Jamie Cameron, director of Digital Solutions at Johnson Controls says that utilising smart technology can enhance workforce wellbeing.

As the pandemic forced workforces nationwide to switch from the office to home, the importance of working somewhere that really cares for employee wellbeing came into the spotlight. At home, we have the privilege of adjusting the environment around us to exactly the way we like it. Turning the heating up if it’s too cold, opening a window if it feels too stuffy, it’s our choice. Consequently, a third of UK business leaders agree remote work increased employee productivity over the past year.

But as lockdowns are hopefully behind us and the era of hybrid working gets fully underway, employees are starting to return to offices part-time. Employers must now ensure that this new level of productivity is preserved, all while remembering to focus on employee welfare. Simultaneously, the younger generation are more focused on fighting climate change than ever before and therefore don’t want to add fuel to the fire by having a high carbon footprint. The figures support this, as almost two-thirds of UK office workers say they are more likely to work for a company with strong environmental strategies than one without.

In order to create an efficient, productive workforce, employees need healthier, happier employees. This begs the question, how can we adapt our buildings to both support our employee’s wellbeing, and also meet key sustainability targets? It all begins with smart technology.

Health is top of mind

As a first step, business leaders need to ensure the continued safety of the people in their buildings post-pandemic. Though the vaccines have softened the virus’s risks, we mustn’t add to the concerns of workers still worried about their own health, or the health of a friend or family member.

Instead, installing smart technologies such as skin temperature screening, touchless environments and UV-C lighting can help to further mitigate the spread of the virus and other infections. With robust, recognisable health & safety measures in place, people can enjoy the freedom to come to work and give their all—without worrying about repercussions. This, in turn, can help businesses with overall output as staff sick days can be lowered.

The pandemic’s renewed focus on workplace welfare also coincides with a rush of new research into its impact on productivity. Take air, for instance. A recent study shows that concentration and cognitive abilities of office workers is significantly affected when air quality improves or subsides. Participants had slower response times and reduced accuracy on a series of cognitive tests when exposed to increased concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and lower ventilation rates. To maximise productivity, managers can look to smart mixed-air HVAC systems and portable HEPA filters to increase outdoor air circulation and reduce airborne contaminants.

Home comforts in an office setting

Previously, workers were forced to adapt themselves to their workplace, rather than adapt their workplace to them. But with the advent of smart technologies, this no longer has to be the case.

Smartphone apps that connect to a smart building’s digital infrastructure now give occupants the power to perform everyday activities to their taste. This includes everything from adjusting heating and lighting, to booking private conference rooms, to moving through the building without touchpads or badges. Equally, managers equipped with the correct data and technologies can better understand the layouts within their workplaces. Then, they can study the air change rate for instance, and decide who sits where based on where will be healthiest for them.

Sooner, rather than later

Unsurprisingly, new research illustrates that improving occupants’ health, safety and comfort takes precedence for building decision-makers. However, energy efficiency and sustainability targets are set to take over, in five- and ten-years’ time respectively. Without making changes now, these targets could unfortunately prove to be near impossible to meet, particularly with the UK’s forthcoming net-zero target of 2050. As millennials and Gen Z workers express stronger environmental concerns than ever before, businesses must start to transform their efficiency imminently.

Generally, energy efficient and wellbeing actions coincide together. With increased use of natural lighting electricity consumption can be lowered which can also help employees produce Vitamin D, improve circadian rhythms, and enjoy a well-deserved mood lift. Additionally, smart management systems can monitor and optimise building energy use, scanning the facility to spot ways to save energy, improve indoor air quality (IAQ), and maintain occupant comfort. Through the use of AI and machine learning, smart buildings can predict lighting demand to prevent energy waste, gather data from weather forecasts to optimise chilled and hot water, and even monitor fluctuating utility prices to reduce excess spending.

As ‘The Great Resignation’ continues to impact sectors nationwide, employee welfare is the most pressing issue for businesses looking to retain staff. It’s clear that businesses that invest in smart technology have a strong chance of boosting employee happiness, keeping their workforce and attracting new prospects.