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Return to work: 4 steps to prepare buildings and motivate employees by Schneider Electric

Laurent Bataille

Buildings and their building management systems can directly impact how well your business runs. And how you design and operate your buildings can significantly affect well-being, productivity, profits, the customer experience, and your competitive edge. In the face of current economic, social, and environmental challenges, many new and existing buildings need to transform to increase the value that they offer their occupants and owners.

In this blog series, I’ll give you some actionable examples of how the Schneider Electric vision for ‘Buildings of the Future’ and building management systems can help you achieve the greatest performance and return on investment from your facilities, today and tomorrow.

For example, we will look at how sustainability connects to asset value and regulatory compliance for building investors and owners. Global warming is one of the biggest threats to humanity, with companies now anticipating government stimulus programs and regulations that encourage upgrading to meet net-zero targets. For building owners and tenants, there are great opportunities to surpass net-zero and become energy positive using onsite renewable energy generation and storage.

Energy resilience is also a hot topic because protecting power infrastructure continuity is critical for every kind of operation, not just hospitals and data centers. We will look at how digitization and connectivity are enabling expert service teams to remotely identify and fix risks to uptime, while using cybersecurity best practices to keep IT/OT networks fully protected. Resilience also means being able to respond to a major global event, like the pandemic, which has exposed the need for more flexibility. We will see how a digital infrastructure can help your buildings adapt or expand more easily with minimal disruption.

I will also talk about how real estate companies and users need to start rethinking how buildings are designed and used. With higher expectations for customization, comfort, and indoor health (e.g., WELL certification), and occupant and customer experience, all stakeholders need to focus more on occupants. Also, a hybrid work model may mean less office space is required, but that space needs to transition to a hub of lively creativity, where employees are attracted back to interacting and collaborating. Digital technology will enable buildings to become fluid, quickly repurposing space based on how it is used, time of year, tenant moves, etc.

But first, let’s dive deeper into how you should prepare your buildings and motivate your employees for a return to work, during and after the pandemic. I was recently invited to be part of the Forbes Technology Council and to offer my insights on this topic. The following are a few key points from the article.

Demonstrating buildings are safe for a return to work

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the concept of a healthy building has expanded beyond air quality to include the physical and emotional health and well-being of its occupants. And while the rate at which a population returns to work varies in different regions of the globe, nearly all employees are concerned about the possibility of virus exposure in the workplaces they are returning to.

As a building owner or operator, you now need to have occupancy monitoring, ventilation control, and space management in place. You should also be considering going beyond these to include measures such as controlling access to specific groups of workers and installing touch-free controls and germ-killing door handles.

Such actions will help give building occupants greater confidence to return to work in your buildings. But there is more that can be done.

Optimizing the health of your workplace through building management

Since people are one of your organization’s most valuable assets, you should be thinking about what affects their well-being, as this will impact their productivity, the number of sick days used, and employee satisfaction and retention rates. For example, environmental aspects such as CO2 concentrations, temperature, humidity, VoC or noise levels, and lighting can all affect a person’s performance.

Optimizing the indoor environment requires continuously monitoring, analyzing, and controlling conditions in all actively used rooms and areas of a building. In this way, a facility team can identify and correct systemic problems, such as a building management system not set up to compensate in anticipation of higher density in certain meeting rooms.

Empowering your people with mobile apps

A further step toward making employees feel safe and motivated – both today and tomorrow – is to give them greater access, information, and control over their environment. The power to engage with the building will make them feel more relaxed and confident, as well.

Mobile apps open a new world of possibilities, from enabling facility teams to communicate directly to different departments to helping employees easily navigate the new normal in the office. Touchpoints will also be reduced due to individuals using their mobile devices for hands-free control of things like elevators, light switches, and thermostats. Since these types of remote controls are now found in homes, this will be a familiar experience and require little, if any training.

Digitization: the key to healthy, efficient buildings of the future

This new, digital experience for your employees requires a digital building infrastructure. Traditionally, a building management system will be controlling plant systems, while separate systems manage security, safety, lighting, etc. The new paradigm is for a fully digital infrastructure, typically based on the new generation of building management systems, to enable all building systems and services to interact.

Lack of interoperability has been one of the major inhibitors to the adoption of smart building technologies, including smart apps for employees. That is why it is important to look for systems that support open protocols. An integrated building management solution also depends on a complete IoT ecosystem that enables a healthier, more efficient facility.

To achieve a deeper level of insight and control that will help operators optimize the environment in real-time to improve building health scores, while employees feel better about their safety, well-being, and productivity, building owners and real estate developers need to invest in these smart building solutions.

In my next post, I will have a closer look at how to address the need for more flexible workplaces. To learn more, discover the Schneider Electric vision for Buildings of the Future.

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