Laurent Bataille, executive vice president, digital energy division of Schneider Electric looks at bringing residential technology into the commercial space.
The pandemic has permanently transformed the world of work, forcing us all to rethink our ideal working environment. While companies have felt pressure to downsize their real estate, data suggests the physical workplace is going nowhere – with three-quarters of US employees eager to return to the office.
The most likely future of work is a highly flexible hybrid model, where employees around the world can choose whether they work from home or an office on given days. While this system may require less dedicated workspace, it does demand a change in how current offices are designed and utilised.
Integrated technology undoubtedly provides the key. We are no longer strangers to smart technology – indeed, a quarter of us use a smart speaker at home. To meet the demands of tomorrow and create a healthy, sustainable and productive office, it’s time we brought connected tech into the workplace.
Integrating workplace technology
The question is, what can businesses around the world do to make the working experience as safe, efficient and productive as possible in the long term? They must take inspiration from life outside of work - when we want to set a reminder, we talk to Alexa; when we want to change the temperature, we look to our phones. Consumer technology is making our lives better and more efficient, automating repetitive tasks. What’s more, it’s constantly evolving and becoming more sophisticated.
We use these tools at home, so why not leverage them in the workplace? That isn’t to suggest that every room should simply get a smart speaker. But we must understand that smart systems – interconnected with the Internet of Things – are fundamental to improving the working experience, both for workers and employers.
While not all global workers will have access to the same hardware and technology, you can guarantee nearly everyone will own a smartphone. Imagine a downloadable building app – a virtual assistant that could be used to check if meeting rooms are free, order a drink from the ground floor cafeteria, change office temperature, call a lift or schedule to work from home. It could even ‘nudge’ them to remind them to go for a walk or check in with a colleague if they’ve been sat at their desk all day. Such an asset could transform productivity and the working experience.
It could also act as the motivating factor to getting people back to the office. Having true, live insight into air quality, office capacity and being able to control your personal environment cannot help but provide reassurance and motivation. Fast-forward and these solutions can help manage company EV fleets, energy storage solutions, and employee training – work would become a place you want to be, rather than have to.
True intelligence is built on connectivity
This is hardly future technology, so why is it not a reality? Fears around automation are declining fast as we realise these solutions are there to enhance, not replace, our work. Consequently, the share of global jobs that require AI has grown by 450% since 2013 without a corresponding drop in human employment.
The real challenge sits with connectivity. Smart technology depends on easy and plentiful access to data, but building data is notoriously siloed and difficult to access. It’s common for information on room occupancy, lighting, heating and ventilation to live in separate data environments with no connecting thread between them.
For intelligent apps to achieve their full potential, we need joined-up systems to feed them data from across the building infrastructure. Systems integrators have a vital role to play here. A central building management system (BMS) can function as the ‘brain’ of the facility – connecting all assets through open standards to create a single source of truth that can be drawn from. Virtual assistants can then connect to the BMS and leverage the data within.
In nature, a closed ecosystem will eventually fail. Without new ideas, people and innovations to refresh, a business will run out of steam and fall to disorder and entropy. The same principle applies to our buildings. Buildings must become sustainable, autonomous and software-driven, utilising AI-driven apps to revolutionise the working experience for their occupants. This will provide employees with all the insight they need to really control and improve the buildings they work in.