A major part of the workforce experimented with working remotely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The necessity of conducting business from a fixed location on a daily basis has been challenging. Many employees are beginning to expect employers to offer options to work from home or from closer-to-home locations. Business enterprises will soon have a greater need for flexible spaces and coworking locations to service these changing requirements.
In a paper recently published by JLL Research, they predict that 30% of all office space will be consumed flexibly by 2030. The trend toward maximizing space usage by increasing occupant density has been reversed with social distancing requirements. A mix of traditional and flexible space will be required. Since spending time outdoors during the workday has proven to be valuable in the health and well-being of occupants, incorporating outdoor conference rooms and open-air areas into building and facility designs will happen more often.
Commercial real estate stakeholders will need to reevaluate management and planning strategies around the significant changes in building occupancy and space usage. Predicting space usage will become more difficult due to varying work schedules that will come along with the increase in remote work. To create an office that is a communal space to support high performing teams, a spectrum of options should be included as building operators reimagine their buildings.
Energy and Operational Efficiency
Changes in building usage will directly affect operational efficiency. The building systems were designed based on the specific capacity that was estimated for the building’s original use and the regulations that were in place at the time of design. HVAC system sizing was based on standards that have been revised due to the pandemic. If building managers operate their systems under the revised recommendations without adjustment, maintenance issues would increase and there would be danger of operational failure.
As the planning team creates the new occupancy plans, they should keep in mind the building systems. Heating or cooling selected spaces in the building can minimize the load on systems created by increased outdoor air. Independent air purification devices can be strategically placed in coordination with work area arrangements to reduce the strain on the air handler due to higher rated filters. Managers can designate spaces with natural air and lighting as areas for higher usage. Building solutions providers have many other strategies to balance the new regulations with current system capacities.
Flexible Space in Smart Buildings
Smart buildings will have an advantage in the shift to flexible spaces in buildings. Data collected from the strategically placed sensors will provide the information needed to adjust HVAC and other equipment settings to keep up with changing usage. Smart buildings can be monitored remotely so that social distancing requirements would not have a detrimental impact on management.
Smart buildings use machine learning and AI to adjust HVAC settings, lighting and safety systems to match occupancy trends. Integrating occupancy with CO2 and humidity data can inform strategy around HVAC settings and indoor air quality. Spaces that will have fewer occupants or unpredictable traffic will require varying amounts of conditioned air or automated lighting to maintain efficiency. With AI devices in place, system settings will evolve from real time data and not be based on hours of operation. The building systems will react to how the space is being used today and not rely on old data from last month.
Whether buildings will continue to be occupied at lower capacities than the original intent or if their usage will change completely, there is no doubt that building managers are going to need to change their strategies. Stakeholders in the commercial building sector can achieve success by making their buildings nimble. With careful planning that aims for the highest performing building while being sensitive to the changing needs of the workforce, managers can navigate through the demand for flexible space with a building well positioned for the future.