Clarity of vision: Intelligent buildings

EIC explores the potential benefits to productivity that can be generated by effective and responsive environmental control, as well as the boon to cost saving and compliance processes it can provide.

Setting the scene

The percentage of the labour market now working from home (WFH), due to the lockdown imposed to fight the spread of COVID-19, is unprecedented with Finder estimating that 60% of the UK’s 33.7 million labourers are now working remotely.

Most commercial enterprises are being forced to reevaluate the way their staff perform their roles and the limitations imposed by location and direct proximity to colleagues and management. 

While WFH has demonstrated some obvious benefits, time saved by cutting out commutes for example, there are still many roles that require working from site.

Additionally, many employers will choose to return to a state of normality for logistical reasons like communication and conferencing that suffer novel limitations when used remotely. 

One of the upsides of COVID-19 will be an increased awareness and respect for the effect of working environment on productivity as well as on employee health.

Making informed decisions

Air quality, temperature and humidity are fluctuating qualities of an internal environment while lighting is more static.  However, they can each be directed according to need, tracked for data analysis and there is evidence that all of them affect productivity in the workplace.

“System design and the deployment of correctly implemented controls are the single biggest components to ensuring environmental conditions are correctly maintained.”

-Mark Longley, Head of Operations Solutions, t-mac

silhouette of trees near calm body of water at night panoramic photography

Air quality

The widespread attraction of commercial air conditioning is that it can provide a stable and consistent utility cost to weigh against air quality control, meaning that windows can be ‘sealed’ to prevent costly and unpredictable heat loss. 

Unfortunately, a lack of CO2 monitoring can lead to saturation in the internal environment which, in turn, can impair the cognitive functions of your team and lead to a drop in productivity. 

A 2015 report from Harvard University, titled “Economic, Environmental, and Health Implications of Enhanced Ventilation in Office Buildings”, demonstrated that:

The public health benefits of enhanced ventilation far exceed the per occupant economic costs… Even with conservative estimates, the increased productivity of an employee is over 150 times greater than the resulting energy costs.”

Ironically too much CO2 can often trick the brain into thinking that temperatures are uncomfortably high-meaning that air conditioning can actually be counterproductive to its original purpose if it is unable to respond dynamically to your needs.

“I don’t think our field has done a good job of reaching out to the real estate developers, managers, and owners of businesses that can make this change… I don’t think it’s acknowledged that changing these factors can make a difference.”

-Piers MacNaughton, Harvard

Temperature control

A discussion on air quality control necessitates one on temperature regulation since the two are often confused with one another. System-wide temperature control has been a standard in modern work and living space for decades, however its adaptability leaves something to be desired. 

The current fluctuations in British weather are an expected side effect of climate change however the thermal regulation of most offices isn’t equipped to respond to wide swings in temperature or humidity ranges-both of which affect our perception of temperature.

Additionally, recent reports have demonstrated human productivity is extremely sensitive to changes in temperature:

“The results show that performance increases with temperature up to 21-22 o C, and decreases with temperature above 23-24 o C. The highest productivity is at temperature of around 22 o C. For example, at the temperature of 30 o C the performance is only 91.1% of the maximum”

A collaboration between the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Helsinki University of technology, the report also stated:

“There is an obvious need to develop tools so that economic outcomes of health and productivity can be integrated into cost-benefit calculations with initial, energy and maintenance costs.”

Lighting

Finally, the internal lighting systems a business utilises can have a dramatic affect on productivity since they have a direct relationship with their staff’s circadian rhythms, the aspect of our biology that tells us when it is time to be engaged and time to rest.

Psychological studies have also shown that people’s mood and productivity can be affected by the ‘temperature’ of light as well i.e. whether light feels warm or cold to look at.

“There is growing evidence for a link between lighting conditions, shift-work and biological health conditions: an area likely to receive more attention from researchers in future.”

Lighting, Well-being and Performance at Work, by Professor Jo Silvester and Dr Efrosyni Konstantinou

Closing thoughts

All that being said, the key question is how to obtain the data and control necessary to make these systems work for you rather than just being extra columns on the expense report. 

Considering these elements as potential assets rather than liabilities might seem counter-intuitive but when the application of something has the power to affect productivity this dramatically, it is only a liability while it is not under our control.

As Jones Lang LaSalle’s 3-30-300 rule posits, for every dollar or pound spent on utilities like lighting and heat, you are likely to spend a hundred on people so why not make those costs go further by making what you spend on utilities count towards your people too.?

The recent SECR deadline also served as a sobering reminder of the importance of effective utilities management and regular reappraisal of existing practices. 

Intelligent building management will continue to grow more and more sophisticated, allowing greater adaptability to the needs of clients, staff and business owners, and EIC can help you to leverage this technology to increase both your staff’s productivity and your bottom line. To find out more click here.