How Intelligent Buildings Can Enhance Human Productivity

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Wednesday, September 14th, 2016
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In addition to increasing energy efficiency by permitting the unified management of the myriad sub-systems housed by a given facility, intelligent building technologies can also raise the productivity of their human occupants and thus benefit the bottom line of businesses.

Much of the attention directed towards intelligent building technologies has tended to focus on the benefits that they can bring to the energy efficiency and environmental impact of built assets.

Intelligent buildings can cut energy consumption and achieve more efficient resource usage by integrating multiple sub-systems into a single management platform, permitting the enhanced coordination and operation of a given facility as a whole.

Not only does this reduce the impact of a built asset upon the broader environment by shrinking its carbon footprint, it also translates into economic benefits for owners or occupants in the form of reduced utilities bills for power and water consumption.

Intelligent buildings are also capable of generating significant economic benefits in another key area, however, which up until now has remained largely overlooked. This is the improvement to the productivity of a building’s human occupants that can be achieved via flexible workplace strategies and optimization of conditions for their physical wellness.

James Bennett, Managing Director, Built Environment, Aurecon, points out that engineers tend to focus upon the technology involved in the physical performance of a built asset itself as the primary means for obtaining efficiency or economic benefits.

When we look at buildings as productive assets across their full lifecycle, however, Bennett notes that it’s actually the human workers they house that are the primary cost factor for businesses.

According to a survey by the British Council of Offices, the salary of all the people who occupy an office complex accounts for around 85 per cent of their cost, with construction and the maintenance and operation of the building accounting for the rest.

“When it comes to intelligent buildings many engineers are willing to go off and build a very complex, highly technical built environment,” said Bennett. “In reality smart design can offer the most value when it responds to the needs of the people working in the building, creating the best environment possible in order to make them more productive.”

One of the primary means by which smart buildings can raise human productivity is by optimizing the comfort and wellbeing of occupants, via apt and timely adjustments to a variety of indoor environmental factors.

“A focus area in relation to productivity is wellness,” said Bennett. “This is affected by factors including indoor air quality, temperature levels, lighting and the amount of daylight.”

Research from the World Green Building Council indicates that optimization of any one of these factors in an office environment can have a potentially dramatic impact on the productivity of workers.

WGBC’s The Business Case of Green Building indicates that personalised control of room temperature can raise worker productivity by as much as 3 per cent.

This is a key comfort factor that businesses have long overlooked, with research from Cornell University indicating that offices tend to keep indoor temperature levels at least several degrees beneath the ideal range for human cognitive function.

Optimization of air quality, via measures such as ventilation or CO2 reduction, can bring about an 11 per cent improvement to productivity, while enhanced lighting and daylighting can achieve a mammoth gain of 23 per cent.

Other up-and-coming influencers on productive “intelligent” buildings cited by Bennett include smart centres integrating all systems and services, new materials that could offer increased flexibility in use of space and enhanced ambience, robotics and technology to enable improved flexible working conditions and virtual team environments, and Smart Grid energy systems providing energy at the right time right place

Jason Scukovic, Requirements Engineer, Building Technologies Division, Siemens, notes that while the WGBC research involved comparisons between worst case and best case scenarios, businesses can still expect to reap improvements to business productivity of between 3 and 5 per cent via improvements to environmental conditions.

For Scukovic emphasising the ability of smart building technology to enhance physical wellbeing means refocus upon the original purpose behind the creation of built assets.

“It’s about going back to that fundamental reason behind why we build buildings in the first place – for shelter and comfort,” he said.

While intelligent buildings can bring demonstrable gains to the productivity of human occupants, convincing organisations of the business case is always difficult in the absence of quantifiable measures or benchmarks.

For this reason Bennett points to the new WELL building certificate, issued by the International WELL Building Institute, as potentially spurring businesses to look to smart building technologies for the comfort and productivity gains they can bring.

“Australian businesses aren’t sufficiently aware of the productivity benefits of intelligent buildings, or think it’s too hard and not a priority,” said Bennett.

“It can be hard to measure productivity, but one of the ways that this can be achieved is by measuring the sickness rates of organisations.

“That’s why the WELL building certificate could really drive improvements to the health and wellbeing of offices occupants once it starts to gain momentum.”

 

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