Your future office will be riddled with sensors and that’s okay

You won’t hear this often, but let’s talk about office buildings. They’re pretty awful. Most office buildings waste energy and productivity, use rooms and desks inefficiently and the air quality and the sedentary office lifestyle are often detrimental to employee health. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

The office building of the future already exists today — often with cool future-appropriate sci-fi names like The Edge, The Dock or The Crystal. With the help of data analytics, a wide array of sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT), these buildings are what all our offices should aspire to be: efficient, comfortable and sustainable.

But this comes with a potential cost. With sensors collecting data around the clock, how does that affect our privacy?

Wasted space and energy

About 97% of the current buildings in Europe are considered not energy efficient — about 30 billion square meters wasting energy. By using sensors to measure crowd levels in different spaces, smart offices can get fresh air, heating, and lighting where it is actually needed —and save money and energy in the process. An empty floor or desk simply doesn’t need heating, fresh air or lighting.

The same goes for wasted office space. Little under 300.000 desks remain unoccupied in England every day — an astounding statistic when a single desk can cost thousands of euros to maintain. There is even a company called LiquidSpace that deals in unused office space.

Smart offices try to minimize this problem with sensors that reveal if desks or conference rooms are available, where you can park your car and subsequently adjust the HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) settings for the unused space.

One of these smart offices is the aforementioned The Edge, an Amsterdam-based high-rise that has been lauded as ‘the most sustainable building in the world’ as well as the smartest. It was developed by OVG Real Estate in 2014, which recently announced EDGE Technologies as their newest company. Its main mission: Developing more high-tech, sustainable buildings that support workplace health.

A working day in The Edge is highly personalized and guided by a smartphone app that is in constant sync with the office. The building knows your schedule, tells you where to park, which desk to use (the work environment is flexible, without set desk spaces) and adjusts lighting and temperature settings as you go about your day.

Create better buildings

According to Coen van Oostrom, founder and CEO of EDGE Technologies — gathering data will provide valuable lessons. “It will answer questions such as — do people dim lighting when giving presentations? Do people spend more time in areas with more plants? Do people tend to arrive at work later in the winter months?” explains van Oostrom to TNW. “This way we adapt existing working environments and plan out our future buildings better.”

New buildings like The Edge provide a great chance to build a smart office from the ground up, but retrofitting old buildings is just as important. As mentioned earlier, the vast majority of buildings in Europe are far from energy efficient.

To tackle this problem, the European Union past legislation that requires “member states to develop national long-term strategies to support the cost-saving renovation of public and private buildings, with a view to reducing emissions in the EU by 80-85% compared to 1990 levels.” By 2050, Europe should be full of smart and more energy efficient buildings.

Van Oostrom: “The key motivator to retrofit offices is that making an existing building smart, prolongs its lifespan, which in the end, considerably saves money. This was the case with our latest project in the USA, where we developed Unilever’s US headquarters. We managed to reduce the building’s energy consumption by 50 percent and increased its usable space by 28 percent.”