One of the long-term implications of COVID-19 is how it will influence energy management in the workspace.
For most office workers, their lives have been defined by the open-plan office space. In particular, an open-plan space which - by its design and associated features such as plants, kitchenettes, and small meeting spaces/breakout rooms - encourages people to work in teams defined by a department or a project.
From a facility management’s perspective, it’s been a great success. And while there are ongoing debates about how successful the open-plan office has been in terms of productivity, its fundamental design is the default plan for most organisations.
However, as companies plan a return to work post COVID-19, the open-plan office presents many challenges, such as the following five topics.
1. Social distancing
Ultimately, social distancing translates into occupancy which is the amount of people which can be work in your office at any one time. If you have CAD plans of your office space, you can quickly find out that number by putting a two-meter radius around each person. While the exact percentage drop in occupancy depends on the shape of the office, it’s anywhere between 15 to 25 percent of what existed before the pandemic.
This can be increased by creating new work patterns such as shifts which are staggered, or alternating employees between working at home and the office. However, longer office hours will mean more energy will be consumed as heating, lights and ventilation will be on for longer periods. And if more space is required, then there will be an associated increased in energy consumed.
2. Workplace wellbeing
When companies return to the ‘new normal’ such will be the fear of a similar virus breaking out again, the notion of ‘core’ staff will change. According to PWC, ‘Human resource models that provide 60:40 flexibility around a 60 percent permanent core are likely to gain ground.’
If 40 percent of your staff are perceived as non-core, companies will be wary to invest in them in terms of space. New working practices will be encouraged, such as remote working and online conferencing to reduce social interaction / travel.
However, people working in their office will still need to feel safe and valued. Workplace wellbeing will include initiatives such as ‘sound masking’ and ‘serene soundscapes’ to de-stress staff while keeping productivity high.
3. Sensors / Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Once people are in their office, how they interact with the physical space will also change. COVID-19 can linger on metal or plastic surfaces and as such, people will be discouraged to - or will be afraid of - performing routine tasks. From turning on lights, fiddling with projectors, operating coffee machines and water coolers, and opening doors, people will be most at ease when such routine tasks are automated as much as possible.
Sensors, for example, to control lights, are an obvious solution while the use of AI which allows people to interact with devices without touching them will become more common. Expect to hear ‘Okay Google, open the blinds!’ more often.
Since the dawn of time the benefits of fresh air has been praised, yet when it comes to the open-plan office, never a truer word has been spoken. As COVID-19 circulates in air, so it makes sense that the fresher the air, the less chance of it spreading.
While some offices may have windows which can be opened, the flow of air will be unnoticeable to the majority of people. Therefore, the pressure will be on ventilation systems to ensure that spaces are continuously ventilated to a greater degree than they were previously. Unfortunately, this will become a necessary fixed-cost greater than it was previously.
Also, humidity levels should be set at optimum levels, such as between 40-60 percent relative humidity in order to combat seasonal respiratory viruses; this will keep staff healthier and less likely to have to self-isolate out of fear of COVID-19, and cause panic among their colleagues.
5. Energy Management Platforms
As governments around the world are trying to manage their economies, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has encouraged them to consider energy management: ‘Experience has proven the effectiveness of including energy efficiency in stimulus programmes. Targeted investments now can create jobs immediately and also bring long-term benefits for consumers, businesses and the environment.’
At the core of energy efficiency is energy management. The Acutrace Platform is built around MVAC – your ability to Measure, Visualise, Analyse, and Control your energy consumption.
· Measure - Once you have accurately metered your utilities and have this data to hand, you can start to measure it and see where and at what time it is being used.
· Visualise - The Acutrace Platform takes in your data and presents it back to you in any number of easy-to-use formats: pie charts, graphs, CSV files.
· Analyse - Once a baseline for ‘normal’ is set, you can highlight the areas where the most amount of energy is being used along with trends, such as spikes and falls.
· Control – From heating, cooling, and humidity to lighting and other sensors, by implementing a full Energy Plan, you will have total control and oversight of your office space.
Understandably, companies will be weary of capital expenditure at this time. However, with our platform, you can expect a 20 percent reduction in your energy costs and a return on your investment within 12 months, while reaping the benefits of a healthier, happier, and more confident workforce.
For more information about the Acutrace Energy Management Platform contact: