new normal” workforce to not only promote collaboration between team members, but eliminate the overcrowding of workspaces. This data will also help keep energy efficiency goals of buildings attainable. In an environment that’s predictable, nothing is disturbing or disruptive to those in it and that is exactly what we all need after 2020.
We’ve been trending towards this priority for years but out of convenience more than necessity. Those in building operations are familiar with having multiple data sources and an integration system to monitor and optimize how their building is performing. But this was all done in the background and relatively ignored by occupants, unless an energy efficiency rating was achieved and then celebrated. The pandemic has changed how we think about work and what we need out of the office. Many of us found new levels of productivity while working from home, but also gained a new appreciation for the relatively distraction-free environment of the office. The next priority will empower flexibility and teamwork through data.
Mentioned before, this process of collecting and collating information isn’t new to the building space but was often concentrated on performance optimization. Sensors have been used to measure IAQ characteristics like temperature and humidity, usage information like occupancy, and other data. Only recently, this data has been brought together and, with the power of AI, has been able to modify building system processes to optimize run time, decrease costs, and increase the comfort of indoor environments.
We have the right pieces for this next priority of team empowerment through occupancy, but like any good puzzle, it has taken a fresh perspective for us to see how it all can fit together. Today’s occupancy sensors are great for real time data regarding what seats and rooms are being used while promoting safety through social distancing protocols. Envio Systems’ platform takes this information and integrates it with other data sources so that a 360* view of the environment is known and understood. Integration with other software like room reservation and access control is the best way for teams to schedule meetings and know what the environment is going to be like before they even enter the front door.
It’s unfortunate that a pandemic finally motivated us to integrate different technologies so that we can truly start to harness and enjoy the power of smart systems and create smart buildings. However, we’re here now and as we are in the final month of the year 2020, it’s time to do things differently. We’re all in this together, just reach out and see what we can do to get you, your building, and most importantly your team together and ahead of what’s next.