Death of the desk – Blog Part 2

Posted on November 23, 2015 by Donna Stanley

An interesting and perhaps more modern driving factor behind the progression to smart buildings and agile working principles is the increase in competition to attract new talent into the workforce and retain employees.  Graduates and prospective new employees are becoming more selective over who they choose to work for, and want to be a part of the most exciting, forward thinking and innovative organisations.  A businesses success is always directly attributable to the people who work there, so building and retaining the best workforce is high on the agenda for organisations that understand the need for, and benefit of, providing the best workplaces.

“Research by YouGov and Lendlease found that 49% of Londoners would consider new employment because of higher quality work environments”

This new approach to the working environment brings with it additional challenges and considerations that can’t be overlooked.  The growing requirement to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, both from a business cost perspective, and through legislative drivers, also features very highly on the agenda for companies.  Fortunately this challenge also brings with it opportunity, since advancements in building technology systems, and their integration, mean that its now possible to design and develop buildings that are able to quite literally think for themselves and adapt in order to suit the very fluid and agile nature in which people are using them.  If we now consider the core subject of this report, death of the desk and collaborative working, we can perhaps interpret this more accurately as the death of the individual’s desk, or a move away from a fixed working location within the workplace.

From this perspective we need to also factor in the growing trend towards remote working, and understand that a large percentage of the workforce, typically 20%+, are not physically in the workplace during a normal working day.  Therefore it’s now increasingly important to focus on how the building services are operating since the heating, cooling, ventilation and lighting systems contribute to some 80%+ of the buildings energy consumption.  So herein lies an opportunity.  Imagine for a moment that the building itself is aware of how many people are in it, standard stuff perhaps, but now imagine that the building knows exactly where those people are, in fact better still, that the building chooses where those people will be based during the day.  If the building can make decisions on where to place people, it can therefore also make decisions about which of the building services to run, and where.  In a simple example then, if a building had 5 working floors, and considering 20% of the workforce are off site, it stands to reason that you only need to use 4 floors and therefore shut down the services to the vacant floor.  Of course, this crude example would rarely be reflective of reality since there are many other factors to consider, but it’s this approach to design and innovative thinking that mean businesses are able to develop workspaces that fulfil the psychological and physiological demands of the workforce, while at the same time satisfying the requirement to be operationally and energy efficient.

The integrated technology capabilities behind what we would term ‘Smart’ or ‘Intelligent’ buildings are perhaps far more evolved and advanced than most would consider.  Quite literally any electrical or mechanical system within a building, including the HVAC, lighting, security, access, lifts, telephones etc, can be integrated into one highly intelligent system that is able to operate and function almost as a singular entity, with everything working in harmony.  Whilst the benefits may now seem quite obvious, this integrated solution still proves to be a utopia that many businesses fail to reach.  The technical capability is there, and in fact has been for some time, but we continue to see buildings where systems compete rather than work together, where energy is being wasted in vast quantities, and where the workforce is impacted by inconsistent environmental controls which can affect mood, morale and wellbeing, not to mention productivity.  In many respects the technological advancements over recent years now make it completely realistic to expect such levels of building intelligence and efficiency, but the industry repeatedly falls foul to the same mistakes and problems.

Check HERE for my thoughts regarding the causes, what needs to change, and the options for taking a different approach to achieve true intelligent building solutions.