Simon Ward, director of Sales, UK & Ireland – Distech Controls, asks how can we guarantee health and wellbeing in the buildings of the future?

The world has been permanently changed by COVID-19 in so many fundamental ways. Life will never be the same again. One aspect that we are now more acutely aware of than ever is our own health and wellbeing. How should we interact with the environment around us, with other people and with the buildings and spaces we use and visit?

Occupants want to feel safe and secure in a building and know that the space is being closely monitored in order to protect them. As we start to look to the future and re-engage with our workplaces, we are more aware of their limitations and also, perhaps, their potential than we ever have been. The capabilities of an IoT compatible ‘smart’ building will allow building owners, facilities managers and energy managers to engage with occupants in new and valuable ways. Ways that can support COVID Secure environments and look after the health and well-being of its occupants.

For example, office layouts are changing with desks being spaced further apart and meeting rooms allocated maximum capacity. This means that the HVAC equipment in the building will need to adapt in two key ways.

  • With the changing environment, we need to ensure that the equipment is still working to fulfil the needs of occupants. The importance of indoor air quality has been making its way up the agenda for a while now, but it cannot be underestimated anymore.
  • We still need to focus on energy efficiency to guarantee that the building is operating as efficiently as possible. Saving energy and costs will also be important and these goals can be intertwined with the need to enhance occupancy comfort.

With space required to be allocated safely, occupancy tracing will become ever more important. For years, we have been installing and operating a vast number of control systems and sensors through the Building Management System (BMS). However, many people look at them as just a way to control the heating, ventilation or lighting but they can be so much more than that. The BMS remains an integral part of making commercial buildings smarter. It is the eyes and the ears of the building, creating more energy efficient spaces. Solutions such as the ECLYPSE Connected BACnet/IP and Wi-Fi HVAC Controller Series along with the ENVYSION web-based design and visualisation interface, can provide powerful connectivity as well as advanced control, monitoring and analysis for an IoT enabled building. The data this type of BMS collects could be the key to monitoring occupancy levels and keeping our buildings safe.

New control systems also offer a solution to helping buildings adapt by allowing occupants to easily interact with their space as well as having a wider influence on the operation of a building. Platforms, such as the Distech Controls ECLYPSE Sky Ecosystem which utilises Bluetooth® communication technology and includes the Allure UNITOUCH touchscreen sensor, the my PERSONIFY app and the EC-Multi-Sensor-BLE, can also monitor and analyse occupancy data and then react accordingly, such as reducing the cooling levels or turn off the lights if no one is in the space

Apps are making it even easier for building owners and operators to monitor and control their building. Newly introduced apps can be of huge benefit to occupants as well as the building’s key stakeholders such as facility managers and building owners. For instance, on a selection of apps such as the new my PERSONIFY Workplace app from Distech Controls, building owners can access predefined services to personalise the app for facility/building management and employee’s needs. Facility Managers can then utilise the ticketing system to increase the productivity of the building through space utilisation. And, finally, IT professionals can leverage the Microsoft Office 365 user login system to easily integrate into existing IT architectures and enforce cybersecurity requirements.

The features integrated into new apps provide building occupants with the ability to directly modify the heating, lighting and sunblind parameters of their workplace. They can make meeting room reservations and locate or navigate to a meeting room in real time as well as being used as a communication tool for internal notifications and updates, especially important at the moment when situations change so quickly.

Historically, when building owners and end users required an app to simplify control of their building systems for installation, management, and maintenance, they created their own personalised version. However, the new my PERSONIFY Workplace app provides a tailored building app experience without the unrealistic development or maintenance costs common in custom development.

Creating a safe and comfortable environment for occupants is now a critical requirement for all building owners. Technology has a huge role to play in helping to deliver COVID Secure spaces. The building control system is at the heart of that solution. Make sure you’re investing in the right technology for your building that can provide you with the control over vital services, the data you need and the simplicity and flexibility that can support healthier buildings for us all.