One year on from the start of the first national lockdown, the old way of working feels like a distant memory.
Few employers and employees believe things to return to precisely as they were before the pandemic. Most expect a hybrid future in which organisations give their people more freedom to choose where they do their work. JLL’s research has found that 66 percent of employees want to be able to work from different locations after the pandemic.
The current crisis has also forced organisations – even those designated as critical services that could not ‘go home’ – to reconsider their priorities. It has underscored the need to be resilient, agile and responsive, reinforcing the importance of people’s health and well-being and other long-term threats like climate change. Time away from the workplace and the rise of remote working has encouraged organisations to rethink what it takes to help people be comfortable, engaged and productive at work.
All of these changes will have a significant impact on how buildings are used and managed. Real estate and facilities teams will need to transform how they maintain and optimise them.
Technology is the future
Engineering services may be at the coalface of this change, but the systems we are using to meet these new demands belong firmly to the 21st century. Today, technology underpins all the services and value we provide for our customers.
One of the most critical developments for engineering services in recent years is the growth of remote monitoring. This solution allows engineering specialists to manage and monitor building systems from a distance, saving the customer time and money by dramatically reducing the need for engineers to make site visits. With so many buildings closed or reduced to limited access, lockdown demonstrated the value of managing assets remotely.
Hand-in-hand with remote monitoring is predictive maintenance. Sensors provide real-time data and alerts on building assets’ performance, allowing the customer to respond on demand. This technology is underpinned by analytics that help model longer-term predictions and ultimately improve the lifecycle of assets. The machine learning built into the system can even make automatic adjustments to performance and maintenance plans. With this capability, engineers no longer need to make as many unnecessary scheduled visits or reactive repairs when it’s already too late.
Sensor technology is also used to optimise workspace and enhance the employee or occupier experience by monitoring environmental elements such as air quality, light and temperature. Dashboards allow the remote monitoring teams to regulate these factors and highlight potential issues straight away.
So, why is this technology important, and what is driving its growth?
Resilience and agility
Our facilities and engineering teams have helped our customers build resilience through the pandemic. Survival has hinged on the ability to adapt. But even before this crisis reared its ugly head, macro threats like Brexit and climate change contributed to a growing need to become more agile and responsive.
This outlook is also driving large trends in commercial real estate and workplace strategy, from the use of more flex space and an appetite for shorter leases in portfolios to the adoption of agile and activity-based working systems that allow organisations to react quickly, as they expand, shrink or move.
Engineering services have to be equally fluid. In this sense, sensors and analytics that process data can build an accurate, real-time digital twin of building and asset performance, giving customers the insights to make quicker property decisions with confidence. It also helps identify risks, like the failure of critical assets and energy inefficiency, before they emerge.
On-demand facilities services are likely to become more popular with the option to bring in engineers only as and when needed. Here, network-enabled sensors can identify a maintenance issue and push order into the mobile device of a nearby engineer.
Although many companies paused sustainability plans to focus on survival at the start of the pandemic, it has now reemerged as a key business priority. The shutdown of the global economy last spring demonstrated the potential to cut emissions on a mass scale.
Through predictive maintenance, our engineering teams can help customers track energy usage, identify areas where potential savings lie, spot underperforming assets and create an accurate model of long-term emissions and consumption. This capability allows our customers to build a business case around future green investment.
Health and safety
Research has found that one in three employees is worried about the health and safety risks when returning to work. People have developed a better understanding of how viruses spread and the risks of transmission through poor ventilation and indoor air quality. The British Council for Offices recently urged UK offices to ensure they have adequate ventilation ahead of the return to work following government-cited research findings that well-ventilated spaces can reduce the risk of infection from airborne particles by more than 70 percent. The same goes for other sites including retail, warehouses and leisure & hospitality.
Sensors and analytics can regulate air quality and ensure that assets essential to ventilation experience as little downtime as possible.
Employees now want more flexibility, which means they will demand a more fluid experience between the sites they choose to work in. If employers want their people to come to the workplace, they will need to think about how to make occupants feel comfortable, engaged, productive and healthy.
Predictive maintenance is providing better insights into the physical environment and its impact on the employee experience. It can help them manage spaces and cater to specific occupants needs even as these things change frequently in a flexible system. Downtime of assets can also be kept to a minimum to reduce disruption for employees.
Digitising engineering services and moving the maintenance duties to a remote monitoring model will free in-house facilities management teams to think more strategically. This means more time to analyse the data from these sensors and make operational and design decisions that can improve the employee experience in real-time.
Meanwhile, engineers have more time to think about how their actions impact the productivity and wellbeing of occupants. From our perspective, engineers can leave the mundane tasks to technology while they get on with tackling the problems that excite and challenge them.
Technology is fundamental to the continued evolution of engineering services and building management. It is driving incredible efficiency at a time when customers need to be quick and agile.
But technology is just an enabler. The real power of modern engineering services is their ability to meet today’s needs and shape future business strategy.