COVID 19: Will Smart Building Technology Simplify the Return to the Office?

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2Q 2020 | IN-5838

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, smart commercial buildings were becoming more prominent within society, with the ability to manage a variety of different elements that create a working environment. A wide host of lighting; Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC); fire; and security applications were being implemented to increase the efficiency of how buildings are managed. Though these are traditional applications, newer applications were also being implemented in a second wave of the smart commercial building, such as space management, building asset management, and sensor-based solutions for soft services.

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Office Buildings to Start Opening Their Doors


Globally, working environments are rapidly adapting due to many employees retiring from their offices and working remotely. The aim of the applications installed within buildings was to improve their occupants’ health, wellbeing, and safety and create an ideal environment. However, with many buildings now housing Building Management Systems (BMS) with no occupants to gain these advantages, it is time for BMS and application providers to adapt their plans to offer applications better suited to tackling the future problems that commercial buildings will face as and when “normality” returns.

In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), large commercial shopping centers and supermarkets are now installing thermal scanners to be able to detect those with fevers—a common symptom of the highly contagious virus—to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Standard Solutions Changing with Innovative Approaches


The use of thermal sensors within these buildings can help prevent the spread of the virus when offices reopen for business. The ability to examine individuals’ temperatures when entering a building where large numbers of people will be hosted for the day can ensure that there is a limited risk of spreading the virus—if a high temperature is read by the sensors, the person can be asked to leave the premises to minimize the possibility of putting others at risk. 

Among the second wave of applications that were introduced to create smarter commercial buildings were sensor-based solutions for soft services. These included solutions that were used to maintain the cleanliness of restrooms used in both office buildings and larger spaces such as airports and shopping centers. The sensors’ main aim was to collect footfall and stock level data to enable a more efficient cleaning process and schedule. This is a concept that could be adapted as the return to normality looms.

The standard approach for these smarter bathrooms is focused on making cleaning schedules more efficient by having staff enter an area to clean it when it is at a point in time with minimal usage, so that the staff’s productivity can be increased. It is possible that the solutions that have been put in place do not need to be changed; however, the approach must be. For example, rather than using motion sensors to measure footfall to determine the best point in time for the productivity of the cleaning staff, the approach could be adapted so that these sensors are used to ensure cleanliness tasks are completed as and when the utilities are being used. 

Making Office Spaces Safer as Businesses Return to Normality


Though the mass spread of the virus has ultimately slowed down the smart building market, mainly due to the fact that hardly any commercial buildings are currently in use due to the lockdowns happening around the world, it is likely that the overall market will not suffer, unlike other market verticals. With a variety of different solutions available within the market, it is likely that they will all have some sort of use to smooth out the return to normality with employees heading back to offices for work and other commercial buildings, such as shopping centers, also reopening. Another cause for the slowdown within the market is due to the halts in manufacturing earlier in the year. With a large number of vendors having manufacturing plants based in China, the lockdown prevented manufacturing from taking place.

It is highly recommended that commercial building owners and maintenance management teams consider implementing smart building technology within their buildings to help combat the pandemic as nations globally prepare to return to their normal working environments. With social distancing measures likely to continue even after the return to offices, it would therefore be very beneficial for space management solutions to be implemented. The use of occupancy sensors will enable the ability to establish working hot spots, as well as places that are and are not available for employees to work. Though many new buildings are planned to include the implementation of smart solutions, there are several older buildings that have yet to go through the retrofitting process.

ABI Research has forecasted that, by 2021, space management revenues will reach US$231 million and revenues for cleanliness and hygiene management solutions will reach US$4 million, respectively. Though remote working has been successful for many companies, many employees will be preparing themselves to get back to the workplace, and with the anxieties regarding health and safety will be high. For employers to be able to reassure their employees, it is likely that many business owners will be looking to implement technologies to enable the ability to ensure the safety of their staff.