Can IoT sensors improve productivity in the workplace?

Posted:

Have you ever suddenly start feeling tired and lethargic at work? You might have had a bad night sleep the night before, but that may not be the only reason you’re not firing on all cylinders.

A few weeks ago, we set out on a mission to gather as much data as we could to help us improve office wellbeing and productivity. We installed IoT smart sensors around various offices to monitor factors such as air quality, temperature, humidity, barometric pressure and ambient noise and the results were pretty surprising.

One metric which really shocked us was the extremely high levels of CO2 in some offices.

CO2 is a known to be an indoor pollutant capable of affecting performance in the workplace. Extreme levels of CO2 can in the worst cases lead to death (don’t panic, I’m sure your office CO2 levels aren’t quite that high!) but levels should be monitored as they can lead to reduced productivity and can affect employee health and wellbeing.

Controlling CO2 can also improve building energy efficiency, saving costs by up to 80%, and is even considered in the scoring of Green Star Ratings in building design.

So how can CO2 decrease productivity? 

Research shows that the UK is lagging behind in the productivity tables, currently 26.2% lower than Germany and 22.8% lower than France, based on GDP per hour worked. Whilst solving the productivity puzzle may be an ongoing issue, a recent study into UK indoor office environments has considered environmental factors for the first time.

The study found that employee performance declines when CO2 levels are high and also creates the impression of a stuffy office environment among many workers. With businesses wanting to boost their productivity, understanding how carbon dioxide impacts your employee’s work life is crucial.

Elevated levels of CO2, in the range between 1,000ppm (parts per million) and 2,500ppm have been found to decrease information utilisation, increase headaches, decrease performance, and increase rates of absenteeism. Generally, CO2 concentrations at 2,500ppm can lead to a statistically significant decrement in decision making performance.

Although CO2 is not the only factor, elevated levels can lead to that feeling of lethargy and tiredness often associated with office workers.

Our IoT sensors detected very high levels of CO2 in meeting rooms that had no windows and little to no ventilation. The levels of CO2 would gradually rise throughout the day, sometimes reaching a whopping 5,000ppm on some occasions (outdoor environment levels are usually around 405 ppm while 8,000ppm is considered toxic)!

How can IOT sensors help to reduce CO2 levels?

The Internet of Things can arm us with the capability to improve office air quality. Advances in low power wide area networks have led to the availability of small, portable, low cost, and always connected sensors.

Big data capabilities, such as analytics and machine learning, can then be applied to these measurements and related data sets in the cloud to add context to the data and understand the causes and fluctuations in carbon dioxide levels. In our study we presented our results using Power BI to provide us with interactive visualisations and business intelligence capabilities which enables us to generate reports and dashboards to make the data clear and easy to understand.

Once the sensor has detected a change, it will send an alert when pre-defined thresholds are breached triggering a command to a smart ventilation system to increase or decrease output as necessary. The sensors will continue to send data to the ventilation system throughout the day to enable the system to continually adjust ventilation based on carbon dioxide levels, temperature and occupancy all while ensuring maximum energy efficiency.

Most buildings aren’t yet equipped with the IoT technology needed to automate these processes, but one office leading the way is the Edge, an office building in Amsterdam which is quite possibly the smartest office space ever constructed.

One of their tenants, Deloitte, are using the environment to collect incomprehensible amounts of data on how the Edge and its employees interact. They manage all this data through a central dashboard which tracks everything from air quality and energy usage, to when the coffee machines need to be refilled. On days when fewer employees are expected in the office, an entire section may be shut down, cutting the cost of heating, cooling, lighting and cleaning.

There’s no doubt that in the future all buildings will be connected, both internally and to other buildings. The multi-billion-dollar question is who is going to do it?

Take a look at ANS’ smart buildings blueprint to discover how you improve office productivity using our smart space solutions.