Smart Buildings Show one year on: What have we learned?

When I stood on stage and presented about smart buildings and the importance of purpose a year ago, I could never have imagined we would be where we are just twelve months later. But as I re-read my speech, so much of what I said was rather prescient.

Here I revisit some of those themes and discuss how it affects the future of the workplace.

Act with purpose

The main theme of my presentation was purpose. People want to work for companies that are ambitious and challenging, yet beneficial to society. At times like this, where there is sadly going to be a lot of candidates on the job market, finding good candidates may be easier than it was a year ago. But that doesn’t mean employers should take their eye off the ball.

I believe it’s still vital to provide a good place to work if you want employees that stay with you and remain motivated to perform. That sense of purpose is still vital.

The pandemic has shown clearly the importance of societal impact. That’s apparent in everything from supporting our key workers to companies giving back their furlough payments.

So, don’t let up on your sense of purpose, which has been proven to be so important during the pandemic. Continue to embrace workplace innovation and clearly convey to your employees – and customers – the steps you are doing to protect employees, reduce your environmental impact and help wider society.

If you’re not measuring how can you adapt?

I’ve spoken about the importance of data to your smart buildings. Before it was very important. Now I’d go even further and say it’s crucial. If you’re not measuring properly, you’re driving a car at full speed in the dark. You simply cannot afford to be paying for inefficient buildings that you can’t monitor or manage.

If you are one of the companies that listened to our advice and had occupancy management in place before the pandemic you’re already in a good position. You’ll understand typical usage before and during the pandemic, and from there you can plan your future needs.

If you aren’t measuring, start now. Understand your desk and meeting room usage and truly understand your real estate utilisation. You can then begin properly controlling numbers in the office and desk utilisation for the safety of users and begin to plan for your future real estate requirements.

Sharing data leads to better outcomesStaggered Working Hours Shorten Queues', World War II poster, 1945. by Keely, Patrick Cokayne at Science and Society Picture Library

As we adapt, transparency and ease of access to data will continue to be vital. Flexible work is not a new concept. I shared a poster from 1945 that suggested staggered working hours means shorter queues, yet we’ve been rigidly commuting 9 to 5 since. I’ve led the call for flexible working for a long time, but the pandemic really has forced people to sit up and realise you can work differently.

Underpinning decisions will be data: informed people can make better decisions.

Transport for London now has open data on the traffic patterns at your local station. This is amazing. With that data people can make intelligent decisions that finally help deliver on that concept from 75 years ago.

The workplace needs to be the same. What data are you sharing to help your employees make informed decisions on how and when they work? Can your employees book a desk remotely from home? Can they see when the offices are busy and quiet so they can decide when it’s right for them? Do you have the data on who is in and when, so that you can do targeted contact tracing within the business?

Data allows people to make better decisions. And don’t stop there – share other important metrics such environmental performance to help generate buy in across the organisation.

In summary: act with purpose, measure properly and then be open with that data so that your employees can be part of the change. That will set you in good stead now and in the future.