What is a smart building?
A smart building, very simply, is a building (or office space) embedded with technology that allows different systems to ‘talk’ to each other and make data-driven decisions for the benefit of its owners and occupants.
With the help of smartphones and WIFI, which are now ubiquitous technologies, office buildings are becoming increasingly integrated into our digital world. What makes a building ‘smart’ is the ability of systems to talk to each other by relaying information from digital sensors within the office to various user platforms via WIFI, Bluetooth and other bandwidths. By collecting, arrogating, and using data, various processes and systems including lighting, airconditioning, ventilation and heating can be optimised. This ultimately leads to significant costs savings and improvement in the well-being of office staff.
Smart Buildings and Office Spaces
A key driver for creating smart buildings (and indeed smart offices and the spaces within them) is that there are mutual advantages for building owners and occupants alike. Digitally controlled HVAC systems, for instance, have an advantage over conventional non-digital systems in that they constantly monitor the quality of indoor air to ensure that it’s at safe levels at all times. Smart lighting systems that respond to people entering and exiting rooms not only avoids lights being left on unnecessarily, it also maintains hygienic protocols by avoiding contact with light switches.
Investing in smart office technology improves the comfort of employees and visiting clients, as well as the safety of the office, by creating a contactless environment. We believe that this is far more than a passing trend. In fact, we expect it to continue to grow in the coming years as the internet of things permeates our workspaces.
6 Benefits of a Smart Office
Some of the benefits accrued from smart office spaces include:
1. Improvement in Health and Hygiene
In our health-conscious workplace of 2022, smart offices are creating safe spaces that don’t involve touching and contaminating surfaces in the workspace. Reducing or eradicating high-touch-point areas in offices (such as light switches and air conditioning control panels) mitigates the risk of spreading bacteria and viruses.
2. Reduction in Energy Costs
The tech that makes up smart offices (while an initial investment) can significantly reduce overall running and maintenance costs. Savings are derived from systems that automatically optimise. This includes, but is not limited to, HVAC systems that adjust to usage, and lighting that dims and illuminates on the entry and exit of rooms.
3. Improvement in Maintenance and Monitoring
By constantly monitoring the systems within the building, it is also possible to reduce financial and health and safety risks through early detection of faulty parts, impending system failures, and maintenance requirements.
4. Attracting and Retaining Staff
Smart buildings are particularly aligned with a hybrid working model where employees transition between the physical office and home. From smart locker storage to desk booking systems, smart technology seamlessly manages the transition between work and home. In turn, this creates comfortable working conditions which help improve the attraction and retention of staff.
5. The rationalisation of space
In a smart office, data is collected to better manage and optimise the use of office space. Smart office booking systems like Condeco, WiggleDesk and various others integrate various legacy systems into a feature-rich booking system. From their smartphones, staff can book parking, lockers, meeting rooms and workstations all within a single system. The data collected through the booking systems can help not only in the management of space but also crucially for events of contact tracing and security breaches.
6. Improving Staff Safety
Thermal imaging systems, digital sensors and virtual booking systems all help in the reduction of bacteria and the spread of viruses. These sorts of systems are often discussed in the initial stages of designing an office. A good example of this is the Condeco workplace scheduling solution which was introduced alongside an office fit out we did for Instinctif Partners. This system allows employees to book workspaces, schedule meetings and order refreshments via a mobile app booking system.
Smart Office Technology
Smart offices are comprised of a variety of technologies, from smart meeting rooms to digital whiteboards, remote collaboration software to smart office security.
Here are a few of the smart office technologies already in place:
Globally lighting consumes nearly 19% of all electricity and accounts for nearly 6% of greenhouse gas emissions. Smart lighting reduces the unnecessary use of lights, which in turn reduces energy costs the overall carbon footprint of an office. Smart lighting comes with various benefits including the ability to schedule and programme lighting around working hours – while saving electricity after hours. It also has occupancy sensors that adjust when people enter and exit a room. Another key feature is ‘daylight harvesting’ which adjusts luminosity as daylight intensity increases, for instance, in areas near windows.
Smart heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning can also help to reduce energy costs, improve maintenance control, and ultimately enhance the comfort and well-being of employees. Some of the components include thermal sensors (which detect differences in temperature and adjust heat settings); CO2 sensors (which detect dangerous levels of CO2 and counter this with the increased supply of fresh air), occupancy sensors (which adjust the heating and cooling of a building based on usage), light sensors (adjusting heating and cooling by judging the light – ambient light suggesting cooler areas and natural sunlight indicating warmer areas). Finally, where traditional HVAC systems run on a single speed setting, smart HVAC can use variable fan speeds
We are starting to see office furniture become smart enabled; being able to share information and connect with other devices within the office. An example of this is Herman Miller‘s range of IoT furniture which identifies users sitting tendencies and collates this information to make informed decisions on space rationalisation (the spaces that are used the most and least). This information can be used by facilities managers and company owners to answer questions like “do we have enough collaborative workspaces?” and “are there long periods of sitting versus sit-stand-desk usage?”.
Smart Booking Systems
Smart booking systems (aka ‘smart reservation systems’, ‘work scheduling systems’, and ‘space management systems’) are an ideal companion for hybrid office spaces. Systems like Kadence and Condeco provide a user interface on the user’s laptop, tablet or phone where they are able to navigate the office using a digital floor plan and reserve a range of different facilities such as desks, meeting rooms and parking spaces. Data is also fed back on usage and availability of office furniture and facilities, allowing companies to make informed decisions and optimise their usage. In large multi-floor offices, interactive floorplans provide real-time visibility of staff and enable them to easily find their teammates. Smart reservation systems also help to bring people together in different locations providing a seamless hybrid work environment.
The Future of Smart Offices
There are pioneering technologies starting to emerge that might help predict the future of smart offices in the coming years. Two technologies of particular interest are generative AI and homomorphic encryption:
Generative AI in Office Design
According to Gartner, Generative AI is likely to make an impact on the markets in the next 6 to 8 years. But there are early signs that this is already happening. The software company, Autodesk, has been pioneering this approach. Their new 16,000 ft.² headquarters in Toronto used generative design principles to create a slew of new office architectural designs based on specific criteria and linked to the analysis of quantitative and qualitative data from staff. For example, it is possible to make decisions like the placement of plants near an office desk to create a sense of privacy (see our article on biophilic office design). The result of the project dubbed “The Living” created 10,000 unique office designs all generated through artificial intelligence. It achieved this by incorporating different elements such as high and low traffic volumes, open spaces versus private zones, and the use of natural light versus ambient lighting.
Homomorphic Encryption in the Workplace
Homomorphic encryption is the ability to use, analyse and process data without having to decrypt it. This means data can be outsourced to third parties for processing without giving any access to the raw data. This has significant privacy and transparency advantages. It means more data from a wider variety of sources can be shared without compromising privacy.
As we transition into hybrid workspaces, homophonic encryption is going to become increasingly important in providing trust and transparency in the workforce. It will protect the user and facilitate uninhibited, anonymised collection of data such as keyboard strokes, emails, calls, video conferencing sessions and the like. Everything from the GPS coordinates of a mobile phone, to the sensors in IoT furniture, will all remain safe and encrypted in order to make strategic business decisions, without compromising an employee’s privacy. The current drawbacks to immediate and widespread adoption of this technology include lack of standardisation, the complexity of data sets and computational abilities. Ultimately though, it’s a bright future for smart buildings and office tech with new innovations emerging all the time.
Interested in Smart Office Design?
If you’re you’re looking to design your office with smart tech and smart building principles in mind then would we strongly recommend speaking to one of our experts. The best time to implement new technology is alongside your fit-out to ensure that all systems are synced, optimised and that the office is ready for occupation.