Can a smart building make your people happier?

The surprising ROI for smart buildings: workplace experience

Texas Tower - Houston, Texas
Caption Texas Tower - Houston, Texas

What’s the Point?

Traditionally, the business case for smart buildings has focused on reliability and energy efficiency. Now, employers are recognizing that investing in smart buildings can more than pay off in terms of workplace experience, employee retention, and employee performance. That’s good news for corporate occupiers, property investors, and landlords alike.

Intelligent buildings make for better workplaces

Smart buildings combine building automation systems with wireless sensors and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices that gather data about building equipment performance, indoor temperature, air flow, humidity, and other aspects of the building. Through IoT connectivity, a smart building can continuously adjust itself in response to environmental conditions and occupancy levels.

Digital workplace technologies, such as room reservation systems, can complement smart building systems to not only add workplace efficiency and convenience, but also generate valuable data about office occupancy and usage. Lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, Wi-Fi, office chairs and desks, coffee machines, and even entire office spaces can become intelligent with the addition of sensors connected to the building automation system.

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These connected technologies can provide powerful benefits for the employee experience and well-being—including cognitive performance. In particular, smart building systems can be used to provide the ideal indoor climate, including Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), lighting levels, ventilation, humidity and temperature. For example, if building sensors indicate rising carbon dioxide levels, the HVAC system will automatically increase fresh air exchanges.

"Intelligent buildings, where technology and well-being unite, are the key to unlocking workplace excellence. By melding automation, IoT sensors, and data insights, these smart structures adapt seamlessly to nurture an ideal indoor climate and amplify the employee experience,” said Hines’ Chief Technology Officer, Jeannie Schneider.

The impact of improved Indoor Air Quality

The importance of maintaining high IAQ is long-established—a landmark World Green Building Council (WGBC) report found that providing optimal IAQ could improve productivity by 8 - 11%. Conversely, WGBC’s meta-analysis of numerous other studies found that poor air quality, including elevated temperatures, consistently lowered performance by up to 10%, with such detrimental effects as fatigue and impaired decision-making. One study that WGBC reviewed estimated the value of increased ventilation at $400 per employee per year.

Putting people in charge

Lighting also affects workers’ mood and productivity. While the positive impact of natural light in the office has been well documented, managing a building’s electric lighting can also improve the employee experience. Today’s energy-efficient intelligent lighting systems can self-adjust in response to the amount of natural light available. In addition, some smart lighting systems allow for individuals to control the light in their workspace or in a conference room.

Similarly, smart building systems can be configured to allow an employee to control heating and cooling of their workspace. As any facilities manager will confirm, temperature is the most common source of complaints in the office. Providing employees with even a modest level of personal control over their thermal comfort can return single-digit improvements in productivity, according to the WGBC report, by reducing the distraction of being too hot or too cold at work.

Smart buildings are not just about building performance, but about helping the people inside feel their best and achieving their best performance at work. From the employee point of view, investing in a building with a brain is an intelligent thing to do.