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Why office design is incorporating spaceship technology

Oct 24, 2017

spaceship-technology-blog.jpgNot all office space is created equal. Employees are more productive when they are happy and healthy, and that’s why companies are always trying to make their offices better.

While stellar office design helps employees do their best work, some businesses are moving one step beyond design and focusing on technology. From controlling indoor air pollution to optimizing temperature and lighting, modern offices are using spaceship-esque technology to increase worker productivity.

Indoor air pollution makes us slow and sleepy

Many organizations maintain offices in the world’s largest cities. Places like London, Tokyo, New York City, and Beijing are great places to do business, but unfortunately, these cities are troubled by air pollution. Most offices use sealed windows to keep the pollution at bay, yet according to a recent study from Harvard University, Syracuse University, and SUNY Upstate Medical University, these windows trap toxic chemicals emitted from carpets and furniture in the workplace.

In addition to those toxins, carbon dioxide levels inside a typical office are at least double those experienced outside. Participants who moved from a space that mimicked outside levels of carbon dioxide to a typical office watched their cognitive performance scores plummet 50%, the study said. To solve this dilemma, offices are increasingly using sensors similar to those on spaceships.

Spaceship technology hits the workplace

Environmental sensors let building managers track and manage air quality. But if there’s too much carbon dioxide in the workplace, the fix isn't as simple as opening the window, since that would let in pollution common in big cities. Instead of solving one problem by creating another, CEO of monitoring startup EnergyDeck Benjamin Kott told the Wall Street Journal he uses an HVAC system similar to those used by NASA to lower carbon dioxide levels while filtering outside pollutants from the air.

Sensors and the latest ventilation systems help keep indoor air quality in check, but other technologies work to optimize temperature and lighting. Research shows that productivity suffers when employees are uncomfortable with the office temperature, and while there are different theories on what the perfect temperature is, some offices are using technology to bypass the thermostat battle entirely. One office in Italy is installing thousands of sensors that respond to employe preference to give each person their own “thermal bubble” that follows them around the building. Other offices use apps like Comfy, which lets workers heat or cool their space by communicating directly with the building’s ventilation system.

Offices are also shifting lighting to make employees more productive. Research suggests workers are better able to concentrate when office lights are blue rather than yellow, and data shows that natural light makes workers healthier and more productive.

Health and productivity go hand-in-hand

Every business wants an office that facilitates good health and boosts productivity. To that end, landlords are using new building standards to highlight spaces that adopt the latest technologies.

Reset Standard is one such building certification. Focused on Chinese properties, this certification deals with indoor air quality and lets workers report conditions in their office in real time. JLL said this type of focus on health concerns is essential for firms trying to retain and attract top talent in the Chinese market.

The WELL building standard also focuses on healthy spaces, but beyond just air quality, the certification examines things like water, temperature and even the presence of fitness facilities. It launched in 2013 and has certified some 467 office buildings, and while that number pales in comparison to LEED, it shows there is a growing appetite for health-conscious office space.

The modern office is changing in many ways, yet oftentimes advances in office design dominate the discussion. It’s easy to see why; office design has a huge impact on worker happiness and productivity. But as companies spruce up their workplaces, many are also using technology to combat air pollution and optimize temperature and lighting. And it’s a good thing they are, because whether it’s to attract top talent, make a property stand out or simply boost efficiencies, using the right technology makes offices better and employees healthier.

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Erik Dolan-Del Vecchio

Written by Erik Dolan-Del Vecchio

Erik writes about the people, the deals and the trends that move the commercial real estate industry.

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