The Smart Building Is Your New Workplace

by Elizabeth Dukes on December 12, 2018

Imagine stepping into your office, checking into your workstation and having the desk automatically adjust to your height. The lighting adjusts to your preferences, too. And the meeting rooms and equipment you’ll need for the day have already been reserved.

By now, you’ve probably heard terms like “smart building” or “connected building” used more frequently among workplace leaders.

But if you’re like most building owners, you’re still trying to make sense of smart building technology and determine how to apply it to your own workplace.

You’re going to hear a lot more about this in the next few years. In this post, we’ll introduce you to the fundamentals of smart buildings and illustrate some examples of how forward-thinking workplaces are using these elements to improve building efficiency and the employee experience.

What Is a Smart Building?

A smart building is one that uses IoT sensors and building automation to control its operations.

Sensor technology controls everything from the lighting and energy usage of physical spaces to user-centric functions, such as wayfinding and conference room scheduling.

This illustration by McKinsey Global shows how the elements of a smart building work together:


As you can see, elements of a smart building include:

  • Predictive HVAC, based on weather and occupancy
  • Dynamic, personalized digital signage based on special events and visitors
  • Real-time conference room scheduling
  • Air quality detection and adjustments in real time
  • Personalized lighting control to match tasks and circadian rhythms
  • Wayfinding to help employees locate rooms, offices and shared spaces
  • Asset tracking to identify hardware and equipment needed

Together, these elements can reduce operating costs by as much as 30 percent, according to some estimates.

With IoT sensors becoming more affordable, adoption of smart building technology is growing rapidly. Currently, about 30 percent of enterprises have adopted IoT sensor technologies in some form. That’s expected to increase to 65 percent by 2020, according to a recent Gartner report. And McKinsey estimates the economic impact of IoT sensors on buildings could be as high as $6.3 trillion by 2025.

How Do Smart Buildings Improve Energy Efficiency?

The average commercial building wastes as much as 30 percent of the energy it consumes, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

All this wasted energy can be a huge drain on a budget, so organizations have an immediate incentive to improve efficiency.

There’s also a growing expectation for them to be good stewards of the environment by reducing their carbon footprint.

Smart buildings improve energy management by adjusting heating, cooling and lighting in real time, based on weather, occupancy and other factors. Previously, sensor-based energy systems have taken a “one-size-fits-all” approach to reducing energy usage, but with connected applications, they are becoming personalized down to the individual level. Some hotels are already using these capabilities to make rooms more comfortable for visitors while simultaneously reducing energy usage.

These systems can also connect to the smart grid, allowing building owners to take advantage of demand response programs that offer incentives for reducing their usage during peak times.

How Do Smart Buildings Improve the Employee Experience?

Lighting and temperature that adjusts to your preferences may seem futuristic, but at many organizations, the workplace of the future is already here.

Office buildings are being constructed with the employee experience in mind, giving users greater control over their surroundings.

Consider these examples from McKinsey:

  • Intelligent lighting identifies individuals and adjusts the intensity and color temperature to their preferences. Lighting fixtures will also adjust throughout the day to more closely mimic sunlight and support their circadian rhythms so employees can sleep better at night.
  • Heating and cooling systems respond to individual user preferences as well as occupancy, ensuring meeting rooms don’t become sweat lodges during staff meetings.
  • Predictive awareness will allow elevators to steer occupants according to the next meeting on their calendar, pre-positioning cars to minimize waiting.
  • IoT sensors and room reservation software will work together to keep track of meeting room availability in real time, eliminating “phantom” bookings and making spaces available if attendees don’t show up.

Smart Building Technology: Barriers to Implementation

The Internet of Things and the desire for greater connectivity is driving the next wave of intelligent building systems. These systems will go beyond traditional occupancy-based building controls, leading to greater energy management and an improved work environment for employees.

Unfortunately, implementation isn’t as simple as flipping on a switch. Workplace leaders face several challenges, including:

  • Justifying the cost of smart building technology (which requires cloud-based IT infrastructure) and demonstrating a return on investment
  • Addressing data security and privacy challenges, including allowing employees to easily opt out of the collection of personal identifiable information
  • Identifying which smart building elements to implement and the best technology solutions to use as this space becomes more crowded

Smart buildings have tremendous potential to transform the way we work. There are many questions workplace leaders will need to address along the way, but the future of building automation is bright.

To learn more about how global companies are using IoT sensors and other smart building technology, check out our latest eBook.


Elizabeth Dukes

Elizabeth Dukes' pieces highlight the valuable role of the real estate and facility managers play in their organizations. Prior to iOFFICE, Elizabeth was in sales for large facility and office service outsourcing firm.

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