Back in July 2002, Thomas Hartman of AutomatedBuildings.com talked about how people have been demanding better building comfort for years, and it hasn’t changed much since in the building landscape. Hartman says, “I predict a very strong movement to "occupant integrated" HVAC controls within the next decade. My prediction is that by the second decade of this century, most class "A" office spaces will be required to offer individual control of thermal and lighting levels. This integration will most likely be Internet-based.”
More than a decade later, less 15% of the commercial buildings are smart and adoption of individual comfort is a concept still being debated upon. In India, many class “A” buildings are yet to adopt measures to ensure comfort.
Companies have begun to realize that workplaces are an asset. Offices have become more open and have begun to offer much more than the cramped cubicle offices of the past. With dynamic millennials entering the workforce, companies have come to understand that the workspace is part of their strategy to attract and retain talent. The incredibly creative and well-designed offices of companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon are examples of this trend.
Another example is the popularity of co-working spaces in the country today. In fact, CBRE estimates that the co-working space segment in India is expected to touch 10 million sq. ft by 2020. While these new smart spaces offer to reduce operational expenses to companies, they also provide a hundred other amenities for their occupants. That said, many of these co-working space and smart offices designed for millennials are still to realize the impact of prioritizing individual control options for thermal and lighting comfort.
The need for individualized control
The fact that thermal comfort is not measured by the room temperature but the number of people complaining about thermal discomfort is indicative of how important it is to have an individual level control. No matter how regularly the facilities team takes feedback from occupants, they are still not going to be able to make a difference, especially in large organisations. But this is not the only reason individual control is important. In a study conducted in Iran, it was discovered that there was a psychological aspect to individual control.
The study proved that people are more satisfied when they believe their thermal environment to be under their control. The researchers observed that employees were less distracted and significantly more productive when they were given individual control over their thermal environment. And less distraction directly means improved productivity which is going to impact the company’s bottom line.
Is there a solution?
Occupant comfort has become the sole responsibility of the facility team and these teams are usually struggling with tight budgets while stressing out because of increasing complaints in the form of tickets. This situation however has improved since companies are noticing that improving employee productivity adds to the bottom line much more than energy efficiency. As a study by the U.S Green Building Council states, 'small changes such as improved ventilation will boost the productivity of workers by 11% while better lighting will spark a whopping 23% jump in efficiency.'
Coming to individual control, few companies in the industry offer web and mobile based apps through which occupants can directly control their thermal environment and also provide feedback to facility managers. These apps are as easy to use as any and also come with additional features. 75F’s Occupant App for example, offers the feature of geo-fencing. Through Bluetooth, the technology senses when you are nearing your workplace and begins to condition your workspace when you are within a suitable radius. Thus, the occupant does not have to suffer while waiting for the system to start conditioning their space. With the Occupant App, facility managers can empower the employees or the occupants to personalize their zone settings with direct temperature and lighting control. They can also provide feedback to the facilities team through the app. This feature can help the facilities team to act swiftly in case of equipment failures or similar set backs.
And the best part is that, all this is done while ensuring energy efficiency and savings on utility bills. Thus, a facility manager manages to get two birds with one stone; improved employee productivity and increased operational efficiency or what we call OE2. And most importantly, the occupant/employee is happy.