Trends Recap: Looking Back On 2006

By Jillian Ruffino
Published in the December 2006 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Many people can still remember a time when the year 2000 seemed very far away. And yet, 2006 is just about to come to a close. The future that was imagined for the 21st century is here, and with it comes new technologies and a strong focus on environmental issues.

Today’s Facility Manager always ensures its readers are abreast of the latest trends in every aspect of facility management, from HVAC to security to ergonomics. In this year-end wrap up, facility managers can review the biggest stories from the past 12 months.

Reassessing HVAC

When it comes to HVAC, facility managers are the unsung heroes of a building. Ensuring occupants are comfortable and indoor air is breathable are important jobs. Currently, facility professionals and building owners are starting to look at HVAC in a new light; this task is now becoming an exciting foray into innovative technologies that will make most of the mechanical aspects of the building operate more efficiently.

Facility managers and information technology specialists are working to create building monitoring programs. Through the use of handheld components, facility professionals will be able to keep track of their HVAC systems at all times and in real time.

In order for this transformation to take place, managers must properly communicate to building owners the need to automate HVAC systems.

When considering automation for HVAC systems, facility managers should investigate new methods of air delivery. Underfloor air distribution (UFAD) has several favorable qualities. UFAD can provide better ventilation, heating, and cooling to occupants while reducing mold, which helps buildings to meet American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) standards and the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Design (LEED) criteria.

Also, UFAD can be reconfigured quickly and easily as spaces change. Furthermore, it creates space for computer wiring and data cabling.

Automating HVAC systems can also contribute to sustainability and energy usage reduction. Because facility managers can monitor HVAC through the use of mobile devices, it becomes possible to view energy consumption continually. Managers will easily detect spikes and lulls to be able to establish plans to reduce energy use.

The days of facility managers housing their HVAC data on a desktop computer may soon be over; automation and monitoring are the future.

Implementing Ergonomics

Occupant safety and health is of paramount importance to facility managers. Purchasing with ergonomics in mind is an excellent way to ensure that building occupants are comfortable in their work environments.

Ergonomics, however, can be a tricky issue to tackle. How should it be implemented? What types of furniture and modifications do occupants require? Understanding the needs of workers is the first step in practicing good ergonomics.

It is important that products fit not only the user but also the user’s everyday tasks. Work surface height and adjustability and adaptable work stations should be taken into consideration.

Studies have revealed that the majority of workers would like to have the option to sit or stand and change the heights of their desks. Also, an angled keyboard can help to prevent repetitive stress injuries (RSI), while proper lighting may reduce eye strain.

Many worry about the cost of implementing ergonomics. There is, however, a return on investment that results in happier, more productive workers. A collection of intuitive, carefully selected products working together can be the ideal equation in office ergonomics.

Keeping Up With The ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is not a static law; it is constantly evolving as new information is gathered and the needs of physically challenged people change. As feedback from designers and members of the disabled community is gathered, new regulations and changes are on the way.

Since the ADA was put into effect in 1990, some problems with compliance have been cited with path of travel requirements. It has been found that barriers, including those found in parking structures and on sidewalks, still exist for disabled people. Today, however, it is easier than ever for facility managers to comply with ADA regulations. More products, such as modifiable furniture, are available to assist managers with this task.

The new regulations could be more lenient than the original Act. Stadium seating is one example where this is happening; fewer accessible seats may be required in the future.

Despite the possibly relaxed standards, facility managers should remain vigilant in maintaining stringent practices when beginning construction projects or planning renovations. Exceeding standards can improve a company’s image and affect the bottom line; it is important to cater to a more diverse workforce that increasingly includes employees of advanced age. (One in five workers of all ages claim a disability.)

Preparing to comply with the ADA now, before changes to the Act are implemented, is a smart practice toward remaining in good standing with occupants and the government.

Prepare For The Unpredictable

An emergency or disaster situation is a facility manager’s worst nightmare. It is crucial that steps are taken to prevent damage to the facility and that a restoration plan is in place before anything catastrophic occurs.

The first step in disaster planning is to have a full assessment of the structure. This review should consider all of the factors that may be dangerous to the specific building. If a facility is located in an area prone to hurricanes or is near a fault line or other hazard, these issues should be taken into account.

This evaluation should be completely thorough, working logically from the outlying property into the facility. The examination of the facility itself should start from the roof and work down to the foundation. As this work is in progress, changes should be made as vulnerabilities are pinpointed.

Windows, for example, can be covered in film to safeguard against hurricane level winds and possible terrorist activity. The assessment should continue this way until every physical aspect is addressed.

Building systems are also vulnerable. Emergency phone numbers for service providers should be readily available, and backup power must be obtained. When it comes to HVAC, a plan should be in place to provide occupants with fresh air in case of an emergency.

Occupants must be protected. A plan for evacuation should be carefully outlined so it is well understood. It is important to prepare for the possibility that occupants may be required to remain in the building during an emergency. As such, sufficient supplies should be stocked.

Bill Begal, president of Begal Enterprises, Inc. Fire & Water Restoration Specialists of Rockville, MD, cautions: “Don’t think it’s not going to happen to you. Although we didn’t have a particularly damaging hurricane season after two very active years, I would be even more careful and eager to be prepared for next year.”

There are certain emergencies that cannot be planned for; not all damage can be prevented. In this case, it is important for managers to consult with a restoration company before disaster strikes so repairs begin immediately after the damage is done.

Furniture Changes

Furniture manufacturers must be in tune with the needs of facility managers, many of whom have smaller spaces and tighter budgets to work with when purchasing office furniture. Practicality is a necessity, and the trends of 2006 in furniture design reflect this requirement.

Cubicles still reign supreme in offices, but they are changing. Panels are available in thinner, lighter weight, and lower height models. Peter-Paul Hendrikx, vice president of international business for Ahrend International, headquartered in the Netherlands, states, “Cubicles are still the main driver, but you will see a shift toward a more open plan solution. This trend is growing.”

Furniture reflects changes in technology as well. With flat screen monitors, less desk space is required for bulky hardware, making smaller work stations possible. Wireless will have an even bigger impact.

Ahrend’s chief executive officer Jacq de Bruin, says, “With the current developments, such as wireless, there will be less visible technology. This means work stations will get smaller and will be more flexible. With less need for heavy cable management, companies have better options for employees to share work spaces.”

Both men believe that versatility will be key in the purchasing decisions of many managers; today’s work styles demand that furniture adapt quickly and easily.

There are several factors driving furniture trends: space, budget constraints, people, and technology. Facility managers should keep an eye out for the factors that will determine purchases for their specific organizations.

Sustainable Choices

Sustainability is becoming increasingly important to facility managers. The world of environmental consciousness, however, can seem confusing with the glut of information available and every manufacturer claiming to be eco-friendly.

The process of greening a facility is often an individual journey; one that is exciting but can be daunting. An important part of the process is ascertaining which products and practice recommendations are in the best interest of both the facility and the environment. Then, the task of changing systems and components must be carefully planned.

Specific guidelines, such as those in the LEED program, can be helpful in making decisions about sustainability. Choosing products that have been certified by a third party organization, such as Energy Star or Scentific Certification Systems, is also recommended. Facility managers should also consider updating building controls systems to create a sustainable indoor environment (including lighting, time of day controls, and HVAC controls).

There is no one size fits all when it comes to sustainability. Different facilities will have very distinct energy consumption issues, and there is no standardized solution. Most facility managers are learning through trial and error. It is also important to speak to others who have already been through the process.

IAQ And Health

There is some disturbing news about indoor air quality (IAQ). Many ordinary office components, including carpeting, paint, and others, emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), causing a wide array of health issues. These problems can be minor irritations or long-term, serious afflictions. There are relatively simple measures, however, that can prevent indoor air contaminants from threatening the health of building occupants.

One VOC that may be a cause of bad IAQ is formaldehyde. Fortunately, there are steps facility managers can take to eradicate this VOC. These include using formaldehyde-free insulation and limiting occupant exposure to paints, solvents, and adhesives. Choosing products low in formaldehyde is also a wise move. These choices can be facilitated by government regulation or third-party certification. Finally, facility managers must take into consideration the maintenance needed for each new component.

According to Robert Baker, president of the Tampa, FL-based Indoor Air Quality Association, there is a continued search for a “better understanding of the relationship between IAQ and health. Asthma and other respiratory conditions have shown a dramatic increase in recent years in the U.S. Many have asked if there is a connection, and research in this area is continuing.”

With facility managers and manufacturers becoming more vigilant in the fight against VOCs, formaldehyde and other contaminants that threaten occupants’ health should someday be a concern of the past.

Security Integration

It is imperative to consider every type of threat when designing a security plan. Facility managers must prepare as if all areas of a structure are in danger, whether from the unlikely occurrence of a terrorist attack or from employee theft. Both physical and electronic safeguards are necessary to keep a facility safe from these hazards.

The changing nature of security means that facility managers will rely more and more on information technologists to create complete security strategies. Facility professionals must also push security companies to develop the necessary innovations.

Leon Chlimper, vice president of systems for Bosch Security Systems, Inc., explains, “The future lies in being able to provide a complete solution to end users that will allow them to manage and administer a variety of subsystems where security and IT are part of a single solution.”

Facility managers, information technologists, and manufacturers need to work together to create safer facilities.

Rooms Of The Future

A major theme of the past year was the integration of technology into every aspect of a facility. The conference room is no exception.

Too many conference rooms these days are not equipped to deal with the requirements of modern work habits. In order to remedy this, it is prudent to have a clear idea of how a room is used. Learning about new technology is also imperative. Finally, choosing furniture that meets the requirements of the facility’s activities and is able to accommodate current and future technology needs is essential.

As telecommuting becomes more prevalent, the conference room will be an important place for workers to meet and collaborate on projects. Matt Glowiak, product business manager for The HON Company in Muscatine, IA, predicts, “Conference rooms of the future will be multipurpose rooms with more functions. This room will serve as a global and local meeting place.”

With these requirements in mind, facility managers should equip conference rooms so they can handle any organization’s specific needs now and in years to come.

In Harmony With Nature

Everybody is thinking about environmental design these days. With recent world events, including the devastating hurricanes of 2005, many people are beginning to realize that their everyday activities are causing irreparable harm to the environment. Facilities are no different; the damage they regularly inflict is significant. Now is the time to begin making changes.

Every detail in existing facilities and new construction presents an opportunity to make a sustainable decision. This fact is at the heart of environmental design—there is no aspect of facility management too small to consider in light of its effect on the environment.

Jerry Yudelson, principle of Tucson, AZ-based Yudelson Associates, recommends, “Don’t expect the architects, engineers, or contractors to drive the process. It is really the facility manager’s responsibility.”

Facility managers must be able to convince building owners of the importance of environmental design and then conceive of the process. They cannot assume that owners or designers will be implementing these types of practices.

The facility management profession is on the brink of making an incredible impact on the future of the world. It is the facility professional’s responsibility to make sure environmentally conscious choices are implemented. There’s never been a better time to start.

Eliminating Wires

These days, wireless technology is increasingly becoming a viable option for those who want to free a facility from the hassles of wires and cables. Wireless building controls can make staff more productive by liberating them from the constraints of the facility itself. Wireless sensors for building management can provide an excellent view of a facility’s operations.

This technology, however, makes many facility managers nervous. Is it reliable? How much does it cost?

Installing wireless technology may actually provide cost savings. The installation process can be less laborious, and changes in spaces can be implemented rapidly.

In some facilities, though, wireless technology may not be an ideal economic solution. Some buildings have poor reception, and the added expense of installation can be prohibitive.

Changes in wireless technology are making it a more feasible option for many. The standardization of wireless technology is an advantage to facility managers who are debating whether to employ it in their buildings. Mesh networking, created by linking all wireless access points within a system to each other to ensure signals are not lost, solves some of wireless’ previous issues and is viewed by many as the wave of the future for this type of technology. Furthermore, batteries that last several years have also been developed for wireless devices.

Ultimately, each facility’s individual requirements will dictate if wireless technology is a sensible solution to building management issues. The technology, meanwhile, is pushing forward and developing at a fast rate, making wireless an exciting prospect.

Getting Ready For 2007

It may be hard to believe that 2007 is on the horizon, but the trends of the past year suggest that facility management should prepare for even bigger transformations in the future. The changing trends presented in 2006 will continue to progress.

None of this would make a difference, however, without facility managers as the driving force. These individuals are pushing forward with a whole new mindset on environmental issues, worker comfort and security, and innovative technologies that will fuel building automation.

This article was based on interviews with Baker, Begal, Chlimper, de Bruin, Glowiak, Hendrikx, and Yudelson.