The connected office: how digital technology can support with our workplace recovery

4 min read

As technology evolves around us at a rapid pace, integrated systems and smart products are shaping the way we live our lives. Never has that been clearer than when countries around the globe locked down due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

With the rapid shut-down of workplaces and public spaces during the pandemic, this connectivity has been a vital tool and a welcome relief, allowing businesses to continue working and employees to connect with their colleagues anytime, anywhere.

Now, as offices begin to reopen the role of the operations team has become critical in helping to reshape how we work - and the need for systems to manage occupancy numbers, space utilisation and footfall is greater than ever.

Managed and implemented effectively, digital workplace tools – so called proptech – can help us to transform our relationship with the office forever. It will help us to deliver a seamless recovery and ensuring we can create a workplace that is fit for the future – for everyone.  

Supporting the reopening of the workplace and beyond

As teams reoccupy workplaces, employees will be looking for reassurance that the correct measures have been put in place to ensure their continued safety and wellbeing.

From desks to conference rooms to lab space and more, occupancy monitoring provides actionable data for facilities operations and strategic insights for portfolio managers and corporate real estate investment decisions.

This functionality is especially important during times of social distancing when daily office capacities are reduced. The ability to monitor desk usage and building capacity is vital in ensuring social distancing rules can be safely followed and that office utilisation can be maximised. When linked to a desk booking and visitor management system, this technology provides a strong solution to managing people in the workplace.

Monitoring the live movements of employees within the workplace can also help limit virus spread, ensure social distancing is maintained throughout the day and providing the data to retrace the movement of people if an outbreak at work occurs.

Analytics are sophisticated and can be displayed as real time data to provide warning on social distance breaches and provide early warning of employee movement in the event of an outbreak.

With a higher concern for the general cleanliness of the office and the air circulating within it, monitoring the movement of employees and the air quality in areas of high footfall can ensure air pollutants remain at a safe level, and the risk to employees is lowered. Monitoring can identify localised hotspots and if enabled, link to a work order management system for remedial action.

By implementing sensor technology, businesses can reduce the need for human to human contact, and therefore reduce the risk of transmitting viruses to other employees.

The connected workplace as part of the wider FM solution

Implementing sensor technology in the commercial office creates an opportunity to capture key data on building performance that can be later used as a catalyst for change across building operations and allows us to create smarter workplaces.

By analysing the data collected, changes can be implemented across the FM service delivery to enable a more effective service for the end user, supporting positive workplace experiences for employees and promoting engagement across the business. 

Data can be passed on to service delivery teams to monitor performance or used to show areas of inefficiency, such as in energy management, and heating and ventilation, or to support cleaning schedules through data on daily footfall and occupancy numbers.

The technology itself can be fitted into new workspaces, or retrofitted into existing workplace designs quickly and easily, enabling facilities teams to collect actionable data straight away.

An investment for our ‘new normal’ and the future

In the immediate future, sensor technology and real-time data gathering will support real estate teams in providing a safer environment for employees to work in. In the long-term, the technology will create a more efficient system for monitoring and maintaining corporate real estate, while supporting employee wellbeing and engagement, and creating a positive workplace experience.

Building management systems can be retrofitted with automation technology to remotely control environmental factors within the building. These systems can be used to oversee energy management for clients, providing clear data on performance, allowing for efficiencies to be made across operations, generating financial savings on building running costs.

As real-time data is collected, patterns of behaviours can be identified and used to develop maintenance and cleaning schedules, and determine service level agreements. Information on occupancy and space utilisation can be provided back to employees and visitors to show available desks and meeting rooms or used to show waiting times for food serveries and restaurant areas.

Proptech solutions span a whole range of workstreams across facilities management include waste management, way finding and legionella control. More applications are being invented each day, and integration with current analytics systems is seamless providing visual and powerful insights.

Towards a better-connected future

Picture this; an employee walks into their office building and after entering the workplace with their entry pass, is shown on a display screen which floors in the building are the least occupied. When they get to their desired floor they can see on a display panel by the doors where there are free workstations and which meeting rooms are already occupied.

The employee makes their way straight to the desk, which has been designed with sufficient space so as not to put any employees at risk of breaching social distancing. The sensor under the desk registers as occupied and the data is fed back into the building system, and across the office, displays are updated to show the new head count and occupancy data.  

The employee’s arrival was registered as they entered the building with their entry card, and their subsequent movements were tracked every time they used their card to access floors and stored in the building management system – data which can later be used for contact tracing purposes should an outbreak occur in the building.

This is the workplace we could all be working in now – but to get there, we’ll have to work together – clients, operators, contractors and consultants, to make it a reality.