After the pandemic drove millions of people to log on from home, more than half of the UK’s workforce is now back in the workplace. With restrictions continuing to ease in the coming weeks, the pressure is growing on employers to ensure that buildings are safe and healthy as more workers return.
Many people are anxious about heading back to work while COVID-19 is still a threat. Recent research by smart buildings specialist Infogrid has revealed that nearly one in three employees are also more concerned about the healthiness of the workplace than they were before the pandemic.
Real estate and facilities management leaders responsible for managing the return to are undoubtedly facing some challenging weeks ahead, but they don’t have to make crucial decisions in the dark. Smart building technology, integrating Internet-of-Things (IoT) sensors, data analytics tools, maintenance scheduling software and building management systems (BMS), can help them meet these new demands.
Regardless of the virus, the environmental quality of indoor spaces can have a significant impact on people’s health, wellbeing and overall experience. The term ‘sick building syndrome’ describes situations in which occupants develop short-term or chronic health problems resulting from time spent in a building.
According to the WELL Building Standard, a performance-based certification system created to tackle sick building syndrome, there are seven key factors within buildings that impact employee wellbeing: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.
Many studies have uncovered a strong correlation between bad building ventilation and a higher number of sick days. However, more recent research, like this commonly cited study by Harvard University, has discovered that poor air quality can also have a detrimental effect on people’s productivity.
Before the pandemic, a growing number of employers recognised the link between the employee experience in the workplace and staff wellbeing, productivity and engagement. It had also begun to drive retention and recruitment strategy. A building with poor air or inadequate lighting is likely to affect an employee’s energy and concentration levels, as well as their ability to be creative.
Just under half of the respondents to the Infogrid survey said that the healthiness of their workplace impacts their productivity, and only slightly fewer said that the same factor influences their decision to stay at a particular company – both views supported by our own clients.
JLL’s research suggests that the focus on employee experience will only grow when the pandemic ends, as organisations look to create environments where people feel comfortable and can work at their best.
Technology will play a crucial role. Indeed, IoT sensors and analytics platforms are already fundamental to curating and managing the employee experience. Connected sensors can monitor and regulate those key building elements such as air quality, light, water, temperature and humidity, providing real-time information for analytics platforms and reporting dashboards.
Armed with these insights, our engineering teams can then make adjustments quickly. Lighting and temperature may be turned up or down depending on external conditions. If the environmental sensors connect to a BMS, these adjustments can be automated to pre-agreed settings in line with expert guidance.
Environmental sensors can also raise an alert if the carbon dioxide levels get too high. According to the WELL Building Standard, the likelihood of drowsiness, headaches and respiratory issues increases when the amount of carbon dioxide in the air climbs above 800 parts per million.
In sites where food or critical items must be stored at certain temperatures, the technology also helps alert engineering teams to potential disasters before they happen. Sensors can be programmed to take periodic readings so that rotting food doesn’t go unnoticed in warmer-than-optimal temperatures. Likewise, in the colder months, sensors can detect when temperatures drop low enough to risk pipes bursting.
When integrated with analytics tools, sensor data on air quality or temperature allows our engineering teams to quickly identify underperforming assets and pinpoint specific problem areas, like the ventilation system’s filter.
Delivering an excellent employee experience is more crucial than ever. Now that workplaces are reopening, organisations need to listen to their employees and do everything they can to create healthy and productive working environments. But achieving this is no easy feat – it requires a vast amount of intelligent work that goes unseen.