Turning Coworking Spaces into Smart Buildings: a Conversation with Jerome Chang

This blog was first published in Dutch on Smart WP

Having a smart building doesn’t mean that you need to have all the newest and shiniest gadgets, and you don’t have to have a brand new building to use smart technology. One of the most useful places to implement smart technology is in the infrastructure of your building. Instead of collecting info on how humans impact a building, technology tools can enable building infrastructure to support and improve the wellness of the people in the building in real and concrete ways.


Jerome Chang, Founder and Architect at BLANKSPACES Coworking, is of the opinion that: “people like to use ‘shiny’ technology  tools to solve problems but then often miss or ignore the underlying root cause of said problem. A ‘shiny’ tool can make one feel good because they’re engaging with it, but infrastructure or root issues are often behind-the-scenes and invisible.


Coworking spaces and smart buildings

Smart building technology can be used to both monitor utilization and environmental health. The latter includes air quality and daylight, 2 major components that improve human health.


Independent coworking spaces often occupy smaller and older buildings — in the Netherlands, buildings are commonly built centuries ago for a different purpose. Older buildings often have more stringent design review requirements which then make implementation of some of these smart building technologies more difficult to achieve.


However, there are simpler strategies to improve environmental health. One such for better air quality, Jerome says, ““simply open the doors and windows.”. This saves you money on AC expenses and it lets in fresh air.


Jeannine van der Linden, Founder of De Kamer, agrees with Jerome but points out that since Covid-19 hit, many want to be aware of the air quality and sometimes opening the doors isn’t enough. “We use standalone  HEPA filters in some of our spaces. They are  connected to an app which shows the quality of the air and the CO2 levels. It helps the users of our space to feel comfortable to return as they can visibly see the quality of the air.  They can also see that what they do changes the air quality and adjust accordingly.  We don’t have to tell the coworkers that airing the meeting room for an hour between bookings is healthy, they can see that it is and why.”


Tips to smartly run your space

Within a coworking space, there are certain areas that by definition need close attention. For instance, the bathroom and the elevator. Jerome points out that these are the worst ventilated areas within a building. This means that these are the places that you especially need to wear your mask.  And yet they are the place people tend to relax and not worry so much about the air quality as one is usually alone there.


A tip that can help with the quality of the air in a bathroom is to leave the door open when you leave. Natural ventilation is the best way to get rid of any unwanted germs in the air. “Leave the door open when you’re done to clear out the air for the next person. Which also means if you go to a bathroom and the doors are closed, be mindful that it is likely that their air is still hovering.”


Another to combat the uncertainty of the quality of the air, is to make use of carbon dioxide monitors in each room. According to Jerome, the ideal would be a centralised hub, but often coworking spaces don’t have this budget. To save money you can “buy one or two and just measure the air periodically and check that quality is okay. Measuring CO2 is not a measure of air particles or of potential viral load in the air, but it is a marker because if there is good air exchange, the CO2 level will be low”


Jerome speaks about implementing UV-C systems in a coworking space. A popular UV-C system that most people know of, is those we can find in air conditioning systems. This system works by pulling in the infected air and zapping it with ultraviolet light to remove germs from the air.


He points out that the UVC within an air conditioning system isn’t strong enough to purify the air completely. The process takes too long and by the time the clean air is released, new infected air has been released. “There is an alternative, a large fan in the upper part of the room that sucks up the air and purifies it with UVC. This process is more efficient because it is slower and can easily purify the air.” One brand is by Big Ass Fans.


There is just one problem, these fans are quite expensive. But if you can justify the need for it, like in an event space, it would work wonders for your air quality.


There are also low cost alternatives, for example this box fan air filter which can be made for less than 50 Euro and can improve the air in the room.


Lastly, Jeannine adds an interesting point to smartly run a coworking space. “Wellness has been a theme in coworking since before COVID-19, and the conversation revolves around exercise and yoga and healthy diets, but wellness in a coworking space starts with daylight and sunlight, fruit in the bowls and plants in the space. These are not, as Jerome says, shiny, but in the end have a greater effect I think.  We tend to forget how great daylight and sunlight can be for us.” According to her, this holistic approach can also improve the quality of work and mental wellness of the users within a coworking space.

Having a smart building does not mean that you have to spend a lot of money or go out and buy all new display screens. You simply need to find a way to run it with human centered technology — that way the people are comfortable and their mental and physical health is the top priority on your list.

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