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Smart buildings and the employee experience

Despina Katsikakis

smart buildings (imagE)

Over the past decade there has been a proliferation of technological advances to assist in the operation and management of building performance. These developments include cloud computing, sensors, IoT, open source code and mobile connectivity. Any or all these pieces of technology are commonly found in office buildings all around the world – the smart building.

As we are now living in an experience economy, the new challenge is shifting from being just “smart” about our buildings, to become “smart” about how this can help measure, monitor and improve the human experience within our buildings. Regardless of whether the focus is on managing the building or the space within the building, the main drivers of adopting technology to create smart buildings have so far been to improve efficiency and reduce costs. This technology has been deployed to manage operations such as smart HVAC, smart lighting and smart elevators. Occupiers are also turning to sensor technology to optimize space utilization, air quality and workplace safety.

We are already seeing some sensor-based analytic companies helping users understand occupancy and building environment measures with a focus on improving the employee experience, make employees more comfortable, and evolve the workplace to better support new ways of working rather than just improve building operational economics.

smart buildings quote (image)

While smart building technology has no doubt propelled the industry forward, it is just the tip of the iceberg of what can be achieved when we shift our focus to the building user. As identified in recent research by Cushman & Wakefield, the next wave of PropTech will be focused on the experience of the occupier to drive human performance and wellness.

An organization that can evolve to this model will enjoy significant competitive advantages across business operations, value generation, productivity and employee experience. These humancentric outcomes are more important than any others, as they have the most impact on company objectives and revenue.

A significant challenge to adopting this model is identifying what is truly important at the human level. This varies considerably between countries, companies and even within a company between cities. To identify these unique priorities, organizations need a framework to measure the impact buildings have on employees and to combine this understanding with the data smart building technologies deliver.

Human experience data and metrics are the new normal being incorporated into the smart building data set, which shifts the focus from just more efficient buildings to that of efficient buildings that create optimal environments for great human experiences through data and predictive analytics.

By combining a quantitative understanding of employee experience with smart building information on hourly/daily/ monthly shifts in things like quality and levels of natural light, ambient sound, air quality, temperature, and movement, organizations can optimize positive building environment impacts on the needs of workplace occupants.

This connection of software and sensors to other evidence-based tools like human experience diagnostics effectively creates the brain for a living structure. Imagine a world where human experience diagnostics detect a degrading meeting experience while sensors provide data indicating room temperatures are uncomfortably higher when in use. In this model, the voice of the people tells us the issue and the building self-diagnoses problems, communicates information, and can recognize the problems and needs of the building community. No help desk is called, no ticket is generated, we can now improve the experience through data. The capture of data through the sensors and human experience diagnostics provides the management of the work environment with deeper insights into the operational effectiveness across both efficiency and human optimization. In doing this you can truly progress from a smart building to a cognitive building and from managing costs to managing experience. We will see the continued trend of personalized services in facilities management and the intersection of smart buildings and understanding the employee experience will enable this.

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