Insight 2 February 2020

Extracting real value from data generated from workspace sensors

Our buildings are becoming more and more ‘intelligent’. Thanks to Internet-of-Things (IoT) connected devices that allow us to more effectively monitor and control building operations, the amount of data that we’ll be able to get from our buildings will soon become astronomical.

From a facilities management perspective, one of the most promising new streams of data is that which relates to the workplace environment. By installing wireless environmental sensors, we are now able to continuously measure everything from the quality of the air to the noise levels in the office, visualising the real-time performance of the workplace through a simple online portal. However, without an understanding of what this information actually means in practical terms, we run the risk of drowning ourselves in data that we have no idea how to use.

So how can we use this information to support a better working environment for employees?

Inside your comfort zone

The first step is to set ‘comfort boundaries’ for key environmental parameters, based on best-practice certifications and the latest scientific research. Then, we use current and historical data to analyse the key climactic conditions which can affect the indoor environment (e.g. outdoor air temperature, outdoor air humidity or solar gain). This data is then leveraged to help clients craft bespoke strategies for optimising indoor environmental quality at their workplace. Finally, by continuously monitoring the workplace environment, we can immediately identify any breaches of the comfort policy and take remedial action.

There’s something in the air

When it comes to air quality, the WELL Building Standard recommends that indoor carbon dioxide (CO2) levels should be kept under 800 parts per million (ppm), because the risk of experiencing ‘sick building syndrome’ symptoms (e.g. drowsiness, headaches, respiratory problems) starts to increase significantly above this level. There are also productivity benefits to clean and fresh air – a study conducted at Harvard University showed that reducing CO2 from 1400ppm to 600ppm and minimising other airborne pollutants led to a 101% improvement in cognitive performance.

Hot properties

In terms of temperature, providing a thermal environment which suits everybody is slightly more difficult due to a wide variety in individual preferences. However, research evidence suggests that maintaining an office temperature between 21°C and 24°C can reduce the number of temperature complaints by 70% and also reduces the likelihood of symptoms such as concentration difficulties, fatigue, and headaches. Ensuring that this temperature is maintained throughout the workplace is an important part of an overall strategy for optimising occupant comfort.

Hearing yourself think

Similarly, although acoustic complaints do tend to increase as the sound pressure level (in decibels) increases, ensuring that the office environment isn’t rated as being ‘too noisy’ also requires a consideration of subjective factors (e.g. whether the sound is judged as useful, whether the sound is judged as appropriate for the context). Following a detailed consultation to understand the acoustic requirements of a group of employees, sensors can be installed to ensure that these standards are being met.

For example, a designated ‘quiet zone’ within the office might have different acoustic comfort criteria to a regular open-plan space, and sensors can help confirm that spaces continue to be used in the intended manner.

Illuminating data insights

Finally, sensors can also help to ensure that the light levels in the office meet the requirements of the users. Generally, it is thought that ambient light levels of 300 lux are sufficient for the majority of typical office tasks, although certain specialist tasks which require a high level of attention to detail will need increased brightness to support higher visual acuity. Again, following a detailed consultation to understand the specific requirements of the organisation, sensors can be effectively employed to ensure that the correct level of lighting is achieved throughout the workplace.

Embracing the Connected Workspace

Mitie has embraced the digital transformation of facilities management through our pioneering Connected Workspace offering. We want to help our clients to provide a workplace environment which optimally supports the wellbeing and productivity of their employees. To achieve this, we support clients by providing:

  • A detailed consultation to understand the needs of your organisation and the unique requirements of your employees.

  • Drawing upon the technology, people and processes in our Service Operations Centre and our Monitoring as a Service offering, to securely and remotely monitor your Building Management Systems and environmental sensors 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to understand the performance of your workplace in a deeper way than ever before.

  • The capability to immediately identify and respond to any breaches in the comfort policy or employee complaints, ensuring that optimal working environments can be proactively provided and adaptively maintained.
The research presented in this article has been conducted by Mitie as part of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Sheffield Hallam University.

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