According to RedstoneConnect, 75 percent of UK workers find booking meeting rooms or other workspaces unnecessarily difficult. How can smart buildings help get past this – and solve the many other problems that affect organisations’ productivity and employees’ happiness?
Internet of Business spoke to Mark Braund, CEO of smart building software provider and systems integrator, RedstoneConnect, to learn more about smart workspaces and buildings.
Internet of Business: Some pundits claim that smart buildings make workers happier. Can you unpick that for us? What aspects of smart buildings do this, and how?
Mark Braund: “The fundamental purpose of a smart building is to create a two-way conversation between the physical infrastructure of the building and its inhabitants. It does this by registering workers’ needs and preferences, and tailoring itself to meet them. This makes employees’ lives easier and more comfortable, and so demonstrates to them that their employers are invested in their wellbeing.
“A prime example of how smart buildings facilitate happiness is through intelligent heating and ventilation systems.
“Our own research finds that just under half of all UK workers – 47 percent – report being uncomfortably hot or cold in the office every day, while 84 percent say it impacts their levels of contentment and productivity.
“Smart buildings easily resolve this issue at source, as the infrastructure is capable of identifying when someone has entered a space and then automatically adapting the physical environment to their specific preferences.”
OK, but how can smart buildings improve employee efficiency? Can you give explicit examples from your experience?
“Booking meeting rooms or other working spaces is a significant drain on employees’ productivity. In fact, 75 percent of UK workers describe booking a group working space as “difficult” and have reported losing almost a day every year to this task.
“Smart buildings overcome this challenge by enabling people to easily and quickly find the closest spaces, of the right size, with the equipment they need. Real-time sensors play a crucial role in highlighting real-time availability here, through identifying the physical presence of people in the spaces.
“For example, we put this infrastructure in place for 7,900 of UBM’s desks, and it put an end to employees wasting time struggling to find rooms while spaces remained empty, but appeared occupied on the system, due to outdated bookings.”
Smart offices sound like a great idea for new buildings, but how easy is it to retrofit an older building?
“As we’ve already explored, a smart building is one that engages with its inhabitants, one on one, at an advanced level, for instance by helping them to identify and find a free desk. That doesn’t require the physical infrastructure of the building to be overhauled, only for soft or physical sensors to be added. As such, any building, regardless of its age, can be made much smarter through relatively simple processes.
“Let’s take a company that wants to map its desk utilisation, to see how efficiently the space is being used, as an example. Software-only sensors can easily be added to docking stations or desktops – the infrastructure that’s already there – to track workspace usage accurately. The lack of physical sensors means that the technology can be deployed rapidly across an entire business without disrupting the workplace at all.”
Can you outline three smart building trends you expect to take off over the next five years?
“First, the cost of real estate in London is astronomical. 100 square feet will now set you back up to £20,000. Meanwhile, space utilisation in the capital is as low as 48 percent.
“We can expect to see costs rise further and utilisation to spiral down as workplace mobility continues to increase. Smart buildings offer a solution that we can expect to see a rising number of companies monopolise, as their purse strings are tightened. Unlike ordinary structures, smart buildings collect data on how they’re being used. This enables redundant spaces to be identified and then be put to better internal use, sub-let, or sold for profit.
Second, it’s likely that we will see a rising number of businesses take advantage of the wayfinding capabilities that smart buildings offer, to deliver greater collaboration between a structure’s inhabitants, boosting creativity and productivity.
“And third, at present, the majority of smart buildings operate in silos. Over the next few years, we will see a rise in connectivity between each smart structure, facilitating seamless user transitions from one interactive space to the next.”
Internet of Business says
Alongside smart office buildings, the sharing economy is also giving rise to smarter use of other types of facility, such as warehouses. Startups such as the UK’s Stowga and the US’ Flexe are applying the Airbnb model to spare warehouse capacity, allowing customers to create on-demand networks of local storage over any time period – without the financial drag of signing long-term leases on large facilities – and warehouse owners to turn unused space into a rentable asset.