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Creating empathic people-centric buildings

When you start down a new road you see everything differently.

My last column, Humanistic Digital Inclusion has taken us all on the new road to people-centric buildings.

When you start down a new road you see everything differently. You meet new people, (like the people in our buildings), and you are exposed to new ideas which come with new ways of thinking. Humanistic Digital Inclusion is that new road that winds through our old building-centric thoughts while taking us to the new world of people-centric buildings and how we might achieve the necessary intellect and emotional intelligence for our implementations. We need to empathically grasp the feelings of the people in our buildings and somehow incorporate those feelings in our evolving digital models.

This article helps provide an endorsement of digital inclusion and direction for action: We are Not in the Business of Smart Building Technology, We are in the Business of Occupant Wellness is from a Swedish smart buildings research group Memoori. In comments on the Nordic Smart Buildings Conference, they write:

Intelligent technology is for humans, not real estate. It’s easy to get lost in the digitalization buzz and forget about the end value. At Nordic Smart Building Convention industry leaders and pioneers give you the human centered and efficient steps to smart digitalization.

It is very unfortunate that the Recomm IBcon event, The Age of Acceleration: Navigating Global CRE Technology and Innovation, is occurring the same date in the USA as the Nordic event. Be sure to watch this video on how we got to this age of acceleration. If you are unable to join us in Helsinki be sure to take in this event in Las Vegas. One of their sessions is on High Performance Digital Amenites – Tenant/Guest Engagement and Experience Platforms. AutomatedBuildings.com is a media sponsor of this event and I normally attend, but this year am engaged in learning more about what inclusion and empathy might mean for people-centric buildings.

This think piece from Australian company Aurecon, Intellectually and emotionally intelligent buildings, illustrates some key concepts (in fact, their entire website is thought-provoking and well worth a visit):

In a survey by Management Today magazine, 97 percent of respondents said they regarded their place of work as a symbol of whether or not they were valued by their employer. Yet alarmingly, only 37 percent thought their offices had been designed “with people in mind.”

It’s easy for some engineers to get so caught up in technology and digital tools that they forget the humans using them. An historical approach has brought about a misalignment between how traditional engineers view “intelligent” buildings and how owners and occupiers view “intelligent” buildings.

Buildings were never meant to operate in isolation from users; rather in “synchronization” with them.

For a building to be smart and connected, it doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s up to the building designers to consider all the complexities involved in designing a human-centred and emotionally intelligent building – and then to design “simple” ones. This means having empathy for the needs, challenges, daily tasks, desires, and long-term goals of the people who use them.

Creating buildings that are both intellectually and emotionally intelligent will be the currency in the future as companies start to realise that their bottom line depends largely on the wellness, happiness and productivity of their people.

But to achieve Intellectually and Emotionally Intelligent Buildings we need to understand those people better and what we are doing to them.

In case you missed this article, Maximizing Human Comfort – Why Do HVAC Systems Suck So Much? from Brad White, P.Eng, MASc Principal, SES Consulting Inc. Canada:

Most occupants in commercial buildings are dissatisfied with their space temperature and indoor air quality. That statement may not surprise most of us in the HVAC industry, but when you stop to think, it is a rather shocking denunciation of our craft. This dissatisfaction applies equally to both green and conventional buildings. Providing ventilation and space temperature control are the entire reason that HVAC systems exist, but the overwhelming majority of end users aren’t happy with the systems that we’re designing and building.

This follow up article, Thermal Delight - The Coming Revolution in Personalized Comfort also from Brad White talks a bit more about keeping our eye on the human-comfort prize:

We engineers sometimes get so caught up in HOW to do something we lose sight of WHY we’re trying to do it in the first place. So it was refreshing to listen to the recent episode of the 99% Invisible podcast, Thermal Delight, for some new perspectives on comfort in buildings; ideas primarily gleaned from leaders in the fields of architecture and design. I’d encourage everyone to listen to it for themselves as it raises some thought-provoking ideas around comfort in buildings. If you’re pressed for time, skip ahead to about 18:00.

When HVAC and building controls engineers talk about comfort, the discussion primarily revolves around setpoints. The default response to any issue or complaint regarding comfort is “Are we meeting setpoint?”, followed closely by “Do we need to change the setpoint?”. Research would suggest that this approach reveals a poor grasp of the factors that actually go into determining whether or not someone is comfortable in a space. It assumes a very static view of comfort when, in reality, comfort is relative and impacted by a number of factors that are continuously varying. Knowing that it is very easy to see why HVAC systems that depend on static setpoints with limited input from occupants have an extremely low rate of satisfaction. We like different things at different times, and our preferences are shaped by our mood, age, cultural norms, clothing choices, outside conditions, to name a but few of the variables. There are no handy calculations that tell you how to factor these things in, so it’s no wonder that the engineers who design HVAC systems have long focused almost exclusively on variables they can reliably control.

This article, The Value of Occupant Comfort, from Matt Ernst, PE, CEM, QCxP, LEED AP Burns & McDonnell USA echoes the problem:

I think Tom’s hits on another great point as well. The engineering community doesn’t care about the occupants of the building. They really don’t. Their job is to design a system that meets ASHRAE standards. The reality is that the burden of keeping people comfortable within a building has always been the sole responsibility of the building manager and head building technician. This team does not have the time, training, or tools to properly start and run and occupant engagement campaign. Until occupant satisfaction, and its direct manifestation in bottom line dollars can be transparently shown to both tenant and building management, no one will ever put in the time and effort to quantify occupant comfort/satisfaction on a regular basis.

The flaw of the past 20 years and the reason why the building comfort industry has shown little improvement has nothing to do with the quality of engineering or innovative product development. The problem is a management problem. How can we quantify occupant satisfaction and then actively manage it? The adage “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” continues to ring true today.

The Smart Building Industry needs to quantify occupant satisfaction and put it in dollars (directly calculated by improved occupant-employee productivity). The industry has never has been able to do this on a building by building, tenant by tenant, or person by person level.

This article from Marc Petock, Chief Communications Officer, Vice President, Marketing, Lynxspring & Connexx Energy, speaks to Building Wellness:

There’s no question that building wellness can generate value such as savings in personnel costs, reduced sick days, increased productivity, increased building asset value and greater marketability.

While we are beginning to see more information on well-being points and how they are impacting the built environment, we still have some way to go. We are still defining how to achieve building wellness and provide more proof of ROI, data, and metrics to occupants and building owners alike. While more business cases are required to be made, the building wellness movement is gaining momentum.

HealthyHeating.com

This is a great Canadian resource, www.healthyheating.com established by Robert Bean in 2004 as a volunteer-based, not-for-profit educational resource that is trying to serve as a technical interpreter and a clearing house for academic research done between the building and health sciences. Just one example of some of the great stuff on this site:

Watching us sweat is extremely graphical

As evidence of the importance of radiant heat exchange to the body’s thermal equilibrium, physiologists have discovered that living human skin has extraordinarily high absorptivity and emissivity (0.97), greater than almost any other known substance, matte-black metals included. Consequently, we are highly responsive to changes in mean radiant temperature.

We have roughly 166,000 thermal receptors in our skin with most of them sensitive to heat loss.

I love this graph, Maps of bodily sensations associated with different emotions. Hot colors show activated, cool colors deactivated regions. (Credit: Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, and Jari Hietanen. Citation/Overview)

Here’s an interesting idea from Finland, the empathic building as a digital service:

Tieto Empathic Building is a human-centric digital service that focuses on improving employee well-being, happiness and increasing individual performance by solving end-user problems. By automating time-consuming and non-productive tasks of communication and administration,  it enables and encourages your employees to straight-forward human interaction, collaboration and co-innovation.

Tieto Empathic Building includes all the necessary tools for developing human-centric workspace design: It gives an instant view on, not only the physical space and supporting technology within, but also work content and issues affecting work culture.

It helps in bridging the gap between building utilization and employee satisfaction – with the selected KPI’s and data to prove it. This in turn accelerates the transformation from traditional office-based activity towards intuitive, agile and efficient activity-based working.

My conclusion is people are complex, and how they interact with comfort is even more complex. So achieving Empathic, People-Centric Buildings will be hard, but that is where the road ahead is taking us.

We can all start by simply having empathy for the people we are serving. This is not my first column about Human-Centric Building Automation. Back in October I wrote:

Thanks for joining me on my thinking-out-loud journey to better understand new approaches evolving in our industry in the area of human-centric building automation... All of us are engaging in a transformation for the greater good. People-Powered Transformation will occur when and as fast as we allow it, but only when all the people it touches embrace that coming change.

To conclude, I’d like to quote once more from Aurecon, the Australian company that is trying to re-imagine engineering (interesting the globalization on this new road!):

People at the centre

Buildings of the Future will know how many of the workforce are in the building at any one time, and adjust services accordingly. Advancements in monitoring and security, building management system apps, information screens, WiFi, automated elevators, lighting and air conditioning will mean that services are adjusted before the worker even steps out of the Building of the Future elevator. Buildings will ‘self-tune’ on a continual basis.

Yet with the digital age upon us, it’s important to remember that technology is not only about hardware or software, but about people. Among the bits and bytes, let’s not forget the flesh and bones.

We invite you to join us on this journey of discovery as we build (pun intended) our knowledge, understanding and readiness.

 

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