Change is unavoidable. But how do you, the facility manager, keep control and oversee the whole building despite it? And how do you keep the working environment healthy, the users happy and the costs predictable?

It is, and always will be, a struggle for most facility managers: maintaining control of and understanding a building’s performance - especially because, at some time or another, everything changes (even without you knowing). How can technology help you keep the working environment healthy in the long term, with happy users and predictable costs?

Let’s say you manage brand spanking new commercial premises - absolutely everything is spotless. It’s a pleasure just to be in the building, let alone work in it. The building performs exactly as the users want and for the exact purpose it was created. But time changes, and we with time - and buildings too: As time goes by, more desks are added to some of the offices. A new coffee dispenser means adapting the pantry. Suddenly, someone puts up a large bar-height table to ‘encourage people to meet’ and the company restaurant needs more cold storage.

Will any of that be a problem? No, such small changes have little impact on the amount of comfort the users experience when they occupy, and work in, that space. The original design can still accommodate for consequences of minor changes on the spatial conditions. Admittedly, the facility manager might sometimes be the last person to hear about the changes, but the accommodation plans can be adjusted accordingly afterwards.

What can go wrong?

Let’s see how things are in five years’ time. Usually, this is when more drastic changes are made, often because of transitions within a company or organisation. Room layouts are altered, walls are shifted, entire departments are relocated and security zones adjusted, to name a few things. Groups of users tend to arrange that kind of rebuilding work themselves, which puts the pressure on the facility manager, who may have been roped in later, to try and sort out the new situation in a very short space of time. In such cases, people are just glad that the furniture has arrived and the users can actually get to work.

Of course accommodation shifts like these, especially when there’s a time constraint, mean it is a challenge to keep the building’s performance up to scratch and the facility manager might be left wondering whether the original design and maintenance actually still meet the new user demands. This is particularly the case if the users make more alterations to the occupation of the space without considering how it would affect the levels of comfort in that space. The users could end up finding the space less comfortable or could end up suffering from incorrectly placed lighting or noisy working environments.

How technology can help
Change is unavoidable. But how do you, the facility manager, keep control and oversee the whole building despite it? And how do you keep the working environment healthy, the users happy and the costs predictable?

Step 1
Make sure you understand how the building is occupied and utilised. Sensor technology can help provide an overview. In fact, the building is not always occupied the way that the users say they are occupying it. Quite often, no use is made of alternative workspaces because the users are unaware of it. An analysis of that data can produce surprising insights, resulting in interesting measures.

Step 2
Take advantage of technology that gauges the effects of the spatial conditions on a healthy working environment as well as how it is occupied. Nowadays, it is easy to learn more about these effects, thanks to the ongoing developments in sensor technology, big data and clever algorithms. I’m involved in the design of these technologies and I’m impressed by their potential.

Step 3
Get a trend analysis made of the data acquired from steps 1 and 2. To do this, you will need a platform that not only generates real-time information about spatial conditions, but one can file that data in smart ways too. Such analyses can produce very useful insights.

Step 4
Don’t hesitate to discuss that information with your users or user groups - even if they haven’t made any changes. An understanding of the spatial properties always gives you something to talk about and that, in turn, can produce some practical management information - perhaps it will emerge that the same number of users can make do with less room. It could lead to considerable savings while allowing you to demonstrate once again that the working environment complies with the required health values.

Step 5
Take it one step further and use an app to record user experiences. You can then compare that data with the information from step 3 to find out where improvements can be introduced.

To sum up
Changes made to your premises aren’t necessarily bad news. They’re all part of a building’s life. But make sure that you anticipate potential problems. Don’t wait until after the renovation to check whether the building still meets health and safety requirements. Before any work is done, consider which adjustments might be necessary to ensure that the spaces still comply with the requirements. If you need to be sure, use a test layout to check the effects. If you take the trouble to run tests, you will be rewarded by the fact that it saves you having to make changes afterwards. Adjustments made to accommodate such changes often have to be done quickly and cause a lot of nuisance. Besides, a healthy, pleasant working environment will boost the users’ welfare and productivity.

This blog was previously published on Duurzaam Gebouwd

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