There’s a certain strangeness to heading back into the workplace after a lengthy spell working from home during lockdowns. Workers step tentatively through the doorway, torn between excitement at reconnecting in person with colleagues, and anxiety over spending the day in confined spaces with other humans. Life has changed, and smart organisations are adapting to a vastly changed culture.
It is no secret that employee health and wellbeing have a direct effect on the bottom line. Fewer absences, increased productivity, and improved performance. As Australian employers lure staff back into offices after the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, issues around health, safety and wellbeing are enjoying a greater focus. That is a good thing: healthy environments are better for workers, and for the organisations that employ them.
Even before the pandemic, there was a growing awareness of the impact of air quality on workplace performance. For example, those spending lengthy periods in crowded or poorly ventilated rooms are likely to experience a high concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2), which can increase drowsiness, and cause a 23% impairment in decision making1. The last couple of years have undoubtedly increased focus on spread of pathogens, and we know that temperature and humidity strongly influence the spread of viruses.
Technology has a meaningful role to play here. Devices such as sensors to measure humidity and temperature, and cameras to monitor overcrowding, have been available for some time, but have been cost and labour-intensive, and the data they generate has been of limited use. Recently, though, a new, connected alternative emerged, in the form of connected smart cameras and sensors from Cisco Meraki that are getting much deserved attention.
The difference with this new breed of sensors and cameras is in the way they alert users via the Meraki network dashboard. The building manager or health and safety specialist doesn’t need to be on the premises, because the app is cloud-based, and can be accessed from a mobile device, or indeed any device with a browser. Much can be automated, and the devices give the greatest range of capabilities when used together.
Among early adopters, the uses are many and varied. A school might use the cameras primarily for security but could also help cleaners to know which classrooms are empty for a deep clean between use. Adding sensors would identify where crowding affects air quality and put in place measures to manage traffic around those areas. Classroom temperatures could be monitored, with automated adjustments to air conditioning to avoid becoming a welcoming environment for viruses. Equally, an office may identify patterns in the data to identify when temperatures rise and the office becomes stuffy, taking preventative measures so that staff find it easier to stay focused through a long shift.
It isn’t only people that are protected in a smart space. Data centres tend to operate in restricted, temperature and humidity-controlled spaces. Very often, the temperature is kept cooler than necessary, but sensors can be used to automate heating, ventilation and air-conditioning for energy optimisation, going a long way to overcoming excess energy use. The added intelligence in a smart space may also determine that cooling can be performed in multiple methods, rather than solely depending on costly air-conditioning. The data centre security also benefits. Sensors can detect changes, and cameras can give greater context for that change – so when the sensor alerts to a temperature rise, the camera may show that someone without the right security clearance opened the door. Equally, in a facility that handles chilled food, the sensor and camera combination make it possible to pinpoint where adjusting processes or providing a little extra training might stop the refrigerator door being held open.
These smart space efforts are anything but minor measures. Meraki is reporting that some customers are saving an impressive 70% on their energy bills2, boosting sustainability and taking a handy chunk off their operating costs. Saving money and advancing employee wellbeing simultaneously might just be the cleverest smart space measure yet.