The COVID-19 crisis has been a catalyst for change in many ways. It has reshaped our world, and many companies have taken this moment to stop and reassess the status quo.
In particular, businesses have begun to think more intelligently about how they use, manage and interact with their spaces.
This crisis has also highlighted the role of smart buildings and smart cities in sparking a revolution that will transform our workplaces and cities. Safety has been the primary motivator of this, and the ongoing risks in Australia have made clear the challenges of getting employees back to the office.
Organisations need to manage the number of employees that can come to the office, make sure they are healthy, define how they enter and move around while respecting social distancing requirements.
Doing all this while trying to maintain a sense of normality and ensuring a positive employee experience is not easy.
Many workers have already experienced frustrating situations and anxiety going back to their offices. Long queues to avoid crowded elevators, meeting rooms with inadequate social distancing and complicated processes when welcoming visitors are all experiences that contribute to this frustration.
All this begs the question of why people should work in offices in the first place.
Most organisations are open to changing how they use their offices, but few believe in a future where offices don’t exist. The question is how to create spaces that are safe and provide an experience that employees enjoy and value.
The answer will vary from company to company, but there are many ways smart technologies can help.
The first is by allowing employers to base their decisions on data, not assumptions, about how employees are choosing to interact with the workplace and technology systems.
Technology can help to create safety rules and nudge people’s attitudes and real-time data can allow companies to understand how employees are responding to the new environment and adapt where necessary.
It is crucial to have a comprehensive and context-aware view when it comes to integrated workplace data, to avoid drawing false conclusions from isolated data sets.
The PlaceOS platform is a tool that helps to integrate the information companies already have and also to expand the understanding of the space utilisation without additional sensors or apps.
Smart technology can also help by avoiding the fragmented app approach, which typically shifts the compliance effort to the user.
If employees have to continually remind themselves of social distancing or inputting data into an app, there is a reasonable chance they will fail and find the experience unpleasant.
Smart technology ultimately reduces the number of decisions employees have to make to stay safe, and lets them concentrate on having a great day at work.
Their routine won’t have to change because the software will take care of the changes for them, allowing them to focus on what is important.
Australia’s leadership role
In the broader scheme of things, having smarter, more connected spaces and cities will enable businesses to create more sustainable workplaces.
Sustainability is all about efficiencies and workflow automation. By identifying where people are in the building and how many, we can automatically trigger actions based on real-time data in lighting, mechanical services and climate control.
If organisations have a platform where the more integrations that are stacked up, the more opportunities there are for automation, then they’re able to achieve better efficiencies that can scale out to a global scale.
In the long run, businesses can improve energy consumption and save on costs. Combined with the data gathered in the background by the technology, these saved costs can then be used to identify opportunities for long-term improvements and further enhance business functions.
Beyond the office, smart buildings and precincts are the building blocks of smart cities. They will help cities to manage energy consumption, environmental impact and waste.
They will also help us to understand how people use spaces and what can be changed to make cities better and more sustainable.
Australia has the opportunity to be a global leader in creating more sustainable workplaces and in turn, smart cities. We already have a head start when it comes to smart precincts, and smart cities are the next logical step.
The essential infrastructure that will underpin smart cities is currently being built, and our success in not only handling the pandemic today but the challenges of tomorrow, as we shift to smart cities, will rely on it.
While COVID-19 may have been a catalyst to changes in the way businesses conduct day-to-day life, it’s clear that these changes will be standing long after we move past the pandemic.
Implementing smart technology into the workplace will not only lead to easier transitions as we return to work, but in the long run, save energy and costs by creating a more sustainable business model.
With all the changes happening in the world, now is the time to start thinking about creating a safe and sustainable workplace.
Jonathan McFarlane, is the Co-Founder and CEO, PlaceOS.