The last few years have seen a dramatic shift in what people expect of commercial buildings. Technology giants such as Google, Amazon and Facebook have driven a trend for creatively designed workspaces that revolve around the user experience, while the rise of WELL accreditation for buildings is allowing landlords and real estate managers to quantify that nebulous quality of ‘wellness’ in the same way that a building’s sustainability is benchmarked by certifications such as LEED.
At the same time, coworking spaces and hybrid offices that cater for startups as well as corporations are driving
a trend for space as a service.
Rather than signing on to lengthy leases, individuals and companies are increasingly able to choose office space exactly as and when needed, making the user experience a critical aspect for commercial buildings.
92% of companies prefer wellness-capable buildings: those with features designed to enhance occupants’ experience
CBRE EMEA Occupier Survey 2018
Sensors will detect and manage the physical environment
As a growing number of studies show the correlation between wellbeing and productivity, the perceived relationship between environmental quality and personal health is deepening.
“Minor changes in the areas of light, lush greenery as well as nutrition, relaxation and exercise have a huge impact on employees’ wellbeing and performance at work,” says Lewis Beck, head of workplace strategy at CBRE.
Sensors that monitor temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, and movement are used in smart buildings like Tyréns HQ in Stockholm, where 1,000 sensors transmit information which is used to maintain a comfortable environment that optimises the use of energy when and where needed.
Companies to watch
Wirepas – infrastructure for digitally connecting a building
OpenSensors – sensors and analytics software that helps optimise the use of a space
Siemens – Symaro sensors automate the management of heat, ventilation and air quality
Occupants’ state of mind will be important
Building conditions such as noise, lighting, greenery and overall space will play an important role in a building’s user experience. Richard Francis, founder of research and strategy consultancy The Monomoy Company, says: “People’s subjective experience of a building will become more central”.
As a result, technology that personalises conditions to nearby occupants will become popular. The Edge in Amsterdam showcases these possibilities: a single app downloaded to employees’ smartphones automates parking, desk and locker allocation, tweaks any location to their lighting and temperature preferences, and remembers how they take their coffee, while building management access a dashboard to track and optimise energy use and cleaning schedules based on where people are or aren’t.
With people commonly taking to social media such as Twitter and TripAdvisor to post perceptions of what it’s like to be in a particular space, Francis also predicts that these publicly available reviews of user experience will play a growing role in how occupiers choose a commercial space.
Companies to watch
GreenMe – measures temperature, humidity, lighting quality, noise and air quality, with platform for users to report on their comfort
Akoustic Arts – directional soundbeam that projects audio only in a narrow field
Philips Lighting, soon to become Signify – co-designed the InterAct Office lighting system in The Edge, with nearly 6,500 connected LEDs and an app for employees to control lighting and temperature at their desks
Personal technology will enhance how buildings are used
By 2021, Gartner predicts smartwatch sales will reach 81 million, while the market for wearable technology is set to expand by 23% year on year. With smartwatches that track heart rate and steps taken, and specialised gadgets that aim to quantify states of being such as stress, more data than ever will be generated about the occupants of buildings. Software that can leverage these insights could transform how buildings are built – and used. For example, aggregated location data about where people are in the building can inform apps that maximise comfort in a workspace by increasing the air flow in crowded rooms, or streamline how people reserve meeting spaces.
There are privacy guidelines to be ironed out around how wearable tech data can be used by companies. However, information on individuals’ comfort could one day feed into building management systems that adjust conditions in response, or simply suggest taking a break or going for a walk.
“The key will be technology that prompts people to respond; that starts a conversation between a building and its occupants,” says Francis.
Companies to watch
Honeywell – its Vector Occupant app offers indoor navigation and logs user feedback on temperature
WittyFit – interface for employees to share daily wellbeing and comfort, and receive personalised health and fitness advice