Trends: 2005 In Review

By Brian Kraemer
Published in the December 2005 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

War, high gas prices, and economic uncertainty are all things that 2005 will be remembered for in the future. However, new technologies and a rebounding furniture market have put an optimistic shine on 2006. In addition, the green building market is expanding at a phenomenal rate, proving that facility managers can help drive social and political change.

HVAC Technology Helps Improve IAQ

It’s hard to imagine a building system that is not affected by the HVAC system in one way or another. From having good indoor air quality (IAQ) to keeping employees happy, HVAC plays a critical role in making a building function.

Specifying a quality filter is an important step in ensuring that employees are not bombarded with pollen, soot, and other particulates that can circulate in a building. If these harmful substances are allowed to roam freely through a building, the result could be an increased rate of worker absenteeism which results in lower productivity.

In order to counteract allergens and other harmful particulates, facility managers need to consider filters and filtration technology as part of their front line of defense. All of the air that moves through the building will, at one point, have to pass through the HVAC system’s filter. By taking advantage of the latest technology, facility managers go on the offensive.

For example, introducing synthetic fibers into filter media has a ripple effect across the entire system. Manufactured from polypropylene and polyethylene the technology has significantly raised the efficiency of the media.

The most important reason for a facility manager to make the switch from traditional filter media to synthetic media is particulate matter and harmful gasses.

As construction practices continue to improve, buildings are getting tighter. That means air has a harder time escaping from the gaps and cracks of a building for the simple reason that there are fewer openings. While this is good for energy costs, contaminated air that recirculates can have an immediate impact on IAQ.

Specifically, nanoparticles should be of concern. These are particles that are so small they usually slip right through air filters and into the lungs of building occupants.

This means that facility managers need to embrace the concept of scrubbing the air. By speeding up the time that it takes all the air in the building to cycle through the HVAC system, a facility management team gives the filters more opportunities to catch these ultra small particles. While even new filter media won’t clean the air at 100% efficiency, they will catch particulates at a very high rate.

Furniture Comes Of Age

After going through a brief period of recession, the furniture industry—often called a microcosm of the U.S. economy—has rebounded nicely by adapting to the new needs of the workforce at large.

New building designs and corporate philosophies have motivated the change and renaissance of office furniture. While corner offices, cubicles, and traditional reception areas are still alive and well in corporate America, open space planning—combined with ergonomic comforts—has come of age.

The days of Dilbert-like rows of office cubicles may be ending and open space planning is taking over. Inspired by the need for employees to work together more frequently, office barriers are literally coming down. Instead of stuffing employees into space-and-light restrictive caves, teaming space is the norm.

Characterized by places where co-workers can come together for impromptu meetings, open space design brings an entire floor together as a team, rather than individuals working in a similar but disparate space.

In the meantime, while offices are coming together as a homogenous unit, the individual worker has never been treated to such comfort. Ergonomic chairs and accessories are being introduced and implemented at a higher rate.

Like open office spaces, the goal is to increase worker happiness and productivity. By providing an employee with a negatively tilting keyboard tray, the likelihood of carpal tunnel syndrome is reduced while comfort is raised.

Similarly, giving users the ability to adjust a chair that breathes and fits the body makes workers want to spend more time at their desks and less by the water cooler. Self adjusting lumbar support, arm and head rests, and height all give individuals the opportunity to customize their working experiences.

The Daylight Solution

LED and solid state lighting systems have been under development for quite some time. And while some effective uses of LED technology have been found—such as lighting monuments in Washington, DC—the vast majority of office buildings still rely on more traditional light sources. While keeping a building lit up all day puts a considerable tax on the always shrinking budget of facility managers, a move to the use of natural light can help alleviate that burden.

By installing a system that capitalizes on the sun to provide the majority of the light in a building for a large portion of the day, the electricity bill can be lowered. Additionally, the introduction of natural light can have a positive effect on employees, making the work environment a more comfortable place.

With the passage of the Energy Bill in 2005, energy consumption has become firmly entrenched in the minds of companies and facility managers alike. With provisions to reward rebates to entities that reduce the amount of energy consumed, facility managers have the opportunity to make significant bottom line impacts.

An additional piece of the legislation stipulates that alternative energy sources need to be found in order to reduce energy consumption. Daylighting is a good choice for penny pinching facility managers.

Finding The Balance

Outsourcing is a sensitive issue and with good reason. The thought of having a career farmed out to an independent company may be frightening and often inspires strong emotions and reactions. Unfortunately, the decision to move facility operations out of house is usually triggered by bottom line considerations.

This move, however, is not a foregone conclusion in every building. Facility managers have the ability and motivation to keep their services in house by contributing to the company bottom line. By working smarter, facility managers can help secure their jobs.

Outtasking has become a crucial tool that can be used. This consists of farming out some of the less critical operations of a building. Security, for example, is an area where a task can be moved out of house and still have the same results. Rather than concerning a facility manager with who is working the security desk, an outside contractor can be brought in to keep an eye on the main entryway.

But if jobs are given to an outsourcing firm, the current staff may not be out of work.

A staff that has been operating a building for decades still has more knowledge of the quirks of that particular facility than representatives of a new company possibly could. This information makes the old staff valuable in the event that a new company completely takes over facility operations. Often times this knowledge will result in a facilities staff member keeping his or her job, but doing it for a new company.

Life Cycle Assessment And The Environment

Environmental concerns have been at the forefront of facility managers’ minds when it comes to purchasing products and implementing new best practices for quite some time. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program through the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) has advanced the thinking and sensitivity of building practices across the country. The guidelines set down by the USGBC have helped to reduce emissions and energy consumption, while also reducing the impact of buildings on the world.

In 2005, life cycle assessment (LCA) became an important topic for industry professionals. The thinking is to take into account the impact that products will have on the environment from start to finish. This means that before a chair is bought, a facility manager needs to focus on the materials it is made from, how the refinement of the materials effects the Earth, and what will happen once the chair’s useful life has ended—can it be reused or will it be landfilled.

Additionally, new alternatives to the USGBC’s LEED program have helped to spark reform. Green Globes, in particular, has put pressure on LEED to become more accessible and user friendly.

Based as a Web interface, Green Globes offers the opportunity for a facility management team to conduct its own certification, ask questions, and interact with environmental design experts 24 hours a day. Not only does this serve as a sounding board for new ideas, but it also offers a new opportunity for environmental certifications.

Meanwhile, the USGBC has not remained stagnant. Characterized by massive amounts of documentation, LEED has begun the process of change by offering a streamlined, online version of its rating program. The move to paperless is certainly a step in the right direction, but what may be more important to facility managers—and ultimately more crucial to the USGBC’s leadership role—is customer service. By reducing the time between submitting an application and receiving a response from the certifying body, as well as making two way communication an integral part of the program, LEED appears set to enter into the new year.

Shoring Up The Building

Unfortunately, 2005 was a year marked by increased terrorist activity throughout the world. The war in Iraq continues, and with it, the need for security is on the rise. From the bombings in Madrid to those in London, facility managers can’t expect a reprieve when looking for one part of the building where they can relax.

In order to make sure employees feel secure at work, the facility management team may need to rethink its security design. By implementing a layered system, facility managers can eliminate many threats before they reach a part of the building where they could cause harm. Some threats can be deterred completely.

Starting with the perimeter of a building, trees and other obstacles between the drive in and the building can act as a barrier, which can reduce the risk of drive in threats.

The access control at the entrance of the building provides the next and perhaps most important layer. By specifying a good system, facility managers can apprehend intruders before they have the opportunity to enter the building.

Finally, security around critical systems can be ratcheted up a notch. Rather than relying on a scramble card or access code, biometrics can come into play here. Installing a fingerprint, hand geometry, or retinal scanner can help ensure that only the proper people have access to the most important parts of a building, such as a server room. These machines take a reading to verify on the spot whether or not the scanned body part is a match and grants or rejects access based on that reading.

Technology Trends

Every year, new software emerges that can help buildings speed up daily operations and reduce costs, and 2005 was no different.

Document management software can help a facility manager keep track of vital documents and conversations from the construction of the building through its entire useful life. Rather than rely on literally boxes of documents provided by architects and contractors, a program can be installed to track and index every action item that has been taken on in the building.

Wireless technologies offer similar benefits. Easy to install and maintain, a wireless system can reduce the stress level for facility managers. By not having to worry about cabling in a building, the building designers can free up more space to play with during construction or retrofit. Making critical systems easier to maintain.

Rather than having to run a cable from a computer to the lighting control system, a sensor or node can be placed on the system and information can be fed directly into the mainframe through the air. Risk of a cable becoming frayed or damaged is eliminated, and the systems can be even more efficiently monitored.

In case of a disaster such as Hurricane Katrina, wireless systems can provide local authorities direct access to a building and act as a lifeline for trapped tenants.

What Next?

In 2006, technology will continue to advance, environmentalism will continue to be an issue for many, the escalation of building safety measures will become more important, and wireless will change construction. The needs of buildings will change, and in the middle of it all will be the facility manager—holding the wheel and trying to keep the ship on an even keel.