Crying babies, barking dogs, Rumba vacuums that wonder aimlessly around all day loudly bumping into every piece of furniture and capturing our fixation during conference calls makes working from home difficult. Eco-friendly dishwashers and washing machines that run for 2 ½ plus hours at a time, coupled with fighting siblings and sometimes fighting spouses all leads us to question whether the “new normal” will quickly transition back to the pre-pandemic traditional office working environment albeit, modified. We have proven time and time again since the 90’s that there are only a certain few that can manage successfully working-from-home on a regular basis, but for the vast majority, this is undesirable at any level, less productive and not sustainable. While we are all doing our part to “stay-at-home” right now, this cannot and will not last long.
“It will be imperative that employees, tenants and building occupants feel safe and comfortable going back toa healthy and clean office “environment.”
Soon after we all get haircuts, re-die our hair and make sure that our clothes still fit, we will want to return to our daily schedules. We are by nature after all, creatures of habit. Face to face contact and direct meetings will be required at all levels. While 67% of quarantined workers in a recent informal CRETech survey said they were more efficient at home, 80% clearly stated they missed the social interaction of the office environment. School children need the interaction to develop and fine tune their social skills and so do adults in the business world. Our offices will quickly become our haven again; however, they will need to change and “Smart Healthy Buildings” will become the norm.
In addition to all these distractions, there are inefficiencies and miscommunications that occur over emails, texts, phone and video calls. Dr. Albert Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Rule of Personal Communication outlines the core elements of communication as 7% spoken words, 38% voice and tone, and 55% body language. Therefore, given the grainy, choppy and sporadic quality of video conferencing these days we are only getting across 50% of the message. Soon increased bandwidth (5G) and virtual reality may solve this issue, but for now this can only be solved through face to face meetings and a return to the office.
We are all growing tired of hearing the neighbor’s lawn service, construction trucks and crew noise all day long – (there is a reason office construction happens during off hours.) For many, working from home is new, difficult and creates challenges such as talking while muted, video freezing, garbled and choppy audio, microphones that don’t work, dropped lines, terrible echoing and all these background noises that could be better managed by proper use of the “mute” button. We expect a return to our office, albeit, eased back in waves later this year. For most of us, we need this “second place” to work for a separation of work and family.
While social distancing may remain normal going forward, it will be imperative that employees, tenants and building occupants feel safe and comfortable going back to a healthy and clean office environment. They will want to be assured that the building has been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized on a regular and ongoing basis and new cleaning protocols are in place ensuring it is a Smart Healthy Building.
Clean healthy air will be a top priority and HVAC and Building Management Systems (BMS) will require updating and technology enhancements. After 9/11 many government buildings put Ultraviolet (UV) sanitizers into the building air systems to safely and effectively reduce bacteria, viruses and allergens. In addition to clean air, recent enhancements to UV lighting technology allow empty rooms to be sanitized in a few hours. Cleaning robots currently used in hospitals will become normal in buildings for nightly cleanings. Sensors on hoteling workstations will notify cleaning crews (or robots) that the station use is complete and can be sanitize before the next use.
As the pandemic passes, hands-free control through secure mobile apps will provide security access, opening of doors, directing of elevators, turning on lights, adjusting temperatures and even using vending machines without ever having to touch anything. Visitor pre and onsite registration, building wayfinding and navigation, the raising and lowering of desks and chairs, along with window shade adjustments, will all be controlled by an app on our smartphones.
While we expect open office concepts to change dramatically due to social distancing requirements, space management, room scheduling, and office hoteling will all be managed thru an app. Basically, we will see Hands Free control of anything and everything that can be controlled with our phones. Facial recognition, security access, new elevator protocols and even increased staircase use will continue to influence the evolution of buildings and app requirements.
Non-invasive body temperature scanners can be installed to detect fevers at building entry points. In the future, wearables like Apple Watch will offer insightful and real time health related information and warnings. If an occupant shows signs or tests positive for Covid-19 or any other virus, historic location data can be analyzed to determine what other employees where in the office at the time and enable employers to take the appropriate safety action.
Room sensors will provide real-time census on occupancy and location data to indicate where people are to properly manage social distancing rules and occupancy limits. Building owners and tenants will be able to instantly send communications and warnings through the mobile app to occupants, and with the same technology, first responders can be provided with the occupant’s location in case of emergencies. Through enhanced controls, sensory data monitoring and communications, apps will help people feel safe and good about getting back to work.
Building amenities will be managed thru apps as well. Ordering coffee and food from the building’s lobby café, checking on laundry & dry cleaning, notification when the building gym is below occupancy levels so that one can get that noon-time workout in will become the norm. Ride services, taxis, mass transportation and other ride-share services will also be included.
Our technology focused society will continue to develop and introduce numerous other smart building services that will be managed from an app. The ultimate success factors for the winning app(s) will be threefold. First, the app must be a unified platform that fully integrates all the services. Having to use multiple apps will defeat the goal. The app will need to be fully and seamlessly integrated, this will require the app developer to have open protocols and strong industry partnerships.
Second, the app must be easy to use with a clean, simple and intuitive user interface that people will enjoy using. Third, the app will need to be able collect relevant data, provide useful analytics, and fully deploy Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) for all areas including temperature and energy management, predictive maintenance, and knowing what I want next, even before I know it.
Today there are a number of platforms and apps in the building owner and tenant experience space. Each does a little of this and a little of that, but all seem to focus in one or two particular areas such as building management, safety, comfort, space management, location services, communications, building amenities and availability.
In the short-term, while we are required to stay at home, building owners will need to manage their investments remotely while operating with skeleton crews. Core building equipment must remain operational and in good working order. Building management, facilities controls, and Building Automation Systems (BAS) will need to be managed remotely. Monitoring systems need to be accessible through mobile apps, with alerts and warnings that can be responded to quickly. To help offset costs, enabling remote adjustments to Building Energy Management systems (e.g. temperature, lighting) will also be a necessity.
Now more than ever, building owners require immediate solutions to monitor and manage their buildings remotely and to only dispatch engineers for critical issues.