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3 Ways Smart Buildings Can Boost Productivity

Smart buildings show a lot of promise on a number of fronts – energy-efficiency, sustainability, affordability, wellness, productivity, that general cool factor businesses often crave. To make the value proposition of smart buildings clear, it’s helpful to investigate the potential returns on investment that well-designed smart buildings have.

One of the clearest benefits for smart buildings is the improvements they can offer to worker productivity. Through a variety of programs,smart building operators can make changes that should produce marked improvements to employee output.

A Bright Outlook

The average Americans spend upwards of 90 percent of their lives indoors, according to the EPA, and lighting has become incredibly important as that percentage climbed over time.

In the workplace, well-designed smart lighting programs can be used to improve productivity by interacting with circadian rhythms, natural cycles that determine when a person wakes up and falls asleep, like a built-in alarm clock for the human brain.

The smartest smart lighting programs incorporate an optimized mix of natural and artificial lighting. Why unnecessarily waste energy with the sun brewing up plenty of light every single day? That, and exposure to sunlight has been linked to a 15% increase in focus on work-related tasks.

When it’s necessary to rely on artificial lighting, blue light has been linked to a decrease in feelings of sleepiness and increased cognitive function. During the late hours, it’s recommended to utilize warmer colors as a means of reducing stress and relaxing employees, who are likely staying late to hit an approaching deadline.

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To top it off, 68 percent of office workers complain about their office’s lighting arrangement, so investing in smarter lighting would probably raise office morale and, in turn, raise productivity.

Deep Breaths

Nearly 90% of firms invest in employee wellness programs, making clear that there is a wide consensus on the value of healthy workers. One of the best ways to scalably boost employee wellness is through improving the air quality, a viable feat for smart buildings.

A Harvard-Syracuse study found that improved ventilation and reduced levels of carbon dioxide and emissions from office products enhanced employees’ performance on cognitive tasks by up to 61% when compared to typical office conditions.

A follow-up study, also conducted by Harvard and Syracuse researchers, found that workers in green-certified buildings performed 26% better on cognitive tasks, had higher sleep quality, and 30% fewer headaches and instances of respiratory illness.

When employees show up to work sick, it has steep cost, especially in the aggregate. A study from 2003 pegged the cost of working while ill at around $150 billion lost from the US economy. That figure can only have grown over the last 15 years, so it’s quite apparent that employee wellness needs to be a priority. Additional research shows that spending just $40 per employee on improving can yield up to $6,500 in increased employee productivity.

Smart buildings are typically equipped with an array of sensors, including for measuring air composition and quality. Deploying these sensors can greatly inform on trends and perhaps even lend to predicting outbreaks of illness among employees.

Using well-placed plants and HVAC, oxygen levels can be raised to levels actionable for employee well-being.

Another important factor to consider when managing for air quality is flooring. Many buildings in the US are carpeted and poor carpeting can serve as a reservoir for mold, pollen, dust, and many more heinous substances that wreck respiratory health. Over time, such carpeting wears away and sheds particles into the air, reducing air quality and hurting everyone’s health.

It’s vital that office managers identify healthier flooring options, whether it’s a hard surface or low-emission carpeting.

Lifting Expectations

Most office buildings in the world have elevators and most people need to take these elevators to get to their offices in a reasonable time and to avoid sweating through their blazers and blouses. Much like transit, these metal carriages are a part of the circulatory system of the modern economy.

As exciting as the invention has been over the past century, it could do with some further refinement.

Think about the last time you had to wait for an elevator. Or worse, the last time you were stuck in one. A well-known IBM survey of office workers from 2010 found that New Yorkers spent a cumulative 16.6 years waiting for elevators over a 12-month period. Almost as bad, they spent a cumulative 5.9 years stuck in them.

Imagine the economic impact of perfectly functioning elevators (a pipe dream, yes). This deadweight loss could be completely avoided with some worthy building upgrades.

Thankfully, smarter elevators have been in development for a while, using a variety of sensors to call elevators and optimize their delivery times. Using computer vision, RFID, and pressure sensors in the floor, information on passenger behaviors related to calling an elevator is fed into the elevator scheduling system. From there, the scheduler creates reservation calls for passengers and controls the moving direction and time of the carriages.

Researchers in South Korea ran many simulations with this system and varied traffic patterns, demonstrating marked improvements over conventional elevator systems in terms of average and maximum waiting times and energy consumption.

It can only be hoped that these techniques are being or will be soon adopted on a widespread basis. Waiting on elevators is both costly and irksome.

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Looking at these three very manageable variables, it’s evident that smart building programs can significantly boost employee productivity, turning expensive office space into more of an ally, less so a cost center.

Jonathan Goodwin