Traditionally, the most important role of workplace managers is to help organizations optimize their resources. Now, resilience, sustainability, and employee safety are at the very top of corporate agendas.
As the dynamics of the office change, workplace managers are challenged to also provide a rich set of secure and resilient services to office users. These services include optimizing office maintenance and ensuring the best possible comfort for employees.
Redefining Workplace Management
One of the main goals of workplace managers is to optimize business efficiency and improve their customers’ bottom lines. They schedule building and asset maintenance proactively and optimize space use by balancing the supply and demand for certain rooms.
An equally important goal is to offer the best possible conditions for tenants. These conditions provide comfort and increase the overall health & well-being of residents and workers. This aspect is sometimes overlooked, as business managers prioritize financial benefits and focus on services with the most tangible and immediate returns.
This is, however, not a good practice: offering a safe, healthy, and comfortable environment for employees is key to increasing their productivity and satisfaction. In the long term, a focus on employee health and well-being achieves business targets and improves the company’s competitiveness.
Elements of Comfort in the Workplace
Many buildings feature impressive eco-friendly designs and spectacular architecture. These features are important elements of any living or working experience, making these buildings appealing to residents and businesses.
Nevertheless, they are not sufficient to guarantee the comfort, safety, efficiency, and practicality usually demanded by business users. Comfort often hinges on little-managed factors, like satisfactory temperatures, proper air quality, visual comfort, noise reduction and control, and the ergonomics of the workspace.
1. Cooling & Air Conditioning
Proper cooling is an important element of comfort and safety in modern buildings. A cooling system prevents overheating from electronic devices (e.g., computers, printers, network equipment). Overheating is a setback to achieving comfortable conditions and must be avoided.
This setback can be mitigated by optimizing and maintaining HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) systems. Maintenance is important for ensuring efficient HVAC operations and for avoiding unplanned shutdowns.
2. Controlling Air Stratification
Air stratification is an air movement and layering effect which creates temperature differences between rooms or floors of a building, despite air conditioning running at the same levels throughout. This can really hinder comfort in an office building.
To improve comfort conditions, workplace managers can control air stratification by dropping high-temperature air from the upper levels (i.e., close to the ceiling) and mixing it with cooler air at the lower levels.
Proper stratification depends on the climate of the building area, as warm and cool climates have different stratification requirements.
3. Ambient Light Control
The amount of light in a building impacts the efficiency and productivity of tenants and visitors. The intensity and nature of the light will depend on the building and room function.
Just like a shopping center, a stadium and a nightclub will require different lighting; the office’s open area, meeting rooms, parking spaces, restrooms, and corridors will also vary in their lighting requirements. Thus, it is up to facilities and workplace managers to control ambient lighting in the different areas of their buildings.
This control must take place in the most energy-efficient and cost-effective way. A good strategy, for example, is to exploit natural light as much as possible to save on energy costs, increase productivity, and create a visually appealing environment.
4. Noise Control
Noise levels are the main source of discomfort in modern office workspaces. Noise causes stress and distraction and makes it difficult for workers to concentrate on their tasks. In extreme cases, noise can lead to hearing damage and other health problems.
Noise control largely depends on the location of the building: most of the time, there is a need to protect the building from external irritating noises like road traffic or public works.
Therefore, workplace managers must strive to design and offer soundproof areas based on the deployment of audible resistant materials in floors and ceilings. Noise can also be controlled through carpets, rugs, and the installation of glazed windows with multiple layers.
5. Optimized Design & Fatigue Reduction
The workplace design can be a decisive factor for minimizing tenants’ and workers’ fatigue while boosting their productivity. Organizations should now consider workplace design as part of their business strategy and performance.
For example, the deployment of appropriate signage, multi-purpose floors, and proper space allocation can help reduce the distances that must be covered by employees. Office spaces optimized based on occupancy and the nature of team collaboration have shown productivity improvements.
Role of Technology in Comfort and Wellness
The use of sensors for lighting and occupancy in offices has been discussed as far back as 1995. A lot has changed since then, and now technological advances are some of the best allies of workplace managers to provide a safe and comfortable environment.
The advent of internet-connected devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) technologies enables workplace managers to monitor the office’s assets and environment remotely.
IoT technologies can help monitor physical parameters, like noise, the temperature of the various spaces, the quality of the air, the occupancy of the various rooms, and the condition of the building’s equipment.
Remote monitoring functionalities enable workplace managers to gain real-time insights on parameters that could compromise the comfort and well-being of the tenants without stepping foot in the building. Workplace managers can thus have an overview of noise levels, excessive temperatures, and abnormalities in the operation of assets and equipment.
By leveraging these insights, workplace managers can plan and execute remedial actions such as preventive maintenance of assets close to their end of life, noise control actions, and ambient lighting changes.
Empowering Analytics & Automation Possibilities
IoT technologies can be combined with software systems to automate corrective and optimization actions like regulating temperatures and extracting maintenance schedules.
Automation helps reduce the human resources needed for maintaining assets and managing the facility while at the same time increasing the ability of the workplace managers to take proactive and preventive actions.
Beyond sensors and IoT technologies, workplace managers can employ a host of other automation devices. Solutions for managing lift availability, lighting automation devices, and emergency calling systems, for example, increase the automation of the processes, enhance the facility’s efficiency, and increase the overall comfort of the tenants.
To maximize the value and efficiency of technology deployments for employee health & well-being, workplace managers must engineer effective business processes.
For example, they can create efficient maintenance schedules for their workplace and space allocation strategies that account for occupancy statistics as measured through different sensors.
Facilities managers can also consult tenants about their preferences and behavioral habits in the buildings. As part of this process, workplace managers must consider educating their tenants about the factors that lead to the best possible comfort and fine-tuning them in line with the residents’ needs.