Open-plan offices and hot desks have become increasingly popular in recent years. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to find this set up in traditionally “conservative” industries such as law firms, with senior partners sitting among everybody else. While these types of offices may efficiently use office space and facilitate collaboration and stronger teams, they can also be very uncomfortable, noisy, and distracting places to work.
A Sensor-Based System for Monitoring the Work Environment
Now, in a bid to help employers get the best out of their staff in this type of working environment, computer scientists from Australia’s RMIT University and engineers from the firm Arup have developed an AI-backed sensor system that measures staff comfort and concentration, reporting back with valuable data that employers can use for decision making.
RMIT trialed its sensor system at two of Arup’s own offices. Taking a place over a period of four weeks, the trial provided several useful insights into how the modern flexible working environment could be optimized.
Arup’s Melbourne office. Image credited to Arup
Optimizing the Workplace
According to the study, one of the most prominent observations was that people tend to have a favorite spot in the workplace and that these people find it more difficult to concentrate if they are forced to work elsewhere, i.e. if somebody else is in their usual spot.
The study also highlighted how people are more sensitive to temperatures in the office if they are not just “right” if they are not able to sit in their favorite spot. Regardless of where workers sat, however, office temperature was found to be a major impact factor on comfort and focus. Most workers found temperatures below 22.5 degrees Celsius to be too cold, with workers becoming increasingly sensitive to the temperature as the day goes on.
Influencing the Future Designs of the Workplace
Other impact factors that the study unveiled included the number of formal and informal meetings held, with more frequent meetings correlating with lower levels of concentration, and high levels of carbon dioxide. “The results for CO2 and thermal comfort underline just how important high-quality heating, cooling, and ventilation system is in office design, as well as indoor plants to reduce CO2,” said lead researcher Dr. Mohammad Saiedur Rahaman.
Beyond optimizing the workplace, the RMIT researchers believe that their sensor system is an opportunity to influence future workplace designs, something that may become very relevant in the aftermath of COVID-19 when it is inevitable that not everybody will be compelled to return to the office.
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