Technology

The rise of the flexible building to support hybrid work

The pandemic has seen the growth of flexible work patterns, flexible teams and flexible organisations. Shouldn’t our office buildings be more flexible too? A new Schneider Electric report weighs up the opportunities

The Covid-19 crisis has been more than just a short-term shock to the system – it has prompted a profound long-term rethink of what office buildings are really for, and how they should perform in the future. But as we face a future of flexible work patterns, flexible teams and flexible organisations, should we not also demand more flexible buildings?

That is the question posed in a new white paper from Schneider Electric, developed in partnership with WORKTECH Academy. The report, entitledFlexible Buildings: Five Elements to Create Buildings Ready for the New World of Work’, seeks to describe the key technologies, attributes and benefits of a flexible building.

Flexibility is essential

The white paper uses a survey of opinion among Corporate Real Estate (CRE) professionals to define the key priorities around a safe, secure and effective return to the office. It identifies flexibility as an essential characteristic of the hybrid working model that is emerging – and explores how the flexible building can deliver change.

It examines why flexible buildings are important in an emerging context which must balance two main considerations: the need to enhance the employee experience in terms of safety, comfort, wellbeing and seamless connectivity; and second, the requirement to achieve greater operational efficiencies in terms of space management and energy use.

Providing local control

The paper goes on to explain what makes a flexible building. Key attributes include: the ability to provide people with more local control over their environment, such as raising blinds or adjusting temperature; the use of data analytics to enable the ‘dynamic stacking’ of office floors as attendance fluctuates; an open and innovative platform ensuring easy integration of different building systems and applications, including workplace apps; and the minimising of cyber-security risk.

Benefits of the flexible building are defined through the different perspectives of the building owner and the building manager. The first wants to maximise return on investment; the second wants the tools and systems to create the type of occupant experience that protects the value of the asset.

E5 Model for flexible building

The report presents the E5 Model to communicate the benefits of the flexible building. The backbone of the E5 Model is a combination of Experience (creating a better and healthier occupier experience responsive to changing needs) and Economy (achieving economies of operation in space management and energy use). These are the twin goals identified by the CRE community.

The benefits delivered to the market are summarised by three values considered to be essential to the future: Efficient (maximising efficiency, reducing complexity and raising the visibility of operations); Engaging (improving occupier engagement with the building through data and design); and Environmental (delivering on key sustainability targets to address carbon reduction).

The paper concludes with some practical considerations on how to specify and procure a flexible building. Designing for change, developing data science skills within the CRE team and treating flexibility as an office amenity are among the issues raised, as well as technologies to enable the flexible, modern building and allow owners and occupiers alike to future-ready the office.

Read an extract of the report in our Innovation Zone here. Download the full white paper on flexible buildings by Schneider Electric and WORKTECH Academy here.

Watch an expert panel discussing the future of the flexible building and the implications of the white paper at the WORKTECH Global virtual conference on 15 June 2021 here.

The panel features Tom Randall, Associate Director for Building Performance and Systems at Arup; Manish Kumar, Senior Vice President for Digital Buildings, Schneider Electric; and Aleksander Traczyk CEO of French energy company MTAIR. It is facilitated by WORKTECH Academy Director Jeremy Myerson.

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