‘How to Take a Data-driven Approach to Healthy Buildings and Workspaces’

Every year seems to bring a new global crisis, highlighting the importance of having a truly resilient risk management strategy in place. Here at Switch, we’ve been revising our day-to-day processes to be more resilient in the face of local and global crises. We hear that property owners and managers worldwide are doing the same to help offset the impact of each successive economic, climate and health emergency and the resulting financial impact. Indeed, operational inefficiency is never more apparent than during a worldwide crisis, as stocks and property value come under pressure and millions face hardship.

Then comes the problem of how to reopen commercial buildings during or after a crisis, requiring the careful monitoring of site trend data such as air quality and usage and great corporate communications to make occupants feel as safe as possible. Your customers and employees are probably curious about the safety of their sites and might be asking questions about usage, cleaning regularity and air quality. Now more than ever, building data is essential for answering occupant concerns.

One positive thing we’ve observed from this global crisis has been the heightened interest in digitization and smart building tech adoption. We’re delighted to have seen as much smart building tech adoption in the last two months as in the past two years, as building owners and operators experience first-hand how a lack of data and remote access impacts their teams and tenants.

The importance of measuring and verifying your healthy buildings with data

Right now, tenants want to know their environments are healthy and low risk. If the workforce is going to re-enter commercial buildings either today or in the near future, then building owners and managers must know their Indoor Air Quality & Occupancy (IAQ) metrics and be able to share that data with everyone in the building, including visitors.

ASHRAE and CDC have stepped up to offer guidelines for building managers looking to reopen their buildings. They are encouraged to flush their HVAC systems before and after occupancy, keep office humidity between 40-60%, disinfect building systems and refrigerated surfaces, and make sure local occupancy guidelines are being observed. We recommend that property managers monitor and report on the following data when they choose to reopen their workspaces:

  • Space temperature
  • Space humidity
  • Ventilation, including airflow and air changes
  • CO2 and VOCs
  • Filtration or particulate matter
  • Building occupancy
  • People counting, including density and proximity

Combining IoT sensors with a data-driven approach is incredibly powerful, enabling building owners and managers to measure, verify and communicate the health of their buildings to tenants. Building owners should assign metric goals to their buildings’ HVAC and usage to establish how safe they are for occupancy and adjust their policies to support these. Where sites fall short of these metrics, FM teams need to adapt, quickly adjusting air ventilation, filtration or humidity. The smart building tech adopted must therefore offer both control functionality and data visualization that can be utilized for both internal and external reporting to illustrate the success of your FM team’s efforts.

Creating a robust foundation for data-driven healthy buildings

The first step toward creating a truly smart portfolio is to closely examine your existing devices and building networks to establish response times and network health. Establish which devices are connected to the building network, which are miscalibrated and which are running with obsolete firmware. Highlight potential network vulnerabilities in the form of open ports and catalogue which devices are running outdated firmware.

From here, your FM team should quickly recalibrate and commission these devices and update their firmware. Checking and improving your network and device integrity will create a strong digital foundation for a unique and effective smart building program, enabling your team to proceed with building performance benchmarking and optimization. If you can, we recommend that you scan your building network before and after you commence network commissioning. Once you know what’s on your network, you may choose to integrate additional devices throughout your buildings specifically to support building health, such as humidity and usage IoT sensors.

Selecting the right IoT sensors

Once network health is strong, building managers may want to augment their systems with additional sensors to support specific metric goals surrounding air quality, occupancy and more. However with so many sensor technologies on the market, it’s important to be strategic about which ones you choose to augment your smart buildings with. Consider the granularity of data you need based on the goals you want to achieve. In terms of occupancy, is it enough to know that the building is occupied or do you need to know exactly where someone is located? Do you need to know that someone is or isn’t in a given space, or is it important to know who that person is? Do you need to know where people traveled throughout the day or simply that they came into the office? What about the frequency at which the data is collected? All of these considerations can help determine the type of sensor technology that best suit your properties and goals.

Are you looking for a detailed picture of IAQ and occupancy throughout your space so that you can designate areas as “healthy” or in range? In this case, you should consider multi-sensors that capture multiple data points including light levels, temperature, relative humidity, particulate matter, and occupancy in one sensor.

Integrating all your devices and systems for a truly smart portfolio

Once all the desired devices are connected to robust building networks, the next step is to integrate your systems with a smart building platform capable of delivering advanced data analytics and performance optimization.

Your smart building platform should include a feature set that makes the transition to a smart building portfolio easy and fast. Wizards and bulk-actions can help integrate thousands of sites, or hundreds of thousands of data points, to a given software solution at once. Users should have immediate visibility into points and tagging across entire portfolios so that onboarding is quick and integration is consistent.

Your smart building platform should also offer flexible data visualization to illustrate performance for anything from building occupancy and lighting systems, to HVAC status and real-time opportunity-cost tracking. Out-of-the-box and customizable visualizations are essential to analyzing and reporting on any healthy building metric you can imagine. This way your team will be empowered to translate your portfolio’s data sets and queries into valuable, actionable visualizations for corporate reporting, lobby screens or change management efforts.

At the end of the day, your team needs to visualize the data, then act on it. This means combining different data sources into IAQ-specific dashboards so that your team can view them in one single pane of glass to measure against guidelines. Next they should be able to easily communicate this to customers through onsite regularly updating monitors, an app, website or emails. From here, your team can also undertake building system performance benchmarking, control and commissioning to measure and improve the safety of your buildings. Switch recently created this Healthy Building Questionnaire with InSite, which is a great place to start for anyone looking to assess the safety of their buildings.

Learn how Switch Automation creates technology to bring people and the planet to the center of building operations at www.switchautomation.com.