By Daniel Hollenkamp
With the adoption of hybrid work and sporadic in-office schedules, the typical office routine looks markedly different today than it did just a few years ago. This new pattern of work has greatly impacted the role of facility management, and more importantly, the conservation of energy as businesses occupy building space at random.
According to a recent study from Harvard, the “sweet spot” for employees to travel in person to the office is just one to two days a week. This could mean there are weekdays when no one is occupying the space, and the building is completely empty. Yet, the lighting, heating, or air conditioning systems are still running through their regular daily course, burning through the majority of the building’s operating expenses while also contributing to global greenhouse gas emissions.
Avoid Throwing Energy Dollars “Out The Window”
Prior to 2020, most office buildings operated on a relatively routine schedule, making it manageable to control lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems either manually, or by using standard, mechanical timers. But in the hybrid office, the standard 9 to 5, Monday through Friday building schedule is a thing of the past. Businesses need to rethink how they manage facility operations moving forward to prevent major inefficiencies that could significantly impact their bottom line.
Additionally, many facilities have upped their air exchange rates or installed more powerful filtration systems as a means to limit the spread of airborne pathogens. While improvements in indoor air quality (IAQ) have been a positive shift since the pandemic, it’s also placed larger loads on systems as it requires more energy, making it more important than ever to curb energy use when buildings are empty.
To prevent wasting energy (and money) in empty areas of the building within this unpredictable landscape, many facility management executives are embracing smart building technologies. At a basic level, advancements such as smart lighting and motion sensors can be installed to ensure LED luminaires are only turned on when rooms are being used. When lighting and HVAC systems are connected to an intelligent building management system, however, businesses have greater insight into building occupancy and operations, resulting in additional layers of energy savings.
Through device-driven data analytics, building managers have access to real-time insights on energy use, inefficiencies and costs, allowing them to quickly make changes as needed. These insights enable them to more efficiently monitor and adjust lighting and heating levels throughout their facilities based on zone usage, time of day, holiday schedules, and time of year. Additionally, lighting controllers empower office workers to create customized lighting scenes with brightness and color settings all from the ease of a mobile app, while smart lighting can also be programmed to automatically adjust brightness as natural light level changes throughout the day.
By allowing a building to react automatically to its changing environment within, smart building control systems provide an easy solution that can increase energy efficiency by up to 80%. This can result in huge savings for the company as well as making significant progress in reducing its carbon footprint.
Efficiency Vs. Functionality: A Balancing Act
Energy efficiency is a major driver of office building retrofits in 2022, as energy prices have reached peak levels and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) prepares to require environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosures from publicly traded companies. But energy efficiency cannot be the only consideration in good office management. The most efficient building would be one where lighting and HVAC systems were completely turned off, and that’s not a place anyone wants to work. Energy efficiency efforts must strike a balance with the functionality of the space in order to achieve a facility executive and/or office manager’s most important goal in 2022: drawing employees back to the office by making it the best possible place to work.
Intelligent building management systems can lend support to this pursuit. By enabling office buildings to work smarter for their owners and tenants, the benefits of these systems go beyond reductions in costs and energy use and allow for more customized environments at a granular level — even down to a single room or fixture — all from the convenience of a mobile device. This degree of personalized lighting and temperature control for end-users can help to make the office work experience even better than home offices workers have gotten used to in recent years. This improvement in comfort and productivity generates an increase in overall tenant satisfaction that can lead to a lower likelihood of downsizing leases and a higher likelihood of long-term retention.
Even further, plug-and-play smart building technologies can bring remote control and autonomous features to existing hardware and fixtures without the need for costly and time-consuming retrofits or complex configuration processes. This means added design flexibility for facility managers, as well as a quicker and simpler space reconfiguration process.
The Possibilities Are Endless
Once businesses have embraced intelligent building management systems, what’s next? Facility management executives can leverage these systems to make more informed decisions about their energy use and efficiency, building operations, building security, and physical office environment. There are countless applications of these technology offerings, from analyzing space utilization to tracking assets within the building; and how they’re used.
In the next phase of smart building development, machine learning and automated intelligence will take the reins, using data and the Internet of Things (IoT) to automatically optimize lighting and HVAC systems. With an intelligent building management system in place, facilities executives will be ready to capitalize on this technology and maximize their building’s effectiveness for hybrid work.
Daniel Hollenkamp is chief operating officer at Toggled, a wholly owned subsidiary of Altair, providing efficient LED lighting and networked building products. Hollenkamp is responsible for Toggled’s day-to-day operations, overseeing sales, marketing, manufacturing, and research & development. Previously, he was Toggled’s lead manufacturing engineer, where he ramped up the company’s mass production efforts. He has more than 12 years of experience in electronics manufacturing and seven years of experience in the LED industry. Hollenkamp earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Michigan Technological University.