How AI is taking the strain out of managing the workplace
AI is stepping in to better manage space requirements and keep buildings operating smoothly
Amid the shift to more fluid ways of working, artificial intelligence is becoming the invisible hand that keeps the digital-age workplace running smoothly for employees and facilities managers.
With more people splitting their working week across different locations and working more flexible hours, AI tools that automate basic decision-making and optimise the employee experience are in demand.
AI now has multiple potential uses, from maximising use of space according to daily occupancy demand, as a diary or meeting planner, or as a front-of-house concierge, explains Tony Josipovic, global product owner, dynamic occupancy planning at JLL.
“AI mimics a range of workplace tasks and roles,” he says. “That cross-functionality is only just being grasped.”
Tools such as VergeSense, which uses both AI and intelligent sensors to help companies better understand how workers use office space, last year raised US$ 12 million and recently added customers such as Cisco, Fresenius, Telus and Rapid7. Meanwhile, GoSpace AI gathers data around how space is used on a real-time basis and can evolve scenarios such as those developed during the space reallocation process. The scenarios developed by GoSpace AI can maximize connectivity within the workplace quickly and easily, performing much of the heavy lifting historically performed by a planner.
“We’re in a much more flexible working environment than ever now, we’re no longer static,” Josipovic says. “There’s an erratic, less predictable use of space and more need for speed and accuracy on occupancy planning. That’s opening the door to AI.”
Taking AI to the next level
Applications for AI in real estate have been restricted for some time because real estate is an “extremely complicated asset class creating diverse structured and unstructured data,” says Matt Robertson, EMEA Regional Technology Director at JLL
But attitudes to using office spaces and using data to make better decisions are changing; for example, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, planning for the number of occupants in an office for a given time-frame was comparatively straightforward.
“There was a pattern that allowed planners to work with the business and assign profile for how users would use space over the period of, say, three months,” Robertson says. “But that lead time and predictability of how users balance working from the office and other locations has gone, leaving very little lead time to plan effectively.
But AI can support both users and planners in planning the workday, he adds, by “informing a user that their regular working colleagues are going to the office on, say, Thursday and Friday, and asks if you want to be there too”.
“That itself creates a new problem of multiplying space demand, where again AI can step in and support the zone and overall supply of space planning.”
In the future, AI algorithms could even help colleagues stay connected during remote working, deducing what people are working on and then making suitable digital introductions based on common themes and topics.
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Yet AI isn’t just about enhancing the employee experience.
“That ability to know exactly how many people are in an office and when can help minimize wasted use of space and energy,” says Mark Lofting, EMEA senior director for workplace and occupancy strategy at JLL.
“And longer-term, that can of course help add to the lifespan of a building, while making operational savings. It’s about right-sizing an asset - to the needs of its workforce.”
AI is equally proving a valuable tool in helping companies managing buildings behind-the-scenes. Technologies such as AI Smart Eye can detect abnormal situations such as suspicious objects, elevator outage or instances of fire.
And there’s much more to come. A survey of facility, security and IT managers last year by analyst firm Omdia found that 87 percent of respondents think AI will become a necessary element of smart-building management.
Facilities management teams are now grasping the possibilities for AI to become more involved in building management and Fault Detection Diagnostics (FDD), says David Whiteley, head of sales and solutions at Integral, a JLL company.
“AI can help clients listen to and understand a building’s needs, for example on room temperature and air conditioning,” he says. “Time, typically around two business quarters, is needed for systems to bed in truly learn the seasons. But once that bedding in is achieved, the potential for AI within FDD is significant.”
As AI becomes more sophisticated, future adoption could further alter the traditional tasks undertaken by facilities management teams.
“Data mining roles can be handed to AI,” says Whiteley. “And that allows more interesting, optimized roles to be created - and move facilities management away from an historically prescriptive and time-based approach.”
For now, AI may be in its infancy but as workplaces become more digital and ways of working continue to shift, its role in managing both spaces and people will continue to grow.
“It’s an unpredictable time for the workplace,” concludes Josipovic. “But what’s clear is that with AI, life - for both employees and facilities management - becomes smarter and more dynamic.”