Building Controls, Energy Management and Lighting, Human Resources, Maintenance and Operations, Sustainability/Business Continuity

A Fresh Look at Energy Efficiency in the Era of Hybrid Work

Although it’s been a full three years since the start of the pandemic, the question among employers and employees about how and where to work still very much exists. Despite initial concerns when the world shut down in early 2020, work persisted and productivity flourished with the help of new collaboration tools and processes, affirming the effectiveness of remote work.

In many cases, though, employers feel their employees are most productive when collaborating together in the office, while some employees appreciate the social aspects of office life and access to facility amenities. As a result, the hybrid work schedule of 2-3 days a week in the office has become a common middle ground for the foreseeable future. According to a new report by Resume Builder, 90% of companies plan to implement return-to-office policies by the end of 2024, with 64% of this group leaning toward a hybrid part-time in-office/part-time work-from-home model.

However, one issue often overlooked during the debate around hybrid work is the shift in energy demands and costs of commercial buildings when employees are inconsistently coming and going. One might assume office buildings relish lower energy costs (which represent approximately one-third of most businesses’ operating budgets) when employees are away from the office. In reality, many unoccupied buildings still consume energy with lights left on and heating/cooling systems running at full capacity. Even if this phenomenon isn’t apparent during the daytime, it’s not uncommon to see towering structures illuminated like Christmas trees in the dead of night.

Some buildings may have their lights on at night for after-hours cleaning and/or security purposes, but when it comes down to it, the majority are left on due to outdated routines and carelessness. At a time when cost and environmental concerns prompt individuals to prioritize energy conservation for the purpose of lowering carbon emissions, optimizing energy efficiency is imperative. However, energy efficiency measures are only as effective as the systems in place and data to manage those systems to their maximum performance.

Smart Tech and Smart Data Leads to Energy Efficiency

The good news is, by implementing smart building management systems, including smart LED luminaires, network controllers, motion sensors, and more, facilities managers and/or building operators can easily and precisely monitor and control their lighting and HVAC systems remotely from the convenience of a mobile app. System settings can be adjusted in real time based on employee occupancy to reduce energy consumption when the building is vacant. Through built-in data analytics, building operators have a complete picture of how their systems are performing (room by room) and what adjustments need to be made.

What’s more, since the pandemic, many facilities have also installed new, more robust filtration systems to mitigate the transmission of airborne pathogens, placing even larger loads on energy systems. This additional stress underscores the significant need to minimize energy consumption at every opportunity, particularly when buildings are unoccupied.

Leveraging advanced data analytics as part of the smart building system provides managers with access to real-time information on energy consumption and inefficiencies, enabling them to make swift adjustments that often result in huge savings. These insights facilitate more effective monitoring and adaptation of lighting and heating levels across facilities, considering factors such as zone usage, time of day, holiday schedules, and seasonal variations.

Moreover, lighting controls empower office workers to create personalized lighting scenes, adjusting brightness and color settings all from a mobile app while also enabling them to play a more responsible role in conserving energy when rooms are not in use. As another added feature, smart lighting systems can be programmed to automatically adjust brightness in response to changes in natural light levels throughout the day.

Smart Building Data Is the Key to Workplace Optimization

In addition to monitoring and managing energy consumption, having the ability to collect data on workspace usage in real time provides building owners and business managers with the level of detail needed to make decisions around office space utilization. This is especially important as businesses are planning for more permanent yet flexible return-to-work schedules.

Through smart building sensors and tracking systems, business managers can continuously monitor employee workspaces and overall real estate utilization. Doing so helps them to better understand demand and track pattern changes within their facilities to best determine needs and optimize the space accordingly. Workspace optimization increases employee productivity and happiness and reduces costs by improving space efficiency.

Building owners and facilities managers know better than anyone that a building’s most important asset is its people. By providing an optimal occupant experience (e.g., ensuring employees feel a sense of vibrancy even when occupancy is only partially full), smart building technology increases overall tenant satisfaction and retention at a time when the commercial real estate market is in flux.

Retrofits and Incentives Remove the Barriers to Smart Building Efficiency

The availability of plug-and-play smart building platforms streamlines the integration of remote control and autonomous features into existing hardware and fixtures, offering an easy and cost-effective retrofitting solution. This presents a distinct advantage for businesses, as they are able to start reaping the benefits of up to 80% energy efficiency, lower costs, and a decrease in carbon emissions within the first year. Recent government rebates provide even more incentives for commercial buildings to adopt these technologies now, with substantial long-term energy and efficiency savings allowing for early investment paybacks as well.

Adopting smart building technology provides both building operators and businesses with a strategic and sustainable solution for managing the many intricacies of hybrid work. Having a smart building solution in place will enable:

  • Businesses to better manage their new work schedules for space utilization and efficiency; and
  • Operators to diminish high energy costs (especially at times when buildings are unoccupied), elevate property asset value, and improve the comfort of building tenants.

Having smart building systems in place also demonstrates a business’s commitment to the environment by reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions while alleviating additional strain on the grid no matter how much occupancy patterns change.

Dan Hollenkamp is COO of Toggled, a wholly owned subsidiary of Altair focused on intelligent lighting and building management solutions.

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