Simon Ward, UK sales director at Distech Controls SAS, examines the importance of occupancy comfort and the role building control manufacturers can play in improving it.

According to Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, on average, a full-time employee in the EU works 40.3 hours per week in a usual working week. Men have a longer working week than women, working on average 41.0 hours compared with 39.3 hours for women.

However, in the UK we have longer working hours than any other country in the EU.

The research has found that Britons spend an average of 42 hours and 18 minutes a week at work, compared to 40 hours and 24 minutes in Germany, and just 39 hours in France.

We are spending a vast majority of our time at work, in an office space or a similar building, so we need to make it comfortable for all occupants. For the last few years, we have been concentrating on making buildings green and focussing on energy efficiency, but the health and wellbeing of occupants is now coming into focus.

Building controls can play an important role in improving environmental conditions of employees as well as providing the much needed energy savings building owners and developers require. They can truly offer the best of both worlds.

The Indoor Environment

Concern about the quality of the indoor environment is not something new. I’m sure many people have heard about Sick Building Syndrome and its effects on the occupants of buildings and we have been utilising CO2 sensors in schools for many years now to ensure adequate ventilation to avoid drowsiness. What is new is the philosophy of wellbeing in the workplace. This has been driven by a realisation by the senior management of office-based businesses that improvements in the quality of the workplaces can make a significant difference to their employees’ productivity, and crucially, their ability to attract and retain the best talent, which has a direct impact on the businesses profitability. As an organisation’s workforce is their most important asset, any improvement in productivity and employee retention can have just as big an effect on the bottom line as energy savings or improvements in maintenance efficiency.

Who has control?

Part of improving the wellbeing and comfort of occupants is placing control in their hands. Giving them the opportunity to change the temperature, air conditioning or even lighting within a space to suit their own requirements and maintain a comfortable working environment. In this new world of connectivity and the IoT, building occupants also understand they can have more control over their comfort and wellbeing. Studies have demonstrated an increase in employee productivity of an additional 9%, when occupants were provided with control over their environmental settings

The provision of a high quality (easy to use) user interface that enables occupants to understand what the current conditions are and how to adjust them is important, whether it be wall-mounted or via an app on their smartphone. For example, Distech Controls has just launched the new Allure UNITOUCH, which is an easy to operate device that can be accessed and operated using its high resolution 3.5” capacitive touch screen or wirelessly from a smartphone over Bluetooth®. Occupants can view and adjust environmental settings to their requirements, this includes fine-tuning the temperature and fan speed settings as well as controlling the light levels and adjusting the sunblinds. Everything can be done via this one user interface making it extremely simple for occupants navigate. The type of device is more than a room controller, it is a revolutionary way of interacting with a space that gives an employee in their office, a guest in a hotel or a teacher in the classroom a market-leading user experience.

This type of innovative user interface can also have a wider influence on the operation of a building. They can also monitor and analyse occupancy data, allowing the settings to be changed and updated whenever someone is in the space.

Building developers and occupiers are now also using app-based software for the control and monitoring of buildings. This provides all employees with direct access to a wide range of services in and around the building at the touch of a button. Our Distech Controls Allure UNITOUCH interface will work in conjunction with new Personify App to provide users with that high level of control.

Energy still plays a role

Although occupancy comfort and wellbeing are becoming increasingly important issues, energy efficiency still remains high on the agenda for building owners. However, these two elements can be interlinked.

With the Distech Controls Allure UNITOUCH, users will see an innovative ECO-Vue Leaf Pattern on the interface, which graphically indicates energy consumption in real time to promote an occupant’s energy-conscious behaviour. Occupants are encouraged to have greener habits with the ECO-Vue Leaf Pattern while reducing energy costs. As more leaves appear, greater energy efficiency is being achieved, while fewer leaves will encourage the occupant to take corrective action to optimize the system’s environmental performance.

Designing spaces that improve the health and well-being of occupants is now just as important as creating energy efficient buildings. The BMS has always been an important element of when it comes to operational and environmental conditions within the building but it also has the ability to help occupants and improve their well-being.