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March 4, 2021

Workplace wellness through technology

  • A successful environment will be healthy and safe and provide customization, comfort and activity.



    There are billions of connected devices installed throughout the world, enabling buildings to communicate with their owners and occupants. This data exchange gives buildings a voice and can provide a human-centric philosophy for personalized well-being experiences. The constant evolution of IoT (internet of things) is enabling buildings and their environments to interact with their occupants, learn from them and adapt to their changing needs.

    Technology is widely being used as a personal assistant — ranging from turning on the lights at home to tracking our health with a single swipe or voice command. Our workplaces can perform in the same way. With wellness top of mind, successful office environments can seamlessly integrate technology to help create an impact on our physical, cognitive, and emotional wellbeing. A successful environment will be healthy and safe and provide customization, comfort and activity.


    Smart buildings are constantly monitoring a whole host of systems using sensors. Good indoor air quality is more important than ever to keep productivity high and prevent building-related sickness, and systems can be programmed to monitor indoor air quality and adjust airflow based on occupancy.

    Photo by CallisonRTKL/Ann Nelson [enlarge]
    The LED Video Wall in CallisonRTKL’s Experience Center in Seattle.

    To ensure workspaces are healthy for employees, sensors and software can monitor and manage the indoor environment such as temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide (CO2) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). Digital buildings can detect and ventilate spaces in real time autonomously from a personal mobile device or by means of machine learning and artificial intelligence to optimize air quality.

    Displaying real-time data on a highly visible dashboard or pushing this information to a personal device provides employees with important information and eases any COVID-related concerns.


    Smart buildings can also offer considerable advantages in terms of safety. In emergencies, technologies can guide the occupants by voice, lights, and digital signage to the safest escape routes. Detailed information can be provided to first responders. Occupants in the building can be tracked to ensure that everyone successfully evacuates without harm.

    In the event of a security breach, the building can not only shut down access to specific spaces, but also provide first responders with up-to-date, accurate information on who is in the building and, importantly, where. Systems integrated wayfinding can open or close elevtors, entries, and exits. Heatmapping can locate people in case of fire, active shooter, or hostage emergencies. Both wayfinding and heatmapping resources can help push out emergency communications, sending the right information to the right people in the quickest way possible.


    While many building systems are automated, smart technology allows users the ability to customize aspects of their personal space from their mobile devices. Customizing light levels and automating window shades can offer a sense of empowerment, leading to better collaboration and higher productivity levels. Natural light and access to views play an important role when it comes to health and wellbeing. Studies have shown that daylight and a connection to nature increase alertness and promotes a healthy sleep cycle.

    Customizing light levels and automating window shades can offer a sense of empowerment, leading to better collaboration and higher productivity levels. If access to natural daylight is not available, electric lighting systems can be programmed to mimic the brightness and color of daylight throughout the day, keeping our circadian rhythms in check.


    Encouraging activity into the sedentary workday is imperative. Technology can help. Research has proven that environments that promote mobility and social interaction improve mental and physical health, which in turn can help prevent disease. Smart desks can warn of sitting too long and encourage a break. Wearable tech reminds us to reach our step goal.

    Feature staircases not only serve as a major design element but also promote walking rather than taking the elevator. Access to outdoor terraces, green spaces or nearby trails creates an opportunity for walking meetings or a welcome respite from a stressful day.


    The pandemic forced many of us into a work-from-home experiment and thanks to technology, it worked. Many employees delighted in commuting down the hallway and working from their couch. In the post-COVID world, surveys show that many employers will embrace a flexible, hybrid approach of returning to the office and working from home.

    Based on this paradigm shift, workplaces are trending toward a residential aesthetic, blurring the lines between the remote workplace with the onsite office and offering the comforts of home. Conference rooms may now mimic your living room with a sofa and coffee table facing a large monitor. Virtual meetings will start to feel more like in-person meetings with video cameras that can swivel to the speaker by detecting sound and gestures. Connected whiteboard devices will be used for in-person and remote collaboration. Just as your home became an office these last many months, the office, with the proper technology, will be more like your home.

    The way we work is constantly changing and technology plays a pivotal role in that evolution. The workplace of the future, whatever that may ultimately look like, will inevitably be driven by people and fueled by technology. The workspaces of today and tomorrow must be designed around a user-centric approach — one that prioritizes health and wellness and enables individual productivity and efficiency. With people spending an estimated 90 percent of their lives indoors, buildings that do their part in keeping our population safe and healthy is more important than ever.

    Ken Bayern is CallisonRTKL vice president and Dena Yamaguchi is CallisonRTKL associate vice president.

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