UPDTATE: Empathic Building is now a part of Haltian. Read more about the news here.
What is the future of smart buildings, where all things are connected? We interviewed Tomi Teikko, head of Empathic Building, to find out what Empathic Buildings have to offer for modern offices now and in the future.
With Empathic Building, Smart Building is a byproduct
Empathic building is, like the word empathic suggests, a service that aims to measure and execute the best possible end-user experience. A smoother and intuitive working environment leads to a more motivated workforce. The solution gathers data from IoT sensors that measure things like occupancy, air quality and indoor positioning, and visualizes it to the software for the use of the end users. All this data can be analyzed and reported for the leadership and facility management to support decision making.
Right now, Empathic Building solution is being developed towards an even more human centric approach, where data can be used to make better business decisions in all areas of operation. The future vision is to solve end-user problems using data gathered from not just the environment, but from people themselves.
“When we’re talking about office and school environments where use cases are quite similar, we aim to lessen unnecessary admin jobs and create a good end-user experience by solving normal everyday things. These are things like how you can find a certain document, or if you need to reserve a meeting room or just walk in. Things that are present in our everyday lives.”
This kind of a human centered approach has been the very starting point of Empathic Building.
“About three years ago we were involved in a project in our own campus, when Tieto moved from traditional, dedicated seating arrangement to activity based working where you choose your working space according to your work tasks. We started workshopping with the end-users and listened to their worries and problems with the new type of working spaces. As a result we decided to develop a visualization that would solve these problems: where do I find the people, documents, work spaces, available meeting rooms and so on?”
In other words, Empathic Building visualizes the data that is normally found from several different applications, systems, where they are hard or impossible to find. It is a tool that you can use to decide where you go to do your work, and that decision might include factors like are the colleagues you work with there, what the air quality is like, what kind of work spaces are there or whether it is a quiet space? Other factors can be, for example, about the technology available: can you have a Skype meeting, or does the space have the kind of screen you need that day?
Effective use of space is, of course, a part of the Empathic building solution. Empathic Building generates space usage heat maps and utilization reports for both desks and meeting rooms to help optimize and redesign the premises. Nevertheless, for Tomi Teikko the users come before the buildings.
Modern offices require modern solutions
Activity-based working areas are typical cases where Empathic Building solutions can help. While these kinds of working areas offer flexibility, there are some difficulties as well. IoT solutions can be the answer to ensure a smooth and good user experience for everyone.
“We visualize the data and the end-user can use it to make informed decisions. With this tool, people can choose the correct workstation for their needs, and as a byproduct of that we will also get the utilization rate report of said spaces. But it’s not the primary tool we offer for our customers. And it has a huge difference compared to FM (facilities management) and other smart building solutions that primarily aim to solve the effective use of space. For us, the best possible end-user experience is the product”
Easy reporting means a smooth workday for everyone
Empathic Building solution includes different types of user interfaces, such as mobile and desktop apps. Not only do they visualize all the important information a user might need, but they also enable easy reporting. To give an example, notifying facility management about a broken screen in a meeting room takes only three seconds and the information about the report, the location, and the fixing schedule can all be found easily in the same place.
“Just the other day I was giving a demonstration for a customer, and took out one service ticket that said: ‘the light is flickering’. In a 21 000 square meter building, how would you track where the light is? But I could simply click on the link given, and it showed on a map that the light in the gym bathroom. The facility manager might have found the broken light by chance, or had to go through the entire building, which no-one has time for. Other solution would have been that the end-user would have had to write a novel describing the place the problem was in. Our solution logs the location automatically; it’s a simple thing, but means the world for the end-user.”
This kind of a feedback engine enables better facility and service planning and faster response times. Facility managers, caretakers, etc. can follow the reports on how building utilization, user satisfaction and environmental factors affect each other.
In the future technology could be used to support empathy
Where is Empathic Building going in the future? The answer is easy – towards more empathy.
“Next we will improve the reporting things, meaning the way you can manage the end-user experience. An example of this is biodata. Right now we are gathering verbal and written information and feedback on how people experience their environment. We rely completely on people’s reporting on whether their experiences are positive or negative. But I believe that in the future we can gather information from biodata on how people experience the situations. This way we could find problems or situations that might in one way or another prevent people from fluently executing their tasks. That is the future of smart buildings we are aiming for.”
From connected buildings to connected humans
A way to gather people’s biodata could be through smart wearable technology, like smart rings or wristbands. The data could give feedback on whether the lighting, the temperature or the air-quality is good. This information is called a control value. The control value could then be delivered to, for example, the building’s automation, and adjustments could be made to make the end-user experience improves.
“If the blocks preventing people to do their work are, for example, work culture related, we could deepen the feedback people can give. Let’s say I write a report stating that in our team decision making is not transparent and that decisions are made in closed meeting rooms. Imagine if at the same time this feedback was being given, we could prove from the biodata how strongly I feel about the issue. We will bring this kind of data as a part of decision making.”
This kind of data could bring more empathy to leadership through knowledge of how people genuinely experience things and how they feel about their work environment.
“My vision for Empathic Building is that in the future we have real-time report on how people experience their working environment and that we can make decisions based on that data. This could mean decisions on what to invest on and what things need to be changed. I believe in empathic software. We talk a lot about connected buildings, but my vision is connected humans”
Smart offices move away from one-size-fits-all leadership
“We are very genuinely lacking equipment for management so that they could measure true end-user experience. Yes, you can have very good leaders and team managers who are truly empathic in a way that they see how their employees feel about their work environment. But they are so rare.“
Workplaces are going through a transmission period where they suddenly have a need to move away from one-size-fits-all, top-down leadership. Often, the people who are now in management roles might completely lack the skills required. A good leader is expected to be an empathic one, who truly knows how people feel and helps them with their problems.
“We need to support empathic leadership, because leaders need to support their workers to the max. Not only do they need to remove the blocks that might prevent their workers from executing their tasks, they also need to know what those blocks are. With empathic solutions it’s a lot easier to create the best environment for maximum performance, and that will make modern leadership easier.”
These kinds of future technologies will hopefully improve work welfare and help prevent sick leaves.
“We are working with Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and VTT Technical Research Centre to develop analytics about biodata that we could use the measure and improve work welfare. The end results could be shown in, for example, a stress map: if someone’s maps are red, you know take preventive measures before people start to have absences. Of course these are all still in development, if we see commercial solution in three years, even first draft, then I’ll be super happy. “