Open-plan offices are more trendy than ever. Almost every German company now also wants a “hip” office concept like the pioneers Facebook, Apple and Co. from Silicon Valley. Often, however, open-plan offices are above all just stuffy, noisy, too dark, too light, too warm, too cold. It’s not healthy: Several studies have found that people who work in open-plan offices are more likely to be ill.
Since the outbreak of the corona pandemic, the topic of health has once again become more important in the work context. Employers must now pay special attention to how they can protect their employees. After months in the home office in lockdown, many are slowly returning to the office or have long been back there. Correct ventilation, temperature and smart room allocation plans can help.
The timing for the start of Edge Next could hardly be better. The new startup of the Dutch serial founder, builder and architect Coen van Oostrom has developed a technology that could potentially make every office building in the world more sustainable, smarter and healthier. For this purpose, small sensors are integrated into the building in rooms, roof, floor, walls and windows. They continuously measure factors such as air quality, hygiene, temperature, volume, light and energy consumption. All these sensors are networked and communicate with each other via the Internet of Things. These recordings are then displayed in real time on a cloud platform. In this way, the conditions in the building can be evaluated and adjusted live accordingly.
Edge Next is van Oostrom’s youngest startup spin-off. With his company Edge Technologies, he has been building smart houses for years, including “The Edge” in Amsterdam, which is considered the most sustainable and smartest office building in the world. Here, employees can control pretty much everything via app: the coffee machine, the parking barrier, the light, the air and book their workplaces.
One of the first buildings to be equipped with the completely new technology is the new “Edge Grand Central” building at Berlin Central Station, which will go into operation on November 1st. Scout 24 is one of the first tenants of the building, and management consultancies PwC and Deloitte are also customers of the company in earlier projects.
With the help of the smart control, cleaning staff can be divided up more efficiently and light and temperature conditions can be better adjusted. On a heat map, customers can also see how many people are in which parts of the building. If certain areas are not used at all, in case of doubt they do not have to be rented, which saves costs. This is very practical in times of mobile working and “hot desking”, when every employee no longer has an assigned seat but can work anywhere in the building.
Sounds like an episode from “Black Mirror”?
The intelligent buildings seem to know a lot about their residents. For some, this may sound a bit like the dystopian Netflix series “Black Mirror” and surveillance. But it is not, asserts van Oostrom. The data is collected anonymously and without cameras, the sensors cannot recognize any individuals and neither app operators nor employers are able to evaluate them personally and individually.
The advantages for professional homeowners and tenants who want to make their buildings smarter are obvious, says van Oostrom: They save considerable costs in the long term and increase the productivity of their employees. According to the Dutchman, 20 to 30 percent of a building’s energy consumption can be saved by using Edge Next. “We are seeing such strong growth in this market that we assume that every office building owner will be using this sensor technology in five to ten years.”
The idea of sustainable, smart buildings is not in itself new
The goal: to make office buildings around the world more sustainable, smarter and healthier for employees. Van Oostrom is not alone with this idea, more and more clients and architects are trying to build their buildings sustainably, especially to save costs in the long term.
There are already so-called plus energy houses that produce more energy than they consume; There are smart homes that network all devices in the household with one another, and houses with greenhouses on their roofs or walls using vertical farming. But Edge Technologies houses combine all of these factors. And with the new Edge Next platform, old office buildings can also be upgraded for the first time.
For this purpose, the respective tenants of the property receive a package with mobile sensors that they can install anywhere in the building. According to the company, it will take a maximum of 48 hours until this is set up and the cloud platform is fully operational. The building managers can then view and evaluate the sensor recordings via a cloud-based platform. Buildings from the past 20 years usually have a modern, computer-controlled building management system that can be connected to the Edge-Next platform. The new technology could then also be used to control air conditioning or lighting via a single interface.
In old buildings that do not have a modern building management system or ventilation system, this cannot be done without retrofitting. At the same time, however, it also helps to know when, for example, the window should be proactively opened in a meeting room before all participants tire due to a lack of air, says van Oostrom.
It is important first of all to recognize the status quo in the buildings and whether the air quality, the lighting, the room temperature are okay and how high the electricity and energy consumption is. “Many tenants do not yet have this valuable information – or they may not want to know either. Because as soon as it is determined that the conditions are not optimal, something should be changed. Of course that puts them under pressure, ”says van Oostrom. In the long term, however, no employer will be able to avoid furnishing its office buildings in a health-promoting manner, predicts van Oostrom.
Sensors are now cheap
In addition, the necessary sensor technology is now much cheaper than it was a few years ago, says the founder. For the basic package at Edge Next, in which the three factors health, sustainability and effectiveness are measured, customers pay five to ten euros per square meter of office space. Other additional functions such as control via app by employees can be booked. “For every euro invested, we expect tenfold savings for the landlord,” says van Oostrom.
In the future, van Oostrom and his company want to design autonomous buildings that “think for themselves” and optimize the room conditions before starting work on Monday morning. If the sensors detect that it is cold outside, they could preheat the building and cool it in summer. “Until now, the properties have been controlled reactively, but in the future they will manage everything themselves,” says van Oostrom. Sounds like a look into the crystal ball, but according to van Oostrom it is only about five to ten years away. Then hardly any surfaces such as door knobs or taps would have to be touched – which is getting a whole new meaning in times of Corona.