There’s a growing awareness that the majority of an organisation’s spending goes toward its employees. The famous 3:30:300 rule states that companies spend on average $3 on utilities, $30 on rent, and $300 on employees per square foot per year. This means that reducing energy consumption by 50% overall—an ambitious goal, but one that can be reached with new highly energy-efficient technologies, such as LED lighting with software-based controls—has a much smaller overall impact than improving employee efficiency, productivity, and well-being.

Energy efficiency seems like it would be much more straightforward to measure and quantify than employee efficiency and well-being, but there’s a growing body of evidence to support tangible positive outcomes for businesses that focus on people, not just on watts and square feet.

WELL v2, a revised version of the original WELL Building Standard, appeared in 2018, with categories for ensuring air quality, water quality, nourishment, light, movement, thermal comfort, and sound, along with expanded categories for mind (cognition, emotional well-being) and community (social equity, civic engagement). Each category defines thresholds with measurable targets for particulate matter in the air, contaminants in the water, lighting design for visual acuity and circadian health, noise levels—even access to nature, sleep support, and stress management. Similarly, the Fitwel v2.1 standard defines strategies and guidelines for measuring physical activity, feelings of well-being, occupant safety, and social equity in workplaces.
These two standards alone—and there are many others—have improved employee well-being in a total of over 500 million square feet of office space. Each has amassed several years of data, verifying the effectiveness of the required measures and allowing for refinements and additions based on extensive real-world experience.

Making workplace well-being measurable and actionable

Emotional well-being, social equity, effective cognition—such concerns, while obviously important, seem a far cry from technical considerations such as Ethernet switches, IP backbones, and electrical and network cabling, but the connections are strong and obvious once you think it through.

To demonstrably improve the well-being of workplace employees, an organisation needs some way of instantiating workplace improvements and measuring their effect. Employee self-assessments and intermittent manual measurements are helpful, but they only go so far. To make well-being quantifiable—and often to demonstrate compliance with standards such as WELL and Fitwel—businesses need a way to collect a sufficient amount of data over a sufficient length of time. Only then is it possible to gain an appropriate level of insight into the operational environment and to draw meaningful conclusions about what may be functioning properly and what may need amendment.

Insights and measurements are crucial, but they are not enough: when deficiencies in the working environment are detected, an organisation must be able to respond. This may mean wholesale changes in workplace design, layout, or furnishings, which are best addressed via long-term renovation and improvement projects. But there are entire categories of cases in which improvements could be made immediately and effectively, if office systems are sufficiently intelligent, flexible, and responsive.

Collecting data on key aspects of the workplace and then rapidly—or even automatically—making changes to improve efficiency, comfort, and well-being is what solutions like Interact Office, from Signify, are all about. Interact Office, a suite of IoT software applications and systems, works together with connected LED luminaires, sensors, and other IoT devices to add a layer of intelligence and responsiveness to the working environment.

Creating an intelligent environment with connected lighting

Lighting is installed everywhere that people go in a workplace, so lighting systems offer a convenient (and already powered) infrastructure for distributing smart solutions across workspaces and office buildings.

Connected LED luminaires feature two-way data communications—often IP-based, like miniature computers—for collecting and sharing data about themselves and the illuminated environment. Sensors embedded in the lighting system can continuously gather rich data on important parameters like temperature, humidity, air quality, occupancy levels, and activity patterns.

An IoT platform on the back end ingests and stores collected data, which can then be processed and analysed for insight and action. By integrating connected lighting operations with other connected systems, such as HVAC, scheduling, and security, an organisation can create a highly intelligent working environment that senses and rapidly responds to employee needs.

The role of network convergence in creating intelligent workplaces

The enabling infrastructure behind an intelligent work environment is a well-designed converged network. In the past, disparate platforms in the building supported different building systems such as the lighting, HVAC, security, fire and safety, voice, data and video applications. With a converged network these low-voltage building systems and their devices can now be run over a single unified infrastructure which supports common communications protocols such as Internet Protocol (IP) to enable communication and information sharing between connected systems and devices.

This level of integration via converged networks creates intelligent workplaces that can adjust to the needs of the user and contribute to a better user experience and well-being.
Examples of intelligent workplace applications include:

  • Optimising space utilisation based on workplace occupancy patterns
  • Offering indoor location services to help employees quickly find free desks or meeting rooms
  • Giving employees the ability to personalise the lighting and temperature at their desks via a mobile app
  • Automatically circulating the air in a conference room when CO2 levels exceed a defined threshold
  • Calibrating office cleaning schedules based on usage of floors or meeting rooms

Selecting the right network foundations

At the heart of a converged intelligent building infrastructure lies structured cabling and selecting the right cabling system will be instrumental in achieving the best outcome for the smart building. Organisations looking to implement a converged infrastructure are encouraged to consider the following tips on cabling media selection and design strategy:

  • Twisted-pair copper cabling infrastructures are best suited for connecting and enabling communication to and from all types of low-voltage building systems and devices including LED luminaires with integrated sensors and should be selected with the evolving technology landscape in mind. Category 6A copper cabling delivers the 10Gb/s performance required to support the latest Wi-Fi 6 access points
  • Shielded (rather than unshielded) cabling facilitates best support of remote power delivery to connected systems and devices. Since power delivery leads to damaging temperature rise within bundles of cables, shielded solutions including shielded Cat6A and Category 7A copper ensure thermal stability for improved network performance
  • Since converged networks allow for the integration of a wide range of building systems and devices with sensors, the infrastructure is best supported by a zone cabling topology that uses either the 12 or 96 port zone enclosure to facilitate device connections. The enclosures allow for rapid initial deployment and the integration of new devices into the existing structured cabling system with minimal disruption to the occupants

The benefits of working with expert teams

When organisations embark on an intelligent building project, they will benefit from engaging with technology teams that work collaboratively to address the client’s requirements. Providers of complementary products and services in the smart buildings sector, such as Signify and Siemon, can share their expert knowledge and resources from the design stage all the way through to project completion. In this way, they ensure that systems align with the client’s overall needs and deliver added value to the project.