As lockdown restrictions continue to ease across Scotland, discussions around returning to the office are gaining steam. The coming months will see businesses deciding how to proceed with a long term plan for their workforce, both in terms of looking after employee safety and accommodating new ways of working. Smart technology presents opportunities for employers to tackle both areas simultaneously, and many have already invested in what it has to offer.

April saw the announcement that Glasgow's 177 Bothwell Street will become the first development in Scotland (and one of the first 70 in the world) to achieve the recently launched SmartScore certification – a new independently-verified global gold standard for smart buildings. Set to become the city's largest single office building at 305,000 square foot, it will feature over 3 acres of glass, 318 bicycle spaces, electric vehicle charging points, an intelligent building management system as well as a rooftop terrace and running track, all while being fully powered by renewable energy with zero carbon emissions.

Influenced by Covid-19, 177's intelligent building management system will allow occupiers to arrive and reach their chosen floor without having to touch any part of the building’s exterior or interior. Visitors' mobile phones will allow them to operate security gates and lifts, while app-activated lighting will also remove the need for switches. The combination of design, materials and technology will make the building highly energy efficient and able to maximise natural daylight, whilst maintaining a high thermal performance.

Technology and the employee experience

The introduction of smart technology spans before the pandemic however. Amsterdam is home to The Edge, an office dubbed 'the most intelligent building in the world'. Employees are able to connect to the building itself via a smartphone app. This app has the ability to check your schedule and find an appropriate working area to suit (sitting desk, standing desk, booth, meeting room), enable the building to recognise your car on arrival and subsequently direct you to a parking spot, locate your colleagues, memorise your light and temperature preferences, and even remembers exactly how you like your coffee.

The Edge is positioned and shaped in such a way that allows for sunlight to be benefited from as long as possible, without the heat influencing the temperature inside. The south of the building is equipped with solar panels which keep the heat out and absorb the radiation. The lighting system has around 28,000 sensors which register daylight, occupancy, movement, humidity, temperature and CO2. When these sensors detect areas are not being used, then heating, air conditioning and lighting is adjusted or switched off.

Similarly, The Crystal in London is 100% electric. Solar roof panels help to generate its power and, by monitoring its energy usage extensively, carbon emissions are around 70 percent lower than comparable office buildings in the UK.

The shape of smart offices to come

Working from home has allowed us to become more aware of our individual working environment, and to be able to personalise our workspace to suit: lighting, airflow, temperature and surroundings. Inevitably we will be bringing this awareness back into the office. While it's fair to say adapting to a 'new normal' will continue for some time, this technology is already proving advantageous in improving employee wellbeing and reducing our carbon footprint, and it may well help to calm employee concerns around safety in the post-covid climate.