Engineering the perfect workplace environment

Engineering a workplace environment to suit an employee and even help him or her be more productive is no mean feat. It requires a lot of thought and planning. Here are some of the issues to be aware of.

1. Is the building fully functional?

Obviously, if a building has no power, no lighting or if for some reason we cannot control the temperatures, then the whole workspace cannot be occupied at all. The reliable delivery of these services underpins the utility of a workspace, and in some instances such as for manufacturing or data centres, services need to be available 24/7 to prevent business disruption. Engineering systems are well designed to deliver these services, but need professional operators to ensure that they run smoothly and consistently.

2. Temperature control

Temperature control and humidity are vital factors that affect productivity in a workplace environment. In more northern areas of the world like Denmark and the UK, humidity does not tend to be a major issue. In more tropical areas in Asia such as Singapore and India, but also parts of the USA, humidity does become an issue that can impact the workplace environment because it makes it unpleasant to work in.  People also have different perceptions of what feels hot and cold. There is a danger some will be seated at the same table and feel cold and others may feel too hot. That is a challenge for building managers and we must work with the building occupants to manage that. It requires constant monitoring and communication. It also varies country-to-country and season-to-season. We have to set up systems to deal with all of these different challenges.

3. Lighting 

Lighting plays a huge role in a workspace on several levels. Task lighting is the most important form of lighting as it allows the occupant to work effectively at their workstation. Task lighting should be tailored to ensure an employee’s workstation is well-lit to avoid tiredness and eye strain.  More generally FMs should consider the colour of light and varying lighting throughout the day, to keep people active. In the morning, a warm, yellow light may be more acceptable and in the afternoon a white light, as it’s more stimulating. There are tricks to using lighting to help wellbeing and boost productivity. Light can be adapted to match the expectations of the body. Research even shows that it can help heal people from illnesses.  Lighting also needs adjustment depending on the time of season and country. Ambient lighting can be used in different ways. For instance, in a workplace, a corridor may require a different light to a main office area.

4. Air quality and circulation

Air quality can suffer if a building, or part of a building, has insufficient outdoor air. Opening windows and not depending on the air conditioning may be an obvious way to improve air quality in a workspace. However, this can significantly disrupt temperature and humidity, causing high energy losses, and may also let carbon dioxide or other pollutants into the workspace. Air conditioning systems do deliver air changes to match designed occupancy, and this air is filtered. Building users produce carbon monoxide, and levels should be monitored as too much can lead to lethargy and less productivity

5. Noise

Technology sensors that measure loud and quieter spots in a workplace mean employees can find the best place to work. Some workers may prefer a place where there is a bit of ‘white noise’.  Smarter building technology in this area is only growing and developing to help a workplace be flexible to fit a worker’s needs.

6. Elevators and lifts

Elevators/lifts and escalators are an important but not commonly talked about feature in a workplace. Escalators tend to be more popular in high volume workplaces and buildings. Elevators can be efficient for users if the wait time must is not too long once it is called - 20 to 30 seconds should be the ideal time it takes. Lifts must be responsive and be maintained well.  They are a very safe way of getting workers to the different parts of a building but any small judder can make a passenger nervous so response times in case there are any mechanical failures must be swift. Any entrapments must be managed quickly. In modern times, semi-intelligent lifts which are integrated into building management systems and with Wi-Fi sensors have become better at predicting and managing passenger flows especially at peak times such as mornings and lunchtime whereas at other times of day. Encouraging flexible working times helps ease demand on lifts especially in high volume buildings especially.

Overall, it is important to be proactive rather than reactive when engineering the ideal workplace environment not only to anticipate problems but also to stay aware of ever-evolving technology.

About the author

MJ small (002)Martin Jolly

ISS - Head of Engineering