Smart Buildings: Merging Tech and Design for Workplace Wellness

Long gone are the days when employees sit all day in inflexible workspaces, adjusting themselves - and their needs -  to the physical conditions of the workplace. The new model for the workplace no longer fits employees into a predesigned worksite but, using technology, redesigns the worksite to fit the needs of the employee. Just like our smartphones and smartwatches, our workplaces are being reinvented to be just as smart. 


Smart buildings leverage big data, the Internet of Things (IoT), and intelligent Building Management Systems (iBMS) to assess the physical conditions of the workplace and adjust them to meet employee needs. 


These tech systems facilitate and improve employee wellbeing and performance by modifying objects connected to the internet, such as light bulbs, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, office chairs and desks, coffee machines, and even whole office spaces. Smart technology collects data from these objects and generates automated and controlled responses to improve an employee’s health and productivity. 


Smart Lighting Systems


Lighting is an essential part of the workplace. Reduced exposure to natural light at work may cause fatigue, moodiness, headaches, and even sleep disturbances. These not only compromise productivity but also lead to long-term health problems including depression and cognitive decline. Smart lighting systems can adjust the brightness and color temperature of office lightbulbs to imitate sunlight. 


Smart lighting systems also work in sync with the body’s circadian rhythms, exposing a worker to the right amount of light needed to stay alert and active during the day. 


Employees who work from home may also find smart bulbs an efficient way of getting work done and still getting the right amount of rest. These smart bulbs can be programmed to adjust their color and brightness depending on the time of day, providing only low-temperature, low-intensity light for night-time settings to allow you only just enough light to prepare you for sleep. 


This smart lighting technology not only benefits the occupants of the building, but it also impacts the environment and the bottom line. 


The Edge in Amsterdam, described as the greenest building in the World by the British rating agency BREEAM, is one of the buildings harnessing smart technology to boost employee wellbeing, productivity, and the bottom line. 


The Edge uses LED lighting systems equipped with 30,000 sensors to assess occupancy, movement, temperature, and time of day to make automatic adjustments to lighting levels in all office spaces within the building. As a result, The Edge uses 70% less electricity than buildings with a similar size and activity levels, earning it a rating of 98.4 percent in environmental sustainability score.

Smart Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning Systems

Smart HVAC systems are also a reinvention of the workplace, using AI to optimize air conditions and potentially save a lot of energy. 


First, office spaces with very high or very low temperatures will impede efficiency at work and lead to fatigue and headaches. The same thing happens when the atmospheric CO2 levels are through the roof. This is where smart HVAC systems come in. Built with connected sensors that detect temperature, humidity, air quality, velocity, and flow rates, pollutant concentrations, and occupancy, smart HVAC systems optimize ventilation flow rates to fit demand in an office space. 


Smart HVAC systems also communicate information about its energy consumption and efficiency, as well as mechanical defects in its components. Employers, energy grid managers, and maintenance staff can then use these details to adjust operational settings, such as on and off times, preheating duration, and temperature settings. 


Smart HVAC systems also have smart thermostats that can help occupants control their building’s heating and cooling loads from a mobile app. These devices have been linked with an 8-10% drop in energy consumption. In a recent report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), smart thermostats were linked up to 15% in energy savings.


The Edge uses long blue tubes that deliver water into and from the building’s subterranean water tank for its heat and cooling systems. The HVAC systems in the building work with a heat pump programmed to pump warm water during summer more than 400 feet deep in the aquifer that lies beneath the building. This warm water sits in the aquifer, insulated, until during winter, when it is pumped back up for heating. 


Smart Office Space

The smart design of the workspaces in The Edge has got the phrase “Het Nieuwe Werken” - which means a new way of working - in the lips of employees of its main tenant, Delloite. 


The workspace of the future eliminates closed office spaces, unnecessarily long hours of working on a spot, and the attendant ergonomic problems of traditional office designs and installs connected workspaces that match office structure and conditions to the primary task at hand. 


The smart workspace uses smart infrastructure including chairs and rooms that assess employee physical needs, room occupancy, and real-time location to optimize productivity and wellbeing. 


These systems enable workers to know which rooms are unoccupied, which workstations fit the task for the day, and help them reserve spaces for specific times of the day. What’s more, smart office designs allow employees program lifts to be available for them at a specific time. 


In The Edge, nobody has an office named after them. The mobile application, which navigates each employee through the building, allocates a workspace to each worker based on their job task for the day and their work schedule - and the workspace could be anywhere; a meeting room or an outdoor office. 


The building also uses a concept of “hot desking”, in which the over 2500 Delloite employees in the building share 1,000 desks. This concept was designed to foster relationships among employees and smoothen workflow and communication. 


What’s more, smart office sensors switch off light bulbs and turn off HVAC systems in unoccupied rooms, cutting energy costs. Similarly, on days when fewer employees are expected, large office sections may be shut down, leaving the sensors to operate in the rest of the building. 


A New Way of Working


The future of work is employee-centric and the rise of the smart buildings typify that. Employees will no longer be made to fit into predesigned worksites, but, contrarily, workspaces will be crafted to adjust to our needs and optimize our performance. Ultimately, merging smart technology with office design not only promotes a more efficient and healthier workforce but it is also one of the most effective solutions for environmental sustainability.