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Metrikus Proptech Workplace Timeline

A historical guide to workplaces and the future of the office

Check out our infographic summarising this guide here.

Here at Metrikus, we make workplaces more efficient, healthier, and more productive. To do this, we spend lots of time looking at workplace trends to find out what both employers and employees are looking for when it comes to the ideal office. We thought that this information might be useful for you, so we’ve put together a guide all about workplaces.

You can have a read through the whole thing, or just skip to the bits that are most relevant to you. Please let us know if there’s anything else you’d like to see included, and we will keep updating our info as the offices we work in continue to change.

So, let’s have a look at what we’ll be covering:


The history of the workplace

The workplace of today

Smart offices

Occupancy monitoring

Indoor air quality monitoring

IoT platforms in the workplace

The workplace of the future

The history of the workplace

It makes sense to start at the beginning to understand how we got to where we are today.

The workplace is a very fluid space that’s hugely influenced by the requirements, values, technology and culture of the time. It also varies loads from company to company. Offices have changed massively since they were first invented, and will continue to evolve more in the coming years.

Who invented the office?

It seems that all roads really do lead to Rome, as there’s evidence to suggest that it was the Romans who invented the concept of the office. Ancient Rome had its very own business district, and at the centre of each Roman town lay a forum, a large public square that was surrounded by shops and offices. 

Interestingly, even the word office itself comes from the Roman Latin term ‘officium’, loosely meaning ‘bureau’.

Roman forum summer day
Photographer: Anna Church | Source: Unsplash

Is working from home a new concept?

Whilst working from home is often considered a modern and innovative concept, it’s actually been around for centuries. After the fall of the Roman Empire, dedicated office spaces were mostly abandoned until the 18th century. The majority of office-style work, including accounts and paperwork, was carried out at home. 

The pros and cons of working from home were undoubtedly the same as they are today: no commute and more flexibility, but blurred boundaries between work and home.

The first dedicated office buildings in England

In the 18th century, the first two dedicated office buildings in England were constructed.

The first of these was the Old Admiralty Office, now known as the Ripley Building after its architect Thomas Ripley. It was built in 1726, predominantly for the Royal Navy, and is now occupied by the Department for International Development.

admiralty The Old Admiralty Office. Source: British History Online

1729 saw the opening of the country’s second purpose-built office building, which was just as impressive as the first. Located on Leadenhall Street, East India House was the London headquarters of the East India Company, from which much of British India was governed until 1858.

East India House London
Credit: Digital Image: Yale Center for British Art

The birth of the open-plan office

Open-plan workplaces are a bit like marmite: you either love them or you hate them (and post-COVID, it seems like more and more people are leaning towards ‘hate them’). Either way, it’s a layout that has dominated the history of office design.

Frank Lloyd Wright is widely acknowledged as the architect who introduced the open-plan office space to the world in the 20th century. He designed more than 1,000 structures, including the Larkin Administration Building and the Johnson Wax offices (image below) which he conceived as ‘a forest open to the sky’. 

Wright believed in designing structures that were in harmony with humanity and its environment, a philosophy he called organic architecture.

Work area Johnson Wax Building
Photographer: Library of Congress | Source: Unsplash

However, the majority of open place offices that emerged were nothing like Wright’s original vision. Taylorism was a highly influential theory that shaped workplace design. It resulted in rigid office layouts with managers surrounding rows of workers. 

Air conditioning and fluorescent lighting meant that new high rise buildings had no real need for natural light and ventilation (and the all-important fresh air that comes with it). The desire to maximise efficiency resulted in bleak and dehumanising working environments. There’s no doubt that Wright would have been pretty disappointed with these spaces.

The 1960s: a decade of change

In the 1960s, the regimented approach was surpassed with the development of Bürolandschaft: office landscaping. This allowed employees to sit in more organic patterns, with areas loosely divided by plants and furniture.

It’s interesting that these changes to office design were largely politically motivated. Across Europe, workers’ councils were fighting for better and healthier working conditions for their employees. Companies began to move away from top-down hierarchies and towards more ‘socially democratic’ layouts, encouraging communication and collaboration.

The open plan layouts of Bürolandschaft didn’t suit everyone, and this period also saw the origins of cubicle office design. The Action Office was a series of furniture designed by Robert Propst, and manufactured and marketed by Herman Miller (see in image below). 

It was first introduced in 1964 and presented the concept of flexible, semi-enclosed workspaces. These cubicle structures allowed office spaces to be easily adapted to suit the needs of a company and its workers.

Box office black and white
Source: The Wall Street Journal | Pinterest

The 1980s ‘cube farm’

In the 1980s, cheap modular walls led to the proliferation of ‘cube farms’. It’s ironic that whilst this office layout would eventually become notoriously unpopular, it was initially seen as a welcome escape from the watchful eyes of management.

Standardised furniture was very cheap to buy in bulk, and companies realised that by cramming workers in linear rows they could reduce costs and increase profits. This generic approach made offices around the world indistinguishable, and cube farms became pretty monotonous and stifling places to work in.

The new millennium

The new millennium saw a huge shift towards flexibility. As technology advanced, workers became more mobile and were able to escape the constraints of the cubicle. With the rise of laptops, mobile phones and WiFi, companies realised that employees didn’t need to be in the office full-time.

Companies also started to see that by paying more attention to staff morale, levels of productivity were likely to increase. As a result, the new wave of workplace design blurred the boundaries between work and social life. 

Office environments started to lose their corporate feel and were filled with bright colours, pinball machines, and pool tables.

open plan office
Source: Taskhome | Pinterest

The workplace of today

Workplace design has transformed beyond all recognition since it was first conceived. All of the trends we have outlined so far have led to the office we work in today, which remains an ever-changing space.

To read more about how London is getting back to work in the wake of COVID-19, download our report ‘Return to the Office: The Future Now’, co-authored by Re-Leased.

What are the key trends that have transformed the workplace?

Company culture, employee wellbeing and emerging technologies will all affect the way our workplaces change in the future. Below we’ve given a quick overview of some key trends that currently dominate office design.

Flexible workspaces

Flexible workspaces have been around for a long time now and it’s likely that they will stick around. We’re living in a time of rapid (and sometimes tumultuous) change, and encouraging flexible work practices can ensure companies are prepared for anything.

It’s also a great way of attracting top talent as flexibility is a key consideration for today’s workforce. Instead of allocating everyone an individual desk, offices are increasingly being designed with open plan spaces, non-bookable agile areas, collaborative work zones and modular furniture: all to accommodate a fluctuating headcount.

Co-working spaces

Co-working spaces are set to remain at the heart of workplace design for some time. They tend to be cheaper for companies to set up in and reports show that co-workers perform well within them. The demand is also likely to grow as the number of freelance workers continues to rise and companies downsize from traditional office spaces.

modern co-working office fairy lights
Photographer: Shridhar Gupta | Source: Unsplash

Sustainable workplaces

Businesses are becoming increasingly aware that they need to do more to reduce their carbon footprint, particularly with the growth of ESG around the world. And executives have learned that becoming greener isn't just an ethical or marketable endeavour, but a profitable one as well. 

There are loads of easy, eco-friendly practices that can make workplaces more sustainable:

  • Using LED lighting
  • Taking advantage of natural light
  • Using low-emission materials
  • Reusing/repurposing furniture
  • Using recycling bins
  • Going paperless

Certifications like BREEAM and LEED are quickly becoming less of a competitive edge and more of a market necessity. Companies that fail to embrace these standards will undoubtedly start to find themselves at a disadvantage.

A report by PwC found that 65% of people across China, Germany, India, the UK and the US want to work for an organisation with a strong social conscience. It’s clear that as time goes by, companies can’t afford to turn a blind eye to the climate crisis.

Biophilic design

As fancy as it sounds, biophilic office design is basically just bringing elements of nature into the workplace. Loads of studies have shown that by doing this you can increase staff productivity, creativity and morale.

A Human Spaces report revealed that EMEA employees who work in environments with natural elements reported a 13% higher level of wellbeing. Another study, ‘The Relative Benefits of Green versus Lean office Space’, found that workers who had more contact with nature were 15% more productive.

Garden inside modern open plan office
Source: Officelovin | Pinterest

Sleep pods

While the idea of napping at work might seem slightly bizarre, a 20-minute power nap can improve learning and memory, prevent stress, boost creativity and increase productivity. In Oktra’s annual workplace report, 29% of British employees confirmed they would use a sleep pod if they had one in their office.

Google has already installed sleep pods in its offices, and Nike’s headquarters is home to various sleep and meditation rooms.

As the concept of sleep pods in the workplace becomes normalised, the benefits will soon become apparent and they could become far more commonplace. They’re definitely something to watch out for in future workplace design.

Employees in the workplace today

For the first time in history, there are five generations in the workplace. There are lots of misconceptions and slightly unfair stereotypes when it comes to these generations, but it’s still interesting to have a look at what they are.

People working cafe
Photographer: Toa Heftiba | Source: Unsplash

What are the five generations in the workplace?

1. Traditionalists: born 1925 to 1945

Most traditionalists have now retired, but their influence can still be seen in workplace structures that have a top-down hierarchy with clear reporting structures. They were known for company loyalty and the practice of working at one place for their entire career.

2. Baby Boomers: born 1946 to 1964

Boomers created more competition in the workplace as women and minorities began to take on jobs previously held only by white, middle class men. They didn’t have access to technology that enabled them to work from home, so they are often thought to be less supportive of flexible work policies.

3. Generation X: born 1965 to 1980

Gen Xers grew up supportive of emerging technology including microwaves, video games and personal computers. They’re often seen as being entrepreneurial, independent and self-sufficient.

4. Millennials: born 1981 to 2000

Also known as digital natives, millennials grew up with the Internet, and that has a major impact on how they see the world and interact with others. It’s often said they have the expectation that infinite information is just one click away.

5. Generation Z: born 2001 to 2020

Generation Z will soon surpass millennials as the biggest generation, accounting for more than a third of the world’s population. They will be the most diverse generation so far, and, as some of the most politically and socially active young people in history, their impact could be pretty profound.

What kinds of challenges does this present for today’s employers?

Having a multi-generational workforce means that there is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach when it comes to:

  • Attracting and retaining talent
  • Communication
  • Work-life balance
  • Learning and professional development

Companies need to learn how to acknowledge differences, work with differences and leverage differences in order to create an optimal working environment.

Smart offices

As well as the trends in office design that we’ve had a look at, there’s another glaring way in which offices have changed in recent years. And it’s one that’s particularly relevant to all of us here at Metrikus: the adoption of IoT and smart technology.

Over time, the workplace has slowly but surely become smarter and more efficient, and it’s clear that it will only get smarter in the coming years.

Check out our blog post exploring five of the smartest offices in the world.

What is a smart office?

Smart offices use a variety of IoT sensors and data sources to understand and measure how people and objects behave in buildings. This data can then be used to optimise space utilisation, streamline maintenance process, improve the workplace environment, and increase productivity.

open plan styled office
Photographer: Austin Distel | Source: Unsplash

What does a smart office look like?

This is a bit of a trick question really. The answer is, there’s no set way a smart office will look. People tend to picture futuristic buildings, with loads of exciting gadgets and all the latest technology. But the truth of the matter is, some of the smartest buildings do not seem that smart at a first glance.

A smart office is essentially just a space that collects and utilises data from a range of sensors and devices. The thing that makes a building truly smart is that those systems can all talk to each other.

It’s often perceived that smart building technology is only for new spaces, but this is not the case. There are loads of smart IoT solutions that can be easily retrofitted into existing buildings, even ones that appear to be pretty old and run down.

Whether they look it or not, more and more offices are becoming smarter each day.

What are the benefits of adopting smart technology?

There are countless reasons why it’s a good idea to adopt smart technology. If it’s done right, everyone involved can benefit from it.

Save money

Sensors and automated systems capture real-time data. This information can be used to analyse, measure, and improve the performance of both employees and the workplace itself. Companies can have a complete view of their space and this increased visibility can help them to save huge amounts of money.

Smart building technology can seem pretty expensive upfront, but the ROI it achieves certainly outweighs this.

  • Improve energy efficiency
  • Achieve optimal space utilisation
  • Increase productivity
  • Prevent system downtime

Read our blog post all about how you can use data to improve your bottom line.

Boost productivity

One of the most popular reasons for implementing a smart office solution is to improve productivity.

There are loads of ways technology can help to improve efficiency. According to a workplace survey, 39% of office workers spend as much as 60 minutes every week searching for available desks, conference rooms, or colleagues. Making it easier to carry out menial tasks like this can help employees to stay more focused on their work.

There’s also loads of research showing that fresh air is necessary for optimal performance in the workplace. Team members who work in overcrowded offices or attend long meetings in poorly ventilated rooms are likely to experience high concentrations of CO2. By implementing smart sensors, you can monitor CO2 levels in real-time and react appropriately to create a healthier and more productive environment.

Click here for a deeper dive into the link between air quality and productivity, or head here to learn more about how noise pollution impacts our productivity.

Improve sustainability

Operational emissions from buildings account for 28% of global carbon emissions. Occupancy levels in offices tend to average less than 55%, and energy is used despite some areas being completely empty.

Smart technology can quickly improve efficiency by ensuring that energy is only used when required, reducing energy costs and CO2 emissions.

The World Green Building Council aims for buildings to reach 40% less embodied carbon emissions by 2030, and achieve 100% net zero emissions buildings by 2050.

Improving energy efficiency is going to be essential in order to comply with future regulations and make our offices more sustainable.

artistic green plant blue background

Photographer: Larm Rmah | Source: Unsplash

Make better use of your space

Occupancy monitoring solutions can help companies to understand and optimise the way their space is used. Sensors can detect spaces that are overused and underused, and office layouts can be adapted accordingly.

Office space is notoriously expensive, with the average cost of a single desk space in Central London a whopping £12,000 per annum. Having data that shows exactly how much space is needed can help companies to achieve huge cost savings.

Improve employee experience

Making your office smarter can bring loads of benefits to the people working in it.

Employees today tend to expect a lot more from their workplace than before. We’re all used to working with the latest tech and tools to get work done. By providing innovative smart office solutions, companies can attract and retain the best talent.

There are some great tenant experience apps like Equiem that provide users with a far more streamlined and engaging office experience. Apps like this can help to:

  • Enhance communication and build community
  • Improve amenity and experience
  • Gather customer insights

Read the article we wrote for Unissu to learn more about how smart building strategies can help to improve tenant experience.

Optimise maintenance

Something as simple as a broken TV in a meeting room can be really inconvenient and frustrating. By streamlining the employee-to-facility management channel, smart technology can reduce the time and effort to report broken or missing equipment.

Smart maintenance can increase first-time fix rates and in some instances, data can be used to predict and solve issues before they even become a problem.

Elegant boardroom with view
Photographer: Benjamin Child | Source: Unsplash

Why have businesses been slow to adopt new technology?

Corporate office spaces have generally been much slower on the uptake of new gadgets and technology than individuals. This makes sense when you consider the relatively high cost of adoption, particularly for larger spaces. Other common issues include:

1. It can be difficult to build a business case

Trials can take a long time to implement and are often expensive, and it can be difficult to build a business case for implementing tech solutions.

2. Companies can’t decide what they really need 

Another common issue is distinguishing between technology that seems impressive but serves little purpose, and solutions that are actually valuable and worthwhile.

The market is overwhelmed with point solutions, making it difficult to work out which applications are actually needed. 

There are simply too many options available, from building services apps like access control and maintenance requests, to amenity apps including health and fitness, food and beverage and community engagement. Switching between such a wide range of apps can quickly become pretty tedious and lead to ‘app fatigue’.

3. Finding a balance between operational efficiency and tenant experience

For a smart building strategy to succeed, it has to consider the needs of the occupants, as well as bringing benefits to building owners. 

An office can have all the latest tech, but if it doesn’t optimise employee wellbeing and productivity, it seems a bit pointless. As smart technologies are adopted, it’s essential to strike the perfect balance between operational efficiency and positive tenant experience.

While technology has adapted and evolved over the past decade, it may have been a good idea to hold out on smart technology. But there are now some great solutions on the market that are trusted by major global firms. Now is the time to embrace the digital workplace and everything it has to offer companies that fail to do so risk falling behind the competition.

  • Want to find out how to make your office really smart? Check out this LinkedIn article by our COO, Michael Grant. 
Working on iPhone X, planning my day
Photographer: Yura Fresh | Source: Unsplash

How secure are smart offices?

Security concerns have historically been a barrier to smart technology adoption. However, there have been some promising advances in recent years, and smart systems are created and refined with security at the forefront of their design.

There are undoubtedly still some potential risks, but these can be mitigated if the right security protocols are in place.

These are a few basic things that can be followed to enhance smart office security:

  • Implement security from the beginning
  • Allow updates and future-proofing
  • Ensure device authentication and access control
  • Prepare for all kinds of attacks

It’s also essential to ensure that the data that is generated from your space is encrypted. Encryption can be built into a device itself or in the application that interfaces with it. The choice of storing data needs to be left to the user.

  • Click here to find out more about creating a smart office that is secure by design.

Occupancy monitoring

What is occupancy monitoring?

Occupancy monitoring is basically just using smart sensors to gather data about how your space is being used. It’s a cost-effective and convenient way to get a lot of accurate information.

Having access to real-time data takes away the need for guesswork, and provides facility management teams with a complete overview of space utilisation. Historical patterns can then be used to forecast future growth, ensuring occupancy remains at an optimal level.

What are the benefits of occupancy monitoring?

The data you can get is practically endless: there are so many ways occupancy monitoring can help you understand how your office is used by employees.

  • Capture real-time information of desks that are in use and those that are available
  • Understand whether you have the appropriate number of meeting rooms and whether they are the right size
  • Monitor breakout areas to check if they’re overused or underused
  • Monitor routes through the office to assess why some are more used than others
  • Ascertain average utilisation of desk, meeting rooms or shared spaces
  • Identify peak vs. off peak utilisation rates
  • Determine the ideal person to desk ratio
  • Compare between buildings, floors, departments or teams
  • Use alerts to locate employees to nearby sites or alternate areas of the building
  • Use historical data to inform future decisions
  • Ensure you comply with capacity-based health & safety regulations

What are the key types of occupancy sensors?

There are loads of different sensors that are used in offices, some much more accurate than others. The type and number of sensors installed is completely dependent on the specific needs of the company.

The main detection technologies used in occupancy sensors are:

  • Passive infrared (PIR)
  • Ultrasonic (US)
  • Image recognition

Dual technology occupancy sensors combine PIR and US sensing technologies into a single device.

So what are the key types of occupancy sensors?

1. Desk sensors

Desk sensors are usually PIRs which are triggered by motion and heat. Installed under desks, they’re completely out of sight and are not disruptive to employees. They enable facility management teams to understand individual desk occupancy and compare data between departments.

2. Meeting room presence

Meeting room sensors use PIR technology to monitor the utilisation of meeting rooms. They’re discreetly placed on the ceiling or over doors so they don’t disrupt employees using the rooms.

These sensors can help facility managers to understand if complaints regarding not enough meeting rooms are due to an actual lack of rooms, or due to inappropriate use of booking software and no shows. Over time, it can become clear which types of meeting rooms are the most popular so that spaces can be adapted to optimise utilisation.

3. Meeting room counting sensors

Meeting room counting sensors are usually used for larger meeting rooms that can contain more than five people. These sensors don’t just sense presence, but also the number of people using the room at any given time. They show how effectively meeting rooms are used, and can make it clear if larger rooms should be split into smaller ones.

4. People counting sensors

These sensors can be used to monitor the footfall of any given area. This could be reception areas, breakout areas or lunch spaces. People counting is a great way to get an overview of how your entire office is being used.

people sat windowsill of cafe working
Photographer: Caleb Minear | Source: Unsplash

Why are sensors better than manual surveys?

There are loads of reasons why sensors are much more effective than manual surveys.

  • Less disruptive
  • More cost-effective
  • Lower error rate
  • Provide a wider scope of occupancy usage
  • Reports are automatically generated
  • Facility managers can focus on other strategic activities
  • Not dependent on employee participation

Which sensors are best for occupancy monitoring?

Data reliability and accuracy are critical when it comes to occupancy sensors. If the data they collect is going to be used to help companies decide how much space they need, it needs to be accurate. Quite a few cheap sensors come with a detection accuracy below 80%. Ideally, you want sensors with a minimum of 98% data accuracy.

There are different types of mounting alternatives to consider: ceiling, wall, and desk mounted sensors. All of these options have their strengths and weaknesses.

To deploy an accurate solution, you need to consider which areas you want to monitor and exactly what you want to get from the data. It’s likely that you might need different types of sensors in different areas to get the best possible understanding of your space.

The most important thing is to use accurate sensors that are able to do what you want them to do. At the end of the day, there’s no point scrimping on the sensors as they’re an indispensable piece of the smart office jigsaw puzzle.

Micro QA board for Analog
Photographer: Jorge Ramirez | Source: Unsplash

Is occupancy monitoring an invasion of privacy?

You might imagine occupancy monitoring to be some sort of surveillance system that’s constantly watching what you’re doing. Employees might even feel like it’s a way of their employer spying on them. But the reality of occupancy monitoring is very different, and it’s not an invasion of privacy at all.

The point of occupancy monitoring is to understand general usage and trends, not to track individual people. Sensor data is completely anonymous and very few sensors use cameras to detect people.

It’s important to speak to employees about occupancy monitoring to avoid any concerns. As with everything in the workplace: communication is key.

How has COVID-19 impacted occupancy monitoring?

Occupancy monitoring in buildings has long been a really valuable tool, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made it a necessity.

There’s a growing focus on various back to work strategies, including those that will enable employees to comply with social distancing measures in the workplace. However, without having access to real-time occupancy data, it’s really hard for these measures to be enforced.

Occupancy monitoring is the best way for companies to understand and control how their space is being used. It can also be used to inform cleaning regimes and schedules.

  • To find out more, read our article about the importance of occupancy monitoring in the post COVID-19 workplace.
cartoon of boulder hitting building covid-19
Credit: Tom Fishburne

Indoor air quality monitoring

What is indoor air quality monitoring?

Indoor air quality (IAQ) monitoring assesses the quality of your indoor air and the levels of pollutants in real time so that you can take immediate action to mitigate any issues. Problems could arise from cleaning products, building materials, or even furniture. Smart sensors monitor key air quality parameters, and alerts can be set up when these parameters exceed optimal levels. Sensors can even be integrated with your Building Management System (BMS) so that any necessary changes are made automatically.

Improving the air quality in your workplace will enhance employee wellbeing and productivity. Staff tend to spend around 40 hours a week in the office, so it’s crucial to provide a healthy and productive working environment.

snake plant in black pot
Photographer: Fabian Stroobants | Source: Unsplash

Which air quality parameters are monitored?

There are a number of factors that can have an impact on your IAQ. These include:

  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • CO2
  • O3
  • NO2
  • TVOCs
  • PM2.5

We know it can be tricky to keep track of all these scientific terms, so to help you out we’ve written an article explaining what these parameters actually are, and why they’re relevant to you. Check it out here if you’re keen to become an expert in all things air quality.

What are the benefits of indoor air quality monitoring?

There are loads of benefits of IAQ monitoring, and we’ve outlined the key ones below.

Improve employee health and wellbeing

Short-term exposure to poor IAQ can cause symptoms like headaches, drowsiness, and loss of concentration. Longer-term exposure can lead to much more serious health complaints. By monitoring and improving your IAQ you will create a much healthier workforce.

Prevent Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) and reduce absenteeism

Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is estimated to cost the British economy £24.6 million in lost working days every year. Controlling environmental factors in the workplace is essential in order to avoid SBS.

Future-proof your space

BESA is urging the government to bring in legislation to make monitoring IAQ in buildings mandatory. As well as this, green building rating systems like WELL, LEED, BREEAM, and many others, consider air quality as one of the critical indexes.

There are also certifications that are dedicated entirely to IAQ, like the AirScore awarded by AirRated.

Attract and retain employees

As awareness about the importance of good IAQ continues to grow, employees are going to expect their employers to be proactive about creating a healthy indoor environment, especially considering the push to get employees back into offices post-pandemic. Environmental monitoring is a great way for companies to show that they care about the wellbeing of their staff.

Uncover inefficiencies

A useful benefit that comes with environmental monitoring is that it can often uncover inefficiencies in the way your building is run. For example, HVAC sensors might be incorrectly calibrated or your BMS could be poorly configured. For a real-life account of how environmental monitoring can benefit a business, read our case study with Ralph James, Facilities Manager at the Met Office. We were able to drive efficiency across the board through monitoring and accurate data. 

Finding and solving these issues not only leads to significant cost savings, but also brings about environmental benefits through a reduction in CO2 emissions.

  • If you’d like to find out more, read our article exploring why environmental monitoring is such a valuable tool in the workplace.

How does air quality affect productivity?

Arguably the biggest benefit of improving your IAQ is boosting productivity. Staff are the most valuable resource for most companies, typically accounting for 90% of business operating costs. Even a 1% improvement in productivity can have a huge impact on the bottom line and competitiveness of any business.

Studies have even shown that elevated levels of CO2 can cause an 11% reduction in productivity and 23% impairment in decision making. By monitoring CO2 in real-time and making any necessary adjustments to keep it at a safe level, companies can create a much more productive workplace.

  • Read more about the links between productivity and air quality in this article
working from home desk with mac screen
Photographer: Carl Heyerdahl | Source: Unsplash

Why is indoor air quality often worse than outdoor air quality?

We’re always hearing about the issue of outdoor air pollution. But did you know that indoor air pollutants are often between 2 and 5 times higher than outdoor levels?

Concentrations of outdoor pollutants rise and fall constantly because of changes in weather, climate, and human activity. For example, outdoor pollutants can build up in the lower atmosphere as a result of temperature inversions. During periods of cold weather, warm air rises into the upper atmosphere and traps cold air beneath it, causing pollutants to build up at low altitudes.

Concentrations can also rise quickly in the mornings during rush hour traffic, but subside once traffic diminishes and wind and heat clear the air of excess pollutants: the Earth basically has its very own natural air-purifying technology that spreads outdoor pollutants far and wide.

cars on highway sunset
Photographer: Alexander Popov | Source: Unsplash

Unfortunately for us, indoor pollutants aren’t always exposed to any similar processes to reduce their concentrations. Ventilation often brings in fresh outdoor air to dilute indoor pollutants, but this can inadvertently introduce even more pollutants inside.

And outdoor air pollutants infiltrate your indoor air in ways that may not be immediately obvious. The most common ways outdoor air pollution affects IAQ are through open windows and doors as well as cracks in walls, doors and window sealants.

To make matters worse, there are also lots of indoor sources that create more pollution. This includes everyday items like carpets, furniture, and cleaning products.

However, when it comes to indoor air pollution, it’s not all doom and gloom. Your building can act as a great buffer against outdoor pollution, and there are lots of easy things you can do to improve your IAQ .

How can air quality in the workplace be improved?

The main strategies to optimise your IAQ include:

  • Controlling indoor pollution sources
  • Ensuring good ventilation
  • Achieving effective property maintenance

Below we’ve outlined some easy things to bear in mind when it comes to making your workplace healthier.

1. Clean regularly with non-toxic products

A simple way of optimising your IAQ is to clean your indoor environment more regularly to ensure that any pollutants which become attached to surfaces are removed. Lots of regular cleaning products release harmful VOCs into the air, so it’s important to opt for natural and non-toxic products, such as those by sustainable cleaning company Bower Collective – read more about their mission here.

2. Choose the right furnishings

The furniture you have in your office has a significant influence on your IAQ. While it’s probably a bit wasteful to change existing materials, it’s a good idea to choose products that emit fewer VOCS if your furniture or flooring needs replacing. It also makes sense to keep printers in a separate, well ventilated room as they can produce dangerous levels of ultrafine particles (UFPs).

clean open workspace
Photographer: Toa Heftiba | Source: Unsplash

3. Limit your use of certain products

While it might be tricky to avoid these completely, it’s helpful for employees to limit their use of products such as paints, glues, solvents, air freshers and aerosols, and to ensure adequate ventilation when they are used.

4. Use air purifiers

Using air purifiers can be extremely effective in removing unavoidable pollutants. With constant advances in air purification technology, there are now a range of devices that can help to clean the air in your office. Aerum combine molecular air purification hardware with real-time monitoring to provide a great air quality solution.

5. Keep humidity at an optimal level

In recent years, buildings have become increasingly airtight, leading to issues with humidity. Ventilation is vital in order to keep relative humidity levels between the optimal range of 40-60%, and to ensure that occupants have access to fresh, clean air.

6. Review HVAC systems regularly

HVAC systems need to be reviewed regularly to ascertain whether they need to be serviced or adjusted. Clogged vents or dirty filters on HVAC systems can compromise the quality of air, particularly in buildings occupied by large numbers of people.

7. Can plants actually help?

Indoor plants have long been thought to purify the air, but a study revealed that in order to make a substantial difference, you would need to fit between 10 and 1000 plants per metre squared in a room. However, they are a great addition to any home, and there are a wide range of studies showing the general health and wellbeing benefits they can bring.

How has COVID-19 impacted indoor air quality monitoring?

The COVID-19 pandemic has really highlighted the need for healthier indoor air. Various studies have shown that air quality has a direct correlation with the virus.

IAQ monitoring is now more important than ever in order to create a safe environment for employees.

  • Read our article to learn more about the links between COVID-19 and IAQ.

IoT platforms in the workplace

What is IoT?

The Internet of Things, or IoT for short, is about extending the power of the internet beyond computers and smartphones to a whole range of other devices, processes, and environments.

IoT provides us with a much better insight into the world around us, enabling us to make better and more meaningful decisions. Devices can be used to both gather and send information, and they can communicate not only within closed silos but across different networking types. This helps to create a far more connected world.

Examples of IoT that you may have come across in everyday life include things like:

  • Smart lighting
  • Intelligent heating and cooling
  • Smart doorbells
  • Smart parking
  • Smart assistants e.g. Amazon Alexa
  • Fitness trackers
  • Air quality sensors

Want to know (almost) everything possible about PropTech and IoT? Check out our guide here.

amazon echo dot
Photographer: Nicolas J Leclercq | Source: Unsplash

What is an IoT platform?

An IoT platform brings together data from your building into a single source of truth. With all the different types of hardware and connectivity options, there needs to be a way of making everything work together. IoT platforms solve that problem and are the key to understanding your space.

IoT platforms have four key elements:

1. Hardware

Sensors and devices that collect data from the space or perform actions in the space.

2. Connectivity

The hardware needs a way to transmit data to the cloud or a way to receive commands from the cloud. This can be achieved with older forms of connectivity like cellular, satellite, or WiFi, or more recent, IoT-focused connectivity options like LoRa.

3. Software

Software is hosted in the cloud and is responsible for analysing the data it’s collecting from the sensors and making decisions.

4. User interface

Finally, a complete IoT system needs a user interface. To make everything above useful, there needs to be a way for users to interact with the platform.

Any good IoT platform will:

  • Seamlessly connect hardware such as sensors and devices
  • Handle different hardware and software communication protocols
  • Provide security and authentication for devices and users
  • Collect, visualise, and analyse data the sensors and devices gather
  • Integrate all of the above with existing business systems and other web services

If you want to hear from some industry experts, scroll through this list of five TED Talks all about the world of IoT.

What is the benefit of having an IoT platform?

An IoT platform allows you to see data from your office all in one place. It’s the secret to creating a smarter and more efficient workplace.

However much smart technology you have, it’s not of much use unless it’s not connected and visible in a single location.

With the right IoT platform, you can completely transform your workplace.

How do sensors connect to an IoT platform?

Sensors are connected to an IoT platform by the cloud. Any device that can send data to the internet can be connected to the cloud.

Devices can be connected directly to the cloud or indirectly via a local gateway (edge device). Both devices and gateways can implement edge intelligence capabilities. This allows for the aggregation and reduction of raw telemetry (remote) data before it's transmitted to the backend. It also allows for local decision making capabilities on the edge.

Here are the main device connectivity options:

1. Direct device connectivity to the cloud gateway: For IP capable devices that can establish secure connections via the internet.

2. Connectivity via a local gateway: For devices using industry specific standards, short range communication technologies, as well as resource constrained devices incapable of hosting a TLS/SSL stack. This option is also useful for aggregation of data at the edge.

3. Connectivity via a custom cloud gateway: For devices that require protocol translation or some form of custom processing before reaching the cloud gateway.

4. Connectivity via a local gateway and a custom cloud gateway: similar to the previous, but also with some functionality performed at the edge.

city lights from earth in space
Photographer: NASA | Source: Unsplash

The workplace of the future

How has COVID-19 changed the workplace?

COVID-19 has forced millions of office workers to stay at home and work remotely. Because of this, companies across the world have had to test working from home at its most extreme level.

This has given businesses the unique opportunity to reflect on the success of their current workplace strategy and to reconsider their ways of working.

There’s been a steady increase in working from home in recent years, but this shift has accelerated – and will continue to accelerate – at a rapid pace. It’s clear that in the wake of COVID-19, flexible working will become an integral part of this future of work.

A key challenge for companies is working out how much space they really need. If a large percentage of employees are able to work at home productively, and are happy to do so, it’s pointless paying rent for loads of space that’s not being used. Click here to read our thoughts on how this challenge might be addressed.

Working from Home set up
Photographer: Mikey Harris | Source: Unsplash

Is it really the end of the office?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, people have begun heralding the end of the office. Bleak headlines about the death of both the office and city centres have hit the news, and people have been questioning whether there’s even a need for a physical workplace.

However, the Metrikus Occupancy Index has shown that people are slowly but surely returning to the office. Data from flexible workplaces and transport networks have also shown this: read more about it here.

In reality, it’s by no means the end of the office, just simply the end of the office as we know it. The workplace will once more adapt, and hopefully for the better. Take a look at our predictions for how successful offices will look in the future.

What will the office of the future look like?

In order for offices to survive and remain relevant, there’s going to need to be a real focus on flexibility, wellness, and collaboration.

Here are some of the most important components that we think will be included in the office of the very near future.

1. Health and safety

A survey by Disruptive Technologies found that more than 50% of workers are afraid to return to the office.

Desk booking systems allow people to grab themselves a safe space, while smart cleaning sensors can help to create dynamic cleaning schedules to keep the office in tip-top shape (especially places like bathrooms and kitchens).

If you’re interested in how you can safely get employees back into the office, read this article

2. Indoor air quality monitoring 

Indoor air quality sensors look at the key parameters of CO2, temperature, humidity, PM2.5 and VOCs: keeping all of these optimal is vital for the health, comfort and productivity of workers. Displaying this both online and in the office can empower people to decide where and when they want to work. 

3. Occupancy and capacity monitoring 

Knowing how many people are in the office, in specific areas and at desks helps senior teams understand the usage of a space and can help advise leasing plans. It can also help workers make better decisions and keep areas at social distancing limits. But transparency is key so people know the whats, hows and whys about office monitoring.  

4. Sustainability 

We all know about green initiatives, but the office of the near future harnesses IoT to reduce energy consumption.

5. No more open plan 

The office is not dead, but open plan might be. More and more people are calling for offices that cater to a variety of needs and tasks, rather than a bank of desks and a couple of meeting rooms. 

6. Work from home, near home, or anywhere 

You know about WFH and work from anywhere, but what about WFNH? Companies can offer near-home work spaces, such as WeWork locations, that allow people to work somewhere that’s not their home, but isn’t as far away as the central office.

7. Plants 

There’s a reason living walls (or fake ones) are so trendy. Plants are great for productivity and reducing stress, and, if there’s lots of them, can help to clean the air. They look great, too.

Overall, it’s clear that companies will need to innovate to make sure they’re providing a physical workplace that’s worth commuting for.

45% of workers miss in-person meetings and 73% miss socialising with their colleagues in person.The new office needs to be somewhere that entices even the most die-hard WFH-er (in spite of the commute). 

This will result in healthier – and hopefully more spacious and more pleasant spaces – where technology will enhance productivity and efficiency.

Perhaps when people reflect on COVID-19, it will be seen as the catalyst for making the office a better place for generations to come.


Want to make your workplace smarter, safer and more sustainable? Book in some time to talk to our WX Technology Advisor today!

Check out our workplaces infographic here.

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