Jordan Appleson, CEO of Hark looks at managing a sustainable return to the office

It’s April 2020, apart from the key workers, the country is working from home – or not working at all. Energy use is down in the mornings by around a fifth, as no daily commute means longer in bed. But by midday it is up 30% as many of us log into virtual meetings and spend the afternoon glued to our computers.

Just over a year on, and things are slowly starting to shift as the vaccine rollout continues. Now though, there’s a new debate; what will the working day look like when Freedom Day does eventually arrive?

Research from McKinsey and Co suggested that more than half of UK workers feel they have a better work-life balance when homeworking. Another survey carried out by the BBC of the UK’s 50 largest companies also revealed that only seven of them planned on getting colleagues back to the office full-time. The rest predicted a hybrid model, where employees will be less likely to visit the office to do work at a desk, but to collaborate and work together instead.

What this inevitably means for many businesses is that they’re having to rethink how they use their space to make it a place people want to come to on a regular basis. Reducing desk numbers, creating more meeting areas, spaces to co-work and also to relax, are all ideas on the table. But as well as thinking about how people will use the space, there’s also a huge opportunity for organisations to consider how to power it too – especially if lower occupancy is going to become the norm.

Greener thinking

The pandemic has led lots of us to think about our personal impact on the climate and how we can mitigate it. Research by Mastercard in April 2021 showed that 76% of British adults were willing to take personal action to combat environmental and sustainability issues.

At home, we’re also becoming more open to making decisions driven by data, with the UK-wide roll-out of smart meters allowing many households to better manage personal energy usage because they can see in pounds and pence the difference small changes can make. Smart meters also pass information back to the grid enabling the creation of a more efficient and reliable energy supply network where peaks in usage can be predicted and managed. It makes sense to embrace the latest innovations in energy management in the workplace too.

Doing so may bring a double-benefit for businesses as they can potentially make huge cost-savings by managing their usage more effectively, while also demonstrating their commitment to sustainability to customers.

IoT enables maximum efficiency

The digital monitoring of energy consumption gives organisations the opportunity to understand their peak load – the periods where their demand is at its highest – and then find ways to reduce it, through intelligent technology and accurate predictions.

By using IoT and connecting assets to the cloud, it’s also possible for companies to automate everything from lighting to temperature control, to slash energy waste and cut usage costs.

This remote control of assets and buildings can take many different forms. For example, IoT could monitor the current occupancy level within a building and adjust the air conditioning or heating, accordingly, meaning levels or rooms are not being unnecessarily heated or cooled.

Rethinking power

Up until now, both commercial and residential buildings have been almost wholly reliant on the grid for their power, However, advancements in battery storage units now mean it’s possible to create microgrids which give control over energy needs at a local level. They can be charged with renewable energy solutions like solar too, or from the grid when power is at its cheapest and used in emergency situations to provide emergency backup power.

Microgrids open the door to the demand side response (DSR) method. Sometimes the grid has more demand than it is capable of meeting and requires energy from alternative sources – meaning battery owners can sell energy back to the grid.

Smart building deployment

The Bright Building, Manchester is a perfect example of how microgrids and IoT can provide greater energy monitoring and efficiency. They are working as a ‘living lab’ technology testbed using a Tesla Powerpack battery to power the building. To monitor their overall energy draw and to automatically go off-grid, Bruntwood integrated IoT technology across their office building. The battery is an essential asset for the building to provide protection against power outages and DSR functionality but also to automatically control energy usage based on need. IoT enables them to monitor the battery’s stability and automatically charge and discharge the asset to deliver a continuously efficient energy supply.

For companies with premises – especially those with a large physical footprint – their contribution to the nation’s power supply has the potential to be a game changer for us all.