Posted on 30 September 2019

Smart buildings are enabling Microsoft’s ‘New World of Work’

Bill Gates gave his ‘New World of Work’ speech back in 2005. In it, he outlined a vision of empowered knowledge workers and global collaboration, enabled by smart technology and business intelligence that could prioritise scarce time and resources. In the intervening years, there have been many projects and initiatives to make this a reality – and many offices and work practices have been transformed.

We decided to speak with Sander van den Hoven, about how his work with bGrid has enabled significant cultural and work behaviour changes at Microsoft’s Dutch HQ on the Schiphol Business Park. Sander’s a cloud solutions architect within the Northern Europe partner support team at Microsoft. His role is to help and advise Microsoft’s commercial partners and show them how they can leverage Microsoft technology to build stronger, better businesses.

Sander is also a key member of the project team that worked in partnership with bGrid and Schiphol Real Estate to undertake a major re-build and refurbishment of Microsoft’s Dutch HQ during 2017. This project went way beyond buying new furniture and office plants.

Q: Could you tell us about the scope of this project?

In short, we completely re-purposed the building. What we had originally was a fairly conventional working office design. What we now have is a building that is used mainly as a meeting place for our global employees and partners. I would say that around 75% of the building’s usage is for meetings and collaborative work. And, that has involved a radical re-design of the whole look and feel of the building.

Q: What role has bGrid played in this?

bGrid’s smart building technology integrated with the Mapiq cloud-based platform is giving us a detailed picture of how we are using our building. They have installed 1,500 sensors around the four-story building; on floors and against walls. Every room has at least one sensor. These monitor and collect data on temperature, CO2 emissions and occupancy.

Q: What does this mean for the building users?

We wanted to solve two key issues. The first was that our employees and partners needed to be able to find a suitable space for their work tasks. For example, they might want a quiet space with no distractions, such as phones ringing, to focus on a particular project. Alternatively, they might want a coffee corner to talk to their co-workers or a soundproofed room to make a customer call.

It’s one thing to design a building with all those spaces, but the challenge is finding an easy way for people to make best use of them. Without the smart tech, people tend to just walk around and see what space they can find. That’s time-consuming, inefficient and frustrating for everyone.

With the bGrid sensor data we know exactly what space is occupied at any given time. We log on to the app to get an overview of the free rooms and then filter the data to find a place that’s ideal for our task. We can also use the app to locate colleagues and we’re now working on a chatbot to make it even easier to do this via voice.

Our second challenge was cultural. We wanted to encourage people to make more conscious decisions about when they come to the office. Instead of coming in from 9-5 out of habit each day, we wanted them to be asking ‘does it makes sense for me to be in the office at this time?’

On one level, we needed the bGrid sensor data to do this. Employees needed to know office occupancy levels in advance because that made it easier for them to arrange or re-schedule meetings to a less busy time if necessary. But, this shift is about much more than technology.

We needed to influence the way people make decisions. We have flexible workspaces with no specific desk or parking space for anyone. We want people to only be coming into the office if they need to, working flexibly, using public transport and making optimal use of our building.

We are output driven and trust our people to work this way. They don’t always need to be in the same physical space and we recognise people have different rhythms to their personal lives. There is no pressure to be in the office; it’s more the other way round, we encourage people not to be in the office unless they need to be.

Seamless integration between the bGrid sensor data and the Mapiq cloud-based platform is essential to make this work effectively. People will only embrace the technology if it’s easy to use and they see the value of it. But, technology isn’t everything – culture is also important.

Q: What do you think the future holds for smart buildings tech?

The smarter we can be the better, as that will allow us to give advice on optimal building use to employees and partners. We are already using AI to make predictions on how busy the building is, when parking spaces are likely to be available and how to avoid a long queue for lunch. We’re also developing Office 365 integration and predictive chatbot interfaces.

There are many other possibilities. We believe that – along with our partners bGrid and Schiphol Real Estate – we can use our building as an example to businesses of the benefits a smart building can bring. That can help others who want to do similar things in their office, or with their logistics or manufacturing processes.

Another interesting aspect is that bGrid has the capability to use the same tools in multiple buildings and combine occupancy data from different organisations. This could make it easier to share facilities, such as large meeting rooms or auditoriums, between organisations, so reducing costs and increasing efficiency. Our goal with bGrid is to move to cloud solutions and keep the data secure; we are always working together to continue to improve this.

Making optimal use of bGrid’s sensor data is a new area. We are still working out exactly what you can do; it’s not been done before and for some predictions we need long term data, such as seasonal use. This is just at the beginning; we don’t have all the answers yet, but there are many interesting areas we are working on.

Thank you, Sander. If you have any further questions about bGrid’s smart building tech, you can contact us here.

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