May 19, 2021

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Intelligent buildings

Why smarter buildings are only becoming more important for the post-COVID era

With more of us moving towards ‘hybrid working’, smart building solutions are set to become increasingly important for managing office space effectively, reducing operational costs and complying with sustainability measures. Chris Price reports.

Inevitably the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the pace of change. According to data from the Office of National Statistics, prior to COVID-19 only around 5% of the workforce worked mainly from home. Furthermore,  research from CIPD shows that 65% of employers either did not offer regular working from at home or offered it to less than 10% of their workforce.

However, this is set to change with many people now looking to move to ‘hybrid working’ in the post-pandemic era, balancing their time between working from home and travelling into the office. For many employers this requires not only a cultural shift, but also a physical shift as businesses look to re-assess their office requirements. In a recent survey conducted by the BBC, 43 out of 50 firms questioned said they would embrace a mix of home and office working.

Danny Harmer, Chief People Officer at insurance giant Aviva – which has 16,000 UK workers – said 95% of its workers would like to be able to spend some of their time working flexibly and remotely in different locations, while recruitment firm Adecco, which has 34,000 workers, said about four-fifths of its staff now work remotely.

But how do businesses ensure they are able to utilise their office space effectively as well as maintaining physical security with people leaving and entering the building at potentially all hours of the day? One way is with the latest smart – or intelligent – building technology. Not only can this ensure firms are managing their fixed assets effectively but can also potentially help to reduce environmental impact and even the potential spread of viruses like COVID-19.

Contactless entry

One company which offers an AI-based video analytics solution to make buildings smarter is Ipsotek. Its solution allows someone managing a commercial building to link their access control system with facial recognition technology for identification purposes, as well as to ensure that social distancing measures are adhered to.

“Your face is your passport,” explains Chris Bishop, Ipsotek’s Sales Director APAC and Marketing Director. “With facial recognition you almost do away with the need for access cards which also increases your security level.” However, Bishop admits that facial recognition needs to be used ‘appropriately’ without breaching human rights and that the technology isn’t completely foolproof. “There are some companies which claim they can accurately detect a face with a facemask on and even with sunglasses, but I would say they are not being honest with everyone else.”

Like Ipsotek, Videx Security also focuses on offering smart building solutions. According to James Gray, Videx’s National Sales Manager, the Newcastle-based company has seen a massive increase in interest in contactless access technology, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic. It has recently introduced a solution called the WS4, which enables businesses to control up to 20 entrances locally or remotely from anywhere via a tablet, PC or even a mobile phone app.

IntelligentBuildingsEurope-controlcentre-20

“Whereas before you would have to send an engineer to the site to add key fobs manually, now access can be controlled remotely,” explains Gray. For the person entering the building the advantage is that they can use their own phone, while for the company it means that access can be granted ‘on the fly’ and can be time-limited.

According to research and consultancy firm Omdia, four out of 10 office workers want faster and more convenient building access via smartphone. It also predicts that worldwide sales of IP-enabled controllers are set to increase 12% annually over the next four years. At the same time, we are also seeing an increasing demand among employers to better understand building usage (often from a remote location), as well as the need to reconfigure access as we enter a phase when COVID restrictions are being lifted.

Says Gareth Robinson, Access Control Product Manager at specialist intercom company 2N: “These converging trends point the way to intelligent contactless access to buildings. Changing access priorities are being addressed through breakthroughs such as next-generation, Bluetooth-based mobile access technologies including 2N’s WaveKey.” 2N claims this mobile access technology can unlock a door in 0.3 seconds, twice as fast as an RFID card.

Complete solution

Undoubtedly for larger businesses, access control solutions are becoming increasingly important as employers look to manage valuable office space more efficiently as we move towards hybrid working in the post-pandemic era.

“Historically we’ve always had a hot desking solution with hot lockers as a way of maximising desk occupancy and minimising costs,” says James Vause, Senior Facilities Manager, EMEA, Global Support, Informa Group Plc which publishes IFSEC Global. “Whereas pre-COVID we probably had between 1.2 to 1.4 people per desk, post-COVID we’re expecting people to spend 50% of their time at home and 50% in the office. On that basis, we’ve increased our ratios to two colleagues per desk,” explains Vause.

Informa has also invested in an app-based desk booking system called KAHU which allows employees to book one desk a day, up to five days in advance (alternatively they can book in on the screen when they arrive at the building). When they arrive for work, staff simply swipe in at the front-desk kiosk with their RFID-enabled smart passes. The location of their desk is them shown on a display and a lift sent down that takes them to the correct floor without them having to press a button at any point. “From a COVID point of view, it’s quite safe because there are no touch points. The software also allows us to only make desks available that are correctly distanced from one another,” adds Vause.

Greater efficiencies

An in-house event in 240 Blackfriars

Nor is COVID compliance the only advantage of the desk booking system. It can also help with reducing costs and planning space more effectively. Power to the desks is only switched on when the employees check in, thereby ensuring maximum energy efficiency. Furthermore, it also allows Informa to monitor desk occupancy at its two main London sites: 240 Blackfriars Road and the nearby Blue Fin Building in Southwark more accurately.

“By effectively forcing people to book desks we are able to get real time data from the system for the first time,” explains Informa’s James Vause. “This means if one of the departments says they need more desk space, we are able to identify how they could use it more creatively – for example by encouraging greater use on quieter days, such as Monday and Friday.”

In addition to booking desks, it’s also possible for staff to use the KAHU app or Office 365 to book various sized meeting rooms if required with bookings synched automatically to their Microsoft Outlook calendar. Like the desks, the meeting room’s power, along with its heating, lighting and AV systems are only switched on when in use. However, once occupied, the rooms can be controlled using an AMX tablet screen on each meeting room table. Within the buildings, PIR (passive infra-red detectors) ensure that lights only come when movement is detected while the blinds automatically adjust depending on the time of day and amount of sunlight detected.

The days of people working 9-5 five days a week are over. If businesses want to ensure they use their office space effectively in the post-pandemic era, they need to look towards smart building solutions that provide higher levels of security, greater access control and maximise energy savings.

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