Smarter offices, happier workers

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As you walk into a conference room, the lights, temperature and even the angle of the window blinds automatically adjust to your preferences. There’s no need to fumble with buttons to set up video or audio. You just say, “Start the meeting.”

Sound appealing?

“We’ve reduced the time it takes to begin a meeting from an average of 12 minutes to around a minute,” says Bill MacGowan, director of smart connected real estate for Cisco Systems Canada. The company’s new headquarters in Toronto is a test site for Cisco’s Internet of Everything.

Instead of having assigned seats, the 900 employees have an open concept space that can accommodate twice that many staff, with a range of workspaces that they can select for whatever task they’re working on at any point during the day. Their smartphones have apps that can customize lighting and temperature around work areas.

Cisco worked closely with real estate developer Oxford Properties Group to create the space. Lachlan MacQuarrie, Oxford’s head of platform services, says that it’s a striking example of the trend toward “cognitive offices.” These spaces use data and connectivity to improve building efficiency and better match the preferences of employees.

“It used to be about landlords running the building in one way and tenants wanting it another way,” Mr. MacQuarrie says. “Now, technology is enabling customers to create unique experiences that meet their evolving needs.”

A predictive analytic app in the system uses feedback to make adjustments in the default settings of equipment and maintenance schedules. Using predictive analytics to adjust elements like indoor air quality, heating and air conditioning is resulting in a 10 per cent energy saving, Mr. MacQuarrie says, with a simultaneous savings in capital expenses resulting from lower maintenance costs.

These kind of smart workplaces can have benefits that go beyond energy and money. Better thermal control and indoor air quality can result in productivity improvements of between 8 to 11 per cent, according to the World Green Building Council in its 2018 study, Doing Right by Planet and People.

The cognitive buildings of the future will have features like sensors that maximize air quality and intelligent connections to the grid to monitor energy efficiency. There may even be increased use of more controversial innovations like facial recognition that allow access to specific work areas, Mr. MacGowan says.