The digital trajectory of workplace technology is evolving the corporate real estate (CRE) and building automation industries. These advancements are causing big changes that are improving the way we work and connect as employees.
From internal workplace communications to facility management software, there has never been so many integrated workplace technology trends that facility managers can leverage to increase productivity, improve engagement, and save money. Let’s take a look at the technology trends that are improving all aspects of the workplace experience.
The workplace is changing. Facilities managers must keep up with the latest technologies and trends if they want to keep their buildings running optimally. Effective communication can make or break any organization’s ability to stay productive and deliver results. While not historically a priority for facilities managers, finding the right communications tools can help forward-thinking FMs improve company culture and the overall employee experience. Thankfully, there are plenty of software options to improve communication and productivity between individuals, teams, and departments, even if the workforce is distributed across a global portfolio.
Slack is an effective communications tool that many companies use to increase productivity. As the current leader of team chat and collaboration, this tool organizes conversations into “channels”, which can be created for a particular topic, project, department, or group of people. Employees can also use Slack for instant messaging, connecting remote workers, and enabling real-time collaboration.
Slack has become the centerpiece of productivity tools for many cutting edge companies for good reason: not only can it integrate with over 600 apps, but its private channels and searchable chats allow teams to reduce email overload and find key information quickly. Messages and files are archived and indexed, and are easily searchable weeks or months later.
Slack can dramatically reduce email traffic and eliminate “quick answer” questions that may otherwise clog up an inbox.
Because it integrates with multiple applications, Slack lets employees easily share files with industry-standard tools such as Google Docs and Dropbox. It can even seamlessly integrate with more niche add-ons, including a company’s Visual Directory®. These integrations make Slack more flexible and far more useful beyond simplistic group messaging.
Facility managers can use Slack integration to better manage requests or communicate effectively with stakeholders like outside contractors. The ability to customize channels allows teams to fine-tune Slack's structure to fit their own company. Teams can quickly communicate information through these channels to ensure the right groups have the right information.
Google has a suite of apps for businesses that includes Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs. Google Docs is a word processor that allows for real-time collaboration on your browser, with all changes automatically saved.
When your team uses Google Docs, everyone benefits from immediate creative collaboration without needing to schedule meetings. This is particularly helpful when working with remote staff. Make a mistake? No worries—all changes are saved in the revision history, so you can easily revert back to an older version of the document. Google Docs can be easily saved as Word or PDF files, allowing for a quick download of client deliverables.
Workplace by Facebook combines features of Facebook, including the news feed, search, and trending posts features, along with messaging and chat functions. This allows teams to communicate in unique groups based on projects, departments, and tasks.
The Workplace news feed shows trending conversation from all groups so that employees can stay up to date on projects and more. Workplace lets employees easily search for both coworkers and phrases, showing results from across the entire company. Similar in look and function to Facebook itself, Workplace is built on Facebook’s infrastructure—meaning that as a result of the social network’s massive platform of over 2.4 billion active users, most employees will already know how to use it.
Enabling employees to easily plan company events, live-stream events, and video chat, Workplace helps companies with both communication and planning.
It's important to note that accounts, messages, and data within Workplace are completely separate from Facebook itself, which means that there won’t be overlap with personal accounts, in addition to the fact that companies own and control their own data.
Microsoft Teams is a group chat platform, which comes bundled with Office 365 Business or Enterprise plans. It combines persistent workplace chat, video meetings, file storage, and application integration.
The user interface of Microsoft Teams is more formal than other tools, restricting casual functions like stickers and custom memes to specific sections of the platform, which means that a more traditional business may choose Microsoft Teams over something favored by more cutting edge companies.
Microsoft Teams integrates with apps in Microsoft’s productivity suite, like Excel and Skype, which means it works best for users who are already embedded in the Office 365 ecosystem. While it lags behind Slack in the sheer number of available app integrations, Microsoft has developed a strong framework for bots and integrations while forming key partnerships with companies like Asana.
Video conferencing is a way to meet face-to-face with someone when you’re in different locations. Employees can minimize or eliminate the time and money spent traveling to a meeting—not to mention the preparation time of a meeting room, refreshments, meeting room space, and more.
Options for video conferencing include Skype, GoToMeeting, Zoom, and even FaceTime.
Cisco Webex makes virtual meetings easy. Not only does it let you join or host a meeting from any device, but it also lets meeting participants view shared documents during the call.
Hailed as one of the “Top 5 Apps for Business”, WebEx will be the most convenient for Apple users; its iPhone and iPad features include the ability to see up to five people at one time, and AutoCallMe lets you join the meeting simply by answering your phone.
Integrated facilities management (IFM) is a method of consolidating many office-related services and processes under one contract and management team. IFM is all about integration, and technology is its foundation. Software solutions that support IFM bring all the disparate components of facilities management onto one platform.
There are several kinds of facilities management software that support integration in the facilities management industry, including Computer-Aided Facility Management (CAFM), Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS), Enterprise Asset Management (EAM), and perhaps the most all-encompassing, Integrated Workplace Management System (IWMS).
While CAFM and CMMS software are traditionally popular options, the demands of facilities management have changed over the years and many FM teams find they need both pieces to handle their multitudes of diverse tasks. CAFM software primarily focuses on the people and resources side of the management equation and is predominantly administrative, with its core focus on tracking and managing data, rather than streamlining actual activities. CMMS software largely keeps track of maintenance tasks and data, and is critical for organizations with heavy equipment usage and those that own their own buildings.
EAM systems are designed to track and manage a variety of company assets. While a CMMS is typically used to track large pieces of mechanical equipment, EAM systems are used to manage office assets like computers and furniture and can track resources from procurement through to disposal. There is also some overlap between EAM and CAFM software, since CAFM solutions also help with asset management.
Overall, the value of pure EAM software is questionable for all but the most specific use cases, since many modern software solutions are able to offer similar functionality.
IWMS is perhaps the most all-encompassing of these softwares. It can be described as a combination of all the systems above, plus more. An IWMS like OfficeSpace will include many of the features mentioned thus far, plus a host of other abilities that make it much easier to manage the office environment. For example, a good IWMS can help employees find whatever resources they need—from printer drivers to open seating. With an integrated Mobile Visual Directory, employees can use their phones to find fellow employees and resources like copiers, while a mobile-friendly Request Manager feature allows for quick submissions of work orders.
Using an IWMS as a software platform helps companies optimize the use of all the different elements of facilities management in order to integrate all parts. This includes the optimization of workplace resources, the management of a company’s real estate portfolio, plus building infrastructure and facilities assets. In the past, these elements have been siloed, but with the proliferation of technology, the facilities management industry is now able to integrate them.
An IWMS can help employees find whatever resources they need—from printer drivers to open seating. With Mobile Visual Directory, employees can use their phones to find co-workers and resources like copiers, while a mobile-friendly Request Manager allows them to quickly submit work orders and even attach images that highlight the relevant issue.
Companies, by nature, are in a state of constant flux. Employees switch positions, layouts are overhauled, renovations and construction projects spur changes—sometimes it’s impossible to know where people and resources are located due to the fluid nature of business. While spreadsheets and floor plan printouts can help facilities managers deal with these issues, they are not the most effective communication tools available.
Wayfinding software is a modern and convenient trend that provides the perfect solution. Most people are familiar with using wayfinding software at their local mall or museum to find a store or exhibit’s location, or to find amenities. In large offices with many employees, it makes sense to have a similar system to find who sits where and to locate office resources.
All companies have a need to know who sits where. The right wayfinding software will have an interactive office floor plan that provides a full view of employee locations on any given floor. Not only do these maps let facilities managers and company personnel quickly see the division of departments on each floor, but can also provide more specific information about the workers themselves. This could include names, titles, departments, in addition to more granular data like phone numbers, email addresses, supervisors, and more. Without employee tracking software to help you, finding one person’s information can take a lot of unnecessary time and energy.
In addition to seating plans, wayfinding software can also help employees get to know each other, which is especially essential in larger companies where people may not know everyone. Wayfinding software can provide contact information along with a photo to help with this potential issue. A visual directory can benefit everyone in the company from new hires to company veterans. Users can simply enter a surname to see where the associated desk is located and view a picture of the employee they’re looking for.
To further enhance wayfinding, many companies are also implementing wayfinding kiosks. The wayfinding kiosk is a cutting-edge response to the drawbacks of the traditional map. By rendering floor plans on an interactive screen, companies gain a wayfinding tool that’s every bit as fluid, responsive, and change-ready as the office design it displays. A dedicated kiosk can mean the difference between frustrated employees and empowered teams.
Static map kiosks do not handle changes in floor plan layouts very effectively, especially in growing workplaces. Layouts and office assignments change, floors assume too much space to comfortably fill a single map, and renovations and construction projects alter existing footpaths. In our modern, connected world, the static map simply isn’t good enough, especially when a better alternative is available.
Room booking software allows employees to book a room for work or meetings. Ideally, room booking software should be integrated into a company’s existing IWMS, and using it should be as simple as finding an available room and selecting it. As with desk booking or visual directory options, room booking software should be accessible via desktop browser and mobile devices to allow employees to reserve a room on the fly. Another popular option is to install screens outside meeting room doors where employees can check availability and make bookings.
This software streamlines the entire process of booking meetings by allowing employees to:
Room booking software benefits more than employees. Facilities managers appreciate the insight as to how rooms are being used and how often. This real-time data provides distinct insights from a holistic point of view and can provide the information that FMs need to make more informed decisions about office planning.
Knowledge is power and room booking software provides both employees and facilities managers with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions to increase efficiency and productivity while also improving workplace visibility, all benefits which can have a direct impact on the bottom line.
Perhaps one of the most predominant workplace technology trends, the Internet of Things (IoT) uses the connectivity of internet infrastructure to monitor and control the “things” in our lives—an extension of Internet connectivity into physical devices and everyday objects. IoT devices can communicate and interact over the Internet and can be remotely monitored and controlled.
From thermostats to security systems to cars and more, we can connect and track just about anything, especially through the use of sensors. Combined with powerful analytics, users can find value in the data that’s sourced from edge devices like sensors, and pull insightful information in order to make informed decisions. The IoT turns “smart” into “simple”, serving up information on demand.
The data generated by IoT-enabled sensors can provide facilities managers the insights needed to increase efficiency and reduce costs.
Traditional fields of embedded systems, wireless sensor networks, control systems, and building automation all contribute to enabling the IoT. The data generated by IoT-enabled sensors can provide facilities managers the insights needed to increase efficiency and reduce costs. In some cases, the IoT has the ability to relieve FMs of tasks like restocking consumables. In other cases, it is possible to use sensors to understand how your office space is being used can reveal if there is wasted or unused space, or whether new strategies like hot-desking and hotelling may be a fit for your company.
Using sensors, data can be streamed to a desk booking solution to take advantage of free addressing, which can increase desk usage without the need for a facility management team to manually manage the process. This provides the ability to view desk availability in real-time so that employees can see a seat as “available” at the moment its free. Free addressing allows for automatic updates of a desk status the moment an employee takes a seat, and frees up “standby” desks after a set period based on sensor settings.
IoT is also a solid resource for building security and monitoring because of its integrated nature. Facility management teams can help lay the foundation for a secured workplace through necessary security equipment like cameras and sensors to key fobs, motion-sensor lights, locks, alarms, and more. In many cases, security can be tied into a building automation system, which can increase security through more than just IT access.
There are several benefits to using sensors in the office, including helping facilities managers make more effective decisions based on workplace data, making it easier for employees to book rooms and desks, and optimizing building automation systems, which can include HVAC, security, lighting, and more.
Building automation is the automated control of a building’s systems, which can include heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), mechanical, lighting, security, fire, humidity, and more. A facility controlled by a building automation system (BAS) is often referred to as a “smart building”.
An effective BAS keeps a facility’s climate within a specified range, runs lighting based on occupancy, and monitors building performance and device failures while providing malfunction alarms and alerts to building maintenance staff. Building operators can collect and interpret data from the BAS in order to run the facility in the most effective way, perform preventative maintenance, and create benchmarks with goals of increasing sustainability, energy efficiency, and cost savings.
Compared to a non-controlled building, a facility with a BAS should vastly reduce energy and maintenance costs, whether the building is brand new or retrofitted. Many retrofitted buildings are financed through the resulting energy and insurance savings associated with the preemptive maintenance, fault detection, and the data that allows for this efficient control—often in a surprisingly short timeframe, which then realizes additional savings after the implementation costs have been covered.
There are several components to a BAS: sensors, controllers, output devices, communications protocols, and interfaces.
Sensors can be used to detect a variety of things, including temperature, differential pressure, humidity, ventilation, air velocity/air flow, CO2, smoke, window or door breaches, occupancy, light levels, and more. The gateways and controllers in the BAS use processors to execute communications protocol standards developed specifically for this industry.
Controllers act as the brain of the BAS, collecting data from the sensors and sending commands to the connected parts. Output devices then take the command from the controllers. For example, a sensor can detect temperature, send that data to the controller, the controller sends a command to the output device, and then the output device will adjust the temperature accordingly.
The communication protocol is the specific language that is understood by the system’s individual parts. There are both proprietary and open protocols; it is generally understood that an open protocol will provide more flexibility and allow a multitude of different kinds of devices to communicate with each other and prevent a building from being locked into using just one company’s products. Examples of open protocols include BACnet and Modbus.
Finally, the interface is the part with which users interact—this is the piece that allows building operators to monitor the condition of their facilities, override settings, and more. Facilities managers require ways to access the vast amounts of data produced by an effective BAS; this can allow operators to address inefficiencies, troubleshoot problems, and improve their BAS and overall building performance.
An effective BAS will not only monitor a facility and provide data to the facilities management team, but will also allow building operators to gain insights in order to make effective changes, ultimately saving building owners money while reducing their environmental impact.
While many people think of robots and physical machines when the topic of artificial intelligence (AI) is raised, much of AI is actually software-based. AI is a combination of machine learning and data analytics that enables intelligent decision making. Machine learning uses data to look for underlying trends, and software designers can take that information and combine it with data analytics to understand and address specific issues. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that by 2030, AI will deliver $13 trillion in additional economic output worldwide.
In facilities management, there are many examples of what AI can accomplish, particularly related to energy management. Since 2018, Google has been using AI to manage cooling at its data center cooling systems, adjusting the temperature in real time without intervention. The AI system is implementing actions on its own: every five minutes the system takes a snapshot of the cooling system; AI assesses which actions should be taken to maintain temperature and minimize energy consumption—after those actions are run through safety checks, they’re implemented. Google says that after a few months of the system being in place, it was producing an energy savings of approximately 30 percent while continuing to find new techniques to satisfy energy saving goals.
Another example is the Edge facility in Amsterdam, known as “the world’s greenest office building”. One of the most advanced smart buildings in the world, the Edge has deployed 30,000 sensors, collecting data about the facility’s operations and how occupants interact. If occupancy is less than expected on any given day, the Edge shuts down parts of the building to reduce resource consumption for that time.
Not only can AI help with energy management, but it is also gaining traction in predictive maintenance, security, and more. Advanced analytics like AI present significant opportunities to reduce operating costs and improve outcomes for occupants, building operators, and facility owners. Using the insights from gathered data, decisions can be automated and backed by information instead of sorted manually or based on a gut feeling. As AI automates more processes to generate more accurate data, the potential for human error is reduced and facilities can be run more accurately.
Business information modeling (BIM) refers to a set of technologies and processes that enable multiple stakeholders to collaboratively design, construct, and operate a facility in virtual space. BIM is more than just building a digital prototype, though. It’s an intelligent 3D model-based process that usually requires an execution plan for a variety of professionals in order to more efficiently plan, design, construct, and manage buildings and infrastructure.
Until recently, BIM was primarily used by architects and construction firms to streamline the early stages of the building process; however building owners and facility management professionals are increasingly realizing the value of BIM data for building management and automation. By maximizing the use of BIM data in facility management, building owners can reduce operational costs with a significant payoff.
Benefits of BIM can include cost savings, reduced safety risks, improved efficiency and faster project delivery, improved client satisfaction, greater project predictability, and earlier modification. Facilities management teams can be involved at the design stage to have a real impact on the building outcome, which both improves the outcome and raises the profile of FMs.
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are technologies that offer a multitude of benefits to a wide range of industries, and are set to change the way workers interact in addition to how office spaces are designed and arranged.
AR and VR are two separate, but related, concepts. AR offers users enhancements to their current environment through digital elements presented through a device or app. This allows users to engage with their physical environment in a new way. VR, on the other hand, offers a simulated version of a real-life environment. By wearing VR headsets, users can immerse themselves in a computer-generated world to experience a first-hand experience.
Architects can use AR and VR to walk through their buildings before they’re built, revolutionizing the process, while interior designers can use it to visualize or present concepts and ideas. Pre-emptive corrections can be made on both sides, resulting in substantial and immeasurable savings.
Facilities managers can use AR and VR to increase worker safety where there might be hazardous conditions, and to determine how to retrofit and upgrade new equipment into existing systems. 3D models can be altered to show where new systems can be placed inside a facility for maximum efficiency and issues can be addressed before they even occur.
For building occupants, processes can be made easier, from collaboration with other offices, to indoor mapping and far beyond. The possibilities of this new technology is only limited by imagination.
“OfficeSpace has literally changed the way we do business. We got rid of our old system: it was complicated and costly.”
Lena Thompson American Psychological Association
“We were able to grow within our facility and not take another floor in this building saving the organization money.”
Adrian Grad International Rescue Committee
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