Biophilic offices enhance workplace experience and enforce sustainability management

‘Building’ healthy buildings? It is possible with the Internet of Things

Temperature, occupancy, light or sound intensity, pressure or the level of CO2; name a factor that influences the health of the workplace, and by now we are somehow able to measure it with sensors and/or wearables. But measuring is one thing, learning from the data and acting upon it to create a better working environment is something else. Creating the healthy workplace is one of the highest priorities on the agenda of many facility and real estate managers and the Internet of Things (IoT) can help to turn a smart building into a healthy building. But how?

Creating a healthy workplace

In my first blog in this series about the IoT, I described the value of smart buildings which can be derived from sensor data that is generated throughout the building. IoT technology plays an important part in improving employee engagement and attracting and retaining talent, as I wrote in my second blog. In this third blog, I want to move a step beyond employee engagement: how can and should real estate and facility managers contribute to both organisational and personal objectives by creating a healthy workplace?

Better choices regarding workplaces or behaviour

Employees spend a significant part of their time in their office or working environment and thus it is extremely important that the workplace is as healthy as possible. Simply providing a physical work space or a desk is no longer sufficient; organisations have to consciously and even unconsciously support employees. As several projects have shown, the biggest advantage of creating a healthy workplace is that it immediately results in increased employee engagement.

An example of a project that has taken steps towards this is the living lab 'Healthy Workplace'. This project, which my colleague Geert-Jan Blom has previously blogged about, aims to investigate how, for example, the design and physical layout of a building can stimulate the health and vitality of employees. The first results of this living lab look interesting: for example, employees seem to have a strong need for relaxation during the working day. The combination of collecting, analysing and learning from data derived from sensors enables organisations and employees to make better choices regarding their workplaces or behaviour. Based on insight into for example the temperature in certain spaces of a building, an employee can decide him or herself where to work.

Affecting behaviour and performance

How can this be done? It is becoming increasingly understood which factors play a role in this healthy environment. Other research suggests that improving indoor air quality can lead to work performance and productivity gains in the range of 6 to 9 %. Additional research shows that temperature – a very important component of air quality – is a highly influential factor in carrying out certain tasks: warm environments contribute to a creative brain and colder environments are better for monotonous and repetitive work. Even holding a cup of warm coffee can affect social behaviour. Besides temperature, there are many more things that determine how someone feels and behaves in the working environment.

Research also makes it increasingly clear what the role of CO2 is in the productivity of employees. People who spend their working day in well-ventilated office environments – in which CO2 levels are significantly lower – perform significantly better on cognitive tasks than those working in offices with normal levels of CO2. The better the air, the better people perform, is the conclusion of this Harvard T.H. Chan research. With this knowledge and the ability to measure CO2 levels, it is also possible to actively reduce and improve those CO2 levels through better ventilation or an optimised occupancy rate on the work floor.

Transforming from smart to healthy buildings

Think about the opportunities when these processes can be automated: the building ‘itself’ can measure temperature, CO2-levels and other relevant data related to a healthy workplace. The building ‘itself’ can and will learn, adapt the quality of air automatically and accordingly, and will advise employees on how to use the workplace as healthily as possible. The introduction of the IoT is an important step along the path to the healthy workplace. It will enable organisations, their buildings and employees to combine measured data and values ​​with external data sources, such as outside temperature and traffic information, and the underlying IoT system can automatically learn from, and act on those data combinations.

For every facility or real estate manager it is crucial to investigate which factors in their organisation can improve the employees’ health and their ability to influence these factors. They should focus on the development of use cases and business cases with regards to the healthy workplace, to create real value from their IoT solutions and contribute to the environment of the employee and the organisation. This truly helps in transforming smart buildings into healthy buildings. Besides, it gives real estate and facility managers the opportunity to show their added value.

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