As we emerge from the pandemic and start to figure out how to re-engage with both people and places, office safety is top of mind. While some companies have invested big bucks into reconfiguring their spaces to make it easier to social distance, many are relying on their building operators to do a lot of the heavy lifting to keep their employees safe by improving the building’s systems to achieve optimal, virus-free indoor air quality (IAQ).
And like any emerging market need, companies are rushing to meet this one: say hello to the buildings-as-a-service (BaaS) industry, one that’s expected to grow to $70 billion by 2023 according to the Continental Automated Buildings Association.
Really? Another “as-a-service” thing?
Just like pretty much every industry, building management is trying to flex its muscle to play with the tech industry. And this is their moment. Smart asset management companies have realized that by introducing BaaS, they can transform their properties into smart buildings, moving away from traditional hardware and software ownership and helping them attract customers who need to lure their employees back to the office—and productivity.
Here’s what that looks like: Instead of wasting money on expensive software and hardware for each building they want to digitize, BaaS means managers can easily expand a single solution to as many structures as they like, without the huge upfront investment.
And though pretty much everyone agrees that employees will return to the office—either full time or part time—if the pandemic has taught us anything, flexibility is key. And that means BaaS makes even more sense: if we get to a fourth (or tenth or thirtieth) wave of Covid and people start staying home again, the system and the manager’s costs adjust accordingly.
And when they do return to the office, workers now expect their buildings to be safe, assuming their employers are doing what’s needed to minimize the risk of disease transmission. And this is in the best interest of their employers, too.
Keeping workers healthy contributes to a business’s bottom line: a recent study calculated the U.S. employer cost of the 2018 flu season to be between $15.4 and $20.9 billion. And what happens when employers don’t? Some organizations are even facing lawsuits from tenants and employees who believe they contracted a disease as the result of landlord or employer negligence.
This is why trusted authorities such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention have published guidelines for employers to follow to keep their workers safe. And BaaS can help them meet those guidelines without blowing their budgets.
According to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), integrating access technologies with real-time energy management systems can reduce costs by an average of 15%, as well as increase the bottom line by creating an environment that reduces energy waste and encourages employee productivity.
And when it comes to paying for BaaS, there’s more good news. Under the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES” Act), non-residential property owners may be able to write off up to 100% of qualifying facility improvements costs.
But though Covid-19 was a wake-up call of epic proportions, it’s not the sole reason behind the rise of BaaS. People are more invested in protecting their health and well being than ever before, making healthy buildings more of a necessity than a nice-to-have. And with the effects of climate change accelerating, savvy building owners are looking for systems that allow them to both mitigate those changes and do their part to reduce emissions.
The United Nations’s 2017 Global Status Report says that buildings and construction account for nearly 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. Based on that report, the UN has recommended 10 priority actions, including improving energy management by using Internet of Things tools to transform regular buildings into smart buildings.
So what does a smart building look like?
Well, to the casual observer, not that much different than a regular building. But behind the scenes there’s a web of hardware and software working to measure and calibrate virtually every aspect of the office environment: air quality (CO2 levels, particles, volatile compounds), water quality, mold and moisture, humidity, temperature, lighting.
One company that’s emerged as a player during the pandemic is Aircuity, which recently introduced their “Air Quality as a Service” (AQaaS) solution that helps building owners create “healthy buildings” that meet both COVID-19 re-entry and longer-term air quality requirements. Their AQaaS requires no or low upfront capital, making it easier and faster to deploy in existing buildings.
When a building’s management system is well-integrated with other smart building technologies like Aircuity, it helps prevent, mitigate, or contain problems. For example, if a worker tests positive for Covid at the building’s check-in, the smart system can automatically close the air duct dampers to prevent spread and lock entry doors to keep others from entering the space until it’s been cleared.
And because everything is connected in the cloud, it’s no longer an every-building-manager-for-themselves situation. BaaS helps lessen the pressure and the costs of individual building maintenance by transferring everything to a third party. Because they don’t have to manage the process on top of the millions of other things they have to do, companies have an easier time making decisions that improve building efficiencies, as well as improve the wellbeing of their workers.
Johnson Controls is another company that’s developed a program to help building owners get people back into work safely. Their OpenBlue Health Buildings platform includes AI-infused service solutions such as remote diagnostics, predictive maintenance, compliance monitoring, advanced risk assessments and more.
While we don’t know when the next pandemic will hit, we do know that this one has changed how we interact with the spaces we inhabit, perhaps forever. That means healthy buildings are here to stay. And in addition to innovative technology solutions needed to support this new world, the “as-a-service” model will only grow to help building owners meet the objectives in a way that doesn’t break the bank.