Why creating an intelligent workplace responding to the needs of employees, is vital to create winning teams and boosting productivity
Productivity or the lack of it, is a common media staple and has been high on the business agenda since the Office for Business Responsibility revised down its growth estimates back in March. It’s an issue that affects most countries, isn’t industry specific and without a doubt will be affecting the company you work for or sell to.
There are many theories on why and how we need to improve it, to reverse the slow decline and contribute to economic success, so let’s explore the concept of ‘employee comfort’ as I think when we look back on business practices a decade from now, when smart buildings, smart homes, smarter cities are all commonplace we’ll wonder why we didn’t implement this sooner and appreciate the science behind it.
Red Bull Racing is a company that is taking employee comfort seriously. The Formula 1 team, synonymous with success and high performance is dedicated to achieving gains, both large and small, that could give them the edge during a race. In the sports arena, the difference between winning and losing is measured by fractions of a percentage. With this front of mind, the team at Red Bull Racing relentlessly pursues continuous improvement, and it is precisely this relentlessness that has led to their decision to implement intelligent buildings technology at their factory in Milton Keynes.
The Red Bull Racing facility is an impressive one and is spread across multiple buildings. Building One, the organisation’s original home, houses the main technical office, and several key manufacturing and assembly areas, as well as the operations room. The ‘operations room’ is a tiered, mission-control style room which the team’s engineers use during a race weekend to monitor what’s happening on track. Key to making the ops room work is a high-speed data link to the circuit: the engineers working in Milton Keynes receive the same information as those working at the track. This UK based team will be working in the time zone of the race – wherever that might be in the world – so their shift patterns can vary week to week.
The new partnership agreement between Red Bull Racing and Mitie, signalling the beginning of a long-term working relationship, grew out of Mitie’s existing contract to provide mechanical and electrical maintenance which began in October 2015. Red Bull Racing wanted to know more about Mitie’s intelligent buildings technology and was keen to see how it could be deployed across their facilities to optimise their team’s performance off the track.
The first leg of the journey was to establish a Comfort Policy at Red Bull Racing around five key areas, including temperature, air quality, lighting, humidity and noise. Over 270 people took part in a building user survey which then allowed Mitie to identify the key areas of focus and set the baseline.
More than 400 sensors positioned around Building 1 were installed to collect information on air quality, light levels, temperature, humidity, noise and occupancy levels – variables which can affect both physical manufacturing processes and human performance. The data is then analysed and interpreted at Mitie’s Remote Operating Centre, where experienced engineers remotely monitor and assess data received from the buildings. They can remotely make changes through the Building Management System (BMS), or provide analytical diagnostics to the onsite team to help them make adjustments for optimisation.
Using the data from the site, Mitie created a live 3D model of the working environment, providing key insight into how Red Bull Racing can implement a workplace that’s smart enough to adapt to their ever-changing business needs.
Mitie has been collecting and analysing live environmental data from the office and factory buildings since January 2016, using custom-built sensor technology, just as Red Bull Racing gathers data from sensors all over its cars during a race.
The initial three-month pilot produced tangible results, with the data demonstrating that Red Bull Racing’s premises could be optimised through a series of fundamental building adjustments. Changes such as increased office airflow, isolation of loud workshop processes, and control over temperature were shown to have benefits.
By using this technology, colleagues can obtain a newfound understanding of their workplace, and control the conditions of their working environment in a way they could not before.
Red Bull Racing’s aim is to continue to reduce energy consumption, achieve better asset management, and deliver workplace changes that can improve employee productivity.
Comfort policies – around environmental conditions – have been created for teams in different areas to ensure everyone is able to work at their peak performance and at their preferred temperature and lighting levels. The rich array of data means that numerous variables can be monitored and tailored according to conditions on a particular day. In addition to this, trends can be identified and measures put in place in order to anticipate changing conditions and colleague habits.
This new smart buildings technology has already created changes to the way the workplace is managed. Plant is now maintained based on its condition and use rather than on pre-set schedules. Reactive maintenance calls are minimised with the onsite team able to proactively identify issues. It also has the opportunity to take a needs-based approach. to cleaning schedules and security.
“Competing in races is not just about performance on the track; it’s about leveraging the whole team in preparation for each race, and making sure they have a healthy and comfortable environment in which they can produce their best work,” says Al Peasland, head of technical partnerships at Red Bull Racing. “Across all areas of our facility, building telemetry is helping us to measure and analyse our working environments and ensure that our team members have the optimum working conditions.” Races are won long before we reach the track, he says.
The idea is to take the vast amount of data from the building and turn it into meaningful and actionable information. The tool’s dashboard shows not just the average temperature throughout the Red Bull Racing facility, the average CO2 level, the average sound pressure level and other metrics but the compliance to the comfort policy for all data so that the facilities management team can ensure they are meeting the required levels and make adjustments where that’s not the case.
This partnership has demonstrated that part of the UK’s productivity riddle can be alleviated with the introduction of non-intrusive equipment. Investing in these technologies should not be a ‘nice to have’, but part of a long term investment strategy. However, the technology involved in the Mitie/Red Bull Racing relationship demonstrates that large figures need not be spent in order to yield great returns and it’s important to note that it crosses industries too. You don’t have to be in manufacturing and a leader in Formula One to benefit from the technologies on offer today.
The wide availability of wireless technology now means that a job which previously would have taken months to execute now only takes days, or less, to complete. The business potential of intelligent buildings is clear. This collaboration is just one example of how workplaces can recover lost ground in the UK’s productivity battle and engender sustainable economic growth. A marginal gain for Red Bull Racing could turn out to be a major gain for the UK economy.