Now more than ever, data drives us forward. Today, in offices across the world businesses work with more information at their fingertips than we could have dreamed of, even just a few years ago. For designers and engineers, this has allowed us to make great strides in workplace design – technological advances allow us to design and build more sustainably, more creatively and more impressively.
The irony is, as much as data helps companies, it can also harm us individually. There is a strong relationship between information overload, stress and anxiety – just one of the reasons why the mental wellbeing of office workers has never been under more scrutiny. According to engaging.works latest ‘State of Workplace Happiness Report’, 42 per cent of workers are unhappy in their working lives. Aside from the heavy hitters of pay and future prospects, the most common reason for this is linked to their working environment.
While information overload can exacerbate stress, there is no reason why our new-found knowledge can’t also be used to alleviate it by optimising workplace conditions. Commercial building owners are regularly looking for ways to boost comfort and environmental performance, as well as improving the use of space in their workplaces. This is an unsurprising focus given the statistics – according to research from the Harvard Centre for Health and the Global Environment, working within ‘green environments’ can increase cognitive function by 61 per cent, while controlling CO2 can do so by more than 125 per cent. With this in mind, why wouldn’t business owners adjust working environments to boost productivity?
The problem is, building management is an ongoing process – solutions can’t be implemented through design or refurbishment and then left unchecked. Whether environmental data or use of space, this information changes on a day-to-day basis. This is why it’s not enough for designers to play a role. Instead, building managers must be on the pulse of how their workspace is performing in real time.
At BuroHappold, our software engineers have developed a unique planning tool to do just that, working with Vodafone and GE to put it into action. Using the Workplace Analytics tool, building managers at Vodafone’s London office – The Speechmark – are able to see real-time data mapped onto an online dashboard. This data has been gained from a network of sensors installed in GE’s overhead smart lighting system, which accesses live and historical data and connects to the PREDIX cloud platform, using Vodafone’s own IoT technology.
The sensors monitor when rooms are occupied and how space is managed, highlighting constraints and inefficiencies in the use of workspaces. This considers how both layout and environmental conditions affect use of space and interaction between people, and, crucially, show where improvements can be made. For example, Vodafone’s office space utilisation has improved by 24 per cent, as a result of using BuroHappold’s Workplace Analytics tool.
This is the point at which people are put at the heart of the decision-making process, drawing on the data to implement measures which improve health, wellbeing and productivity. Further environmental adaptations to the Workplace Analytics tool by our engineers have also been added since this initial success. Vodafone can monitor noise, CO2 levels, temperature and humidity from the dashboard and change conditions to levels which are ideally suited to the building on any given day – factoring in temperature, time and number of people in the office. Considering the statistics on ‘green environments’, the ability to do this provides a valuable tool in creating a workplace which allows employees to perform at their best.
Traditionally, we have been slow to react to subtle environmental shifts or changing patterns in the workplace. With the ability to notice these factors instantaneously, the constraints we have faced melt away. If we use this data properly, it can transform our understanding of how workers interact with their workplace, and help us improve conditions at the touch of a button.
Andy Keelin, a partner at BuroHappold, tells OnOffice how the firm used sensors and the IoT at Vodafone’s HQ to adjust the office environment