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Future of work

How fast is your office?


Elaine Rossall

Chair of the BCO Research Committee

If I were to talk about the ‘speed’ of a building, even ten years ago, I suspect I would have been met with quizzical expressions and hushed concerns for my sanity. But as technology evolves, so too must our offices.

The concepts of ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ buildings refer to the ways in which we build technology into our workplaces.

A ‘slow’ building is one that reacts to the physical shifts in its environment over time and gradually responds to heat changes within. For instance, a building that has an internal fabric of concrete will absorb and store heat, slowing the pace of temperature changes. A ‘fast’ building responds more instantly, adapting immediately to the demands of its occupants. 

Earlier this year, the British Council for Offices (BCO) published research that looked in detail at how this new generation of ‘fast’, responsive buildings work.

Providing employees with a greater level of control over their environment can have a big impact on perceived comfort and productivity.

The impact of technology is not reserved for the built environment. Every day we see new ways in which technology is revolutionising the way we work and the way we live. At the BCO, we set out to identify exactly how ‘fast buildings’ will impact the way we populate offices.

Temperature and lighting controls that respond to an office’s occupants

Already, smarter sensors are being introduced to the workplace. These allow levels of occupancy to be monitored with granular precision. This means environmental control, including lighting and heating are more responsive. The pace at which technology is developing means that, in the near future, we may automatically shut down building systems when not required, thereby reducing energy consumption and cutting maintenance costs.

More personally, we know providing employees with a greater level of control over their environment can have a big impact on perceived comfort and productivity. Fast-response buildings allow users to feed internal hardware systems real-time feedback through apps. Longer term, machine-learning will be able to anticipate changes and deliver personalised settings – meaning offices will eventually be able to use data to intuitively adapt to the needs of occupants.

The GDPR consequences of intelligent buildings

But one consequence is that our work environments will hold an increasing amount of data on the people working inside them. As the effects of GDPR settle, it will be the responsibility of facilities managers to ensure the privacy of tenants is appropriately protected while understanding how the building is being utilised.

While there are obvious benefits, ‘fast’ technologies are in their infancy. We are simply scratching the surface of understanding what can really be achieved to positively impact the way we work.

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