We are sharing information about Smart Buildings quite often, we're those fangirls 😉 But as with every big and upcoming trend, there will also be critical sounds. Smart Buildings technology is said to be expensive, hard to implement or the technology replaces the human touch.
Today, we want to discuss the latter category with you. Smart Buildings are known for their crazy amount of cables, data and technology. We can see how this might feel as though there's nothing human about that. Several sources state that technology is taking over in a Smart Building and leaving little room for human interference. But is this true? Do Smart Buildings leave any room for the human touch? And do they improve the overall user experience?
The goal is NEVER to create a Smart Building
Please let us remind you that creating a Smart Building is never the goal in itself in the first place. It is a method we use to reach other goals. Organizations often invest in a Smart Building (or smart technology for that matter) with the goal to save operational costs, increase safety, decrease their sustainability footprint or – jackpot: upgrade the user experience.
One of the major perks of a Smart Building is that it allows Facility Managers to take a more integrated approach towards the workplace as all systems are connected and more easily managed. With an increasing demand for higher standard workplaces, Facility Managers need to step it up and think of ways to create this workplace without going through the roof on budget.
Business demands vs. user demands
A Smart Building including all the technology in it, always serves two stakeholders: the organization and the user. The use of technology and all other smart features should always support and benefit both of these stakeholders. However, these two stakeholders have two different perspectives.
Technology serves the organization to gain better insights in how the building is used and occupied, what the energy levels are, etc. Smart technology provides Facility Managers with tons of information on their building and how it's used.
And that's the other side of the medal: a Smart Building also serves to make the lives of users easier: they are now able to adjust the room temperature themselves or they are able to find a desk to work from more easily.
Does this mean we lose the human touch?
We can see how it is easy to get caught up in the numbers and data. We get it, it's absolutely awesome to have so much data at your disposal to work with. From a Facility Management perspective. But what about the end-user perspective? Are they as excited? We think that maybe, just maybe, the human touch has not disappeared, but it has only changed. For the end-user, it will no longer be just commuting to a building to perform work and meet others. It will now be a place to meet, where they are fully supported in all (workplace) conditions that makes their work easier. So essentially, the human touch is still there. It has only shifted from face-to-face human contact to extensive support of personal preferences. Adjust to the exact demands of the end-user. And to us, that's a human touch too. Only different.
Changing role of buildings
It's kind of the story of the chicken or the egg: we adjust our buildings to be Smart and serve its users but at the same time buildings have gained a different meaning for their users. Instead of boring bricks, they have become places to meet, be part of a team or community, to belong, to be inspired. An office building is no longer a place where we need to be, it has become a place where we want to be. And that's a huge game changer because then Facility Managers also gain the authority (and budget ;-)) to take that extra step.
The best of both worlds
So, if we are creating these Smart Buildings, are we going to replace all faces by technology then? Will people not be greeted by a hostess as they walk through the door, but by a robot? 😉 Or a facial recognition access gate? We would say that it is up to you to seek for the right balance. What is right for your organization? For the people working in it? Plus, people and technology can co-exist. I once read a quote that said: you may use an e-reader at home but lying on the beach you will still love the good old paperback book. And that couldn't be truer. They can both exist; it is up to you to figure out how.
Sidenote: This especially is great news if you want to work towards a Smart Building taking baby steps. You don't need to implement all smart features at once, so also for these situations, the right balance can do the trick. I hear you: can you take baby steps? Yes, you can. Use the infrastructure that is already there. Over the past decades, we have been using so many different systems and other technologies. Think about how all IT systems were already (wirelessly) connected. So smart technology will not necessarily always replace the infrastructure that was already there. Both can co-exist, just like with the e-book and paperback book example. It's the same with these systems. You are probably able to re-use some of them but connect them with other systems.
Put humans at the center of your work
Even though technology helps the facilities team do a better job, the end-user should still be at the center of everything we do. Just in case you fear to forget about that, here are three tips for you:
- Have a continuous conversation: if you have a continuous conversation with your client or end-user, you will always be able to understand what they need and adjust to that. At the end of the day, that's what we're here for. Critically assess what you'd like to find out during these conversations. People only know what they want, not what they need. Read between the lines. Not only ask them about how satisfied they are about a certain service, try to understand what they find important and how they like to work in an ideal situation. You can do this on an operational level, but also on a tactical and strategical level.
- Understand the customer journey: where do they enter the building, where do they go to, etc. Understand their ways. If you know how the end-user flows and moves through a building, you will be able to adjust your smart systems, technology and services to that.
- Measure results: as you are working with all these amazing smart systems, I'm sure hoping that you also have a dashboard for measurements in place. Especially when you are using sensors, you should be able to track the behavior of the end-user. This data is invaluable, so use it! Analyze the user behavior to see whether or not you should amend your work. Example: suppose that there are large concentrations of people on particular floors. Is it because of certain types of workspaces? Can you adjust by providing more silent rooms maybe? By reading the data, you can keep learning and keep adjusting.
For now, we love the fact that “smart buildings know what we want” because it does upgrade that user experience. But maybe in the future we will go back to “we want to take back control”. Who knows… Only time will tell!