Before the COVID-19 pandemic, facilities managers were taking a careful and measured approach to IoT adoption. Their reasoning seemed to be that the technology hadn’t matured enough to warrant serious attention. And where IoT technology made its way into commercial buildings, it did so only as a part of vendor-specific building management systems. But now, as it’s become clear that a return to the pre-pandemic status quo in the commercial real estate industry isn’t in the cards, things are starting to change. Businesses and facilities managers are looking to IoT technology for workspace management, hoping to reinvigorate now-dormant workspaces and save them on operating costs at the same time.
This new attitude led to a 24 percent growth in IoT spending in 2021, with even more growth expected this year. The technology is being used to build customized solutions that enable them to adapt their spaces for new types of occupancy. In many cases, IoT devices and software are making it possible for building owners to remain profitable by turning office space into flexible and mixed-use facilities. Let’s look at three ways IoT is making that happen.
#1: Scheduling Using Real-Time Data
In the past, office space provisioning was simple. A company decided what its needs were and then signed a lease committing to that space for a fixed length of time. For building owners, that created financial stability and made it easy for them to plan for capital upgrades and building maintenance needs.
But today, a high vacancy rate means that building owners have to take in commercial tenants on whatever terms they’ll accept. And in many cases, what businesses want is more of an on-demand usage arrangement. According to global real estate service provider CBRE, demand for so-called flex-space accommodations is at an all-time high, with 70 percent of enterprises listing it as their most desired amenity.
For facilities managers, IoT sensors are the key to turning existing office space inventory into flexible-use spaces. Cisco’s Smart Workspaces are able to maintain real-time usage maps and feed that data into booking systems. This enables effective multi-tenant use of offices that previously served single business occupants. It also makes it possible for building owners to offer up their spaces on a first-come, first-served self-service basis. This way, there is no need for dedicated on-site staff to manage the comings and goings of the various businesses authorized to use the space. In this arrangement, booking is delegated to the tenants themselves — either by their managers or by individual employees.
#2: Managing Building Services On
Another issue that office space providers face as they convert their buildings for more flexible occupancy is how to provision things like janitorial services and building maintenance. Without the knowledge of what actual space usage might look like from one day to the next, keeping building services staff on-call at all times is expensive.
The solution for better workspace management is to rely on networks of IoT sensors to alert maintenance staff when and where there’s work needed. Moisture sensors in bathroom facilities and trash receptacle sensors can alert staff when service is needed. And, at the same time, enhanced sensor networks can help autonomous vacuums and other automated cleaning equipment handle routine cleaning tasks with greater precision.
But that’s not all that IoT technology is now doing for commercial building owners. It’s also helping them keep better track of consumables like bathroom and cleaning supplies. Data can then be used to feed predictive analytics systems that can automate reordering items only when needed. This alone can save building managers significant money, allowing them to shift to a just-in-time supply model rather than having to keep inventory they might not need on hand.
#3: Providing Enhanced Office Health and Safety
What is perhaps most interesting about the ways that IoT technology is helping to convert traditional office spaces is that it’s also helping equip those spaces for the next public health crisis. The upgrades are coming in the form of enhanced air quality sensors, HVAC filtration systems, and sensors to help track things like social distancing.
The new capabilities are helping building owners create defenses against future health crises, which will hopefully allow them to keep offices open and occupied. For example, early in the pandemic, researchers established a link between indoor CO2 levels and airborne virus transmission. By informing ventilation systems with real-time CO2 concentration data, it becomes possible to manage virus transmissibility within a given space.
This functionality is also making those offices more pleasant places to work. Using environmental sensors, facilities managers can track changes in air quality as a function of occupancy and configure HVAC systems to increase airflow when needed. This helps to create a workspace environment that is comfortable, productive, and won’t cause adverse health effects for occupants.
The Future of Offices
The changes provided by IoT for workspace management are part of a growing shift away from the pre-pandemic status quo. Fortunately for building owners and facilities managers, this shift is happening right at a time when IoT technology can furnish them with the exact solutions they need to navigate it. By converting single-occupant office spaces into smart and flexible multi-tenant facilities, building owners and managers are satisfying growing market demand and boosting their own bottom lines. IoT technology is also making those spaces cheaper to operate and more pleasant for their occupants. It’s a rare win-win that’s happening at a time — and in a sector — where there hasn’t been much good news to report for some time.