Six months ago, we opened our new 10,000sq ft workspace in the ‘climate and innovation’ district of Leeds after selling our old 40,000sq ft office block.
Our new hub (The Place) isn’t your typical workspace. It’s Yorkshire’s first zero-carbon office building designed and built just next door by Citu. It’s made using a highly-insulated timber frame and uses a state-of-the-art heat recovery system to maintain a comfortable working environment. Heat recovery systems are just one of several cutting-edge features that will see us save more than £1m over the next ten years, money that we plan to reinvest in new and existing homes.
The Place is a highly-sustainable workspace designed to inspire creativity and collaboration between colleagues. Every working style is catered for through the clever use of space, furniture and lighting.
Time to settle in…
Like any new space, it inevitably takes time to understand how different areas will be used. Some areas will be more popular than others, some will be underused or misunderstood, and some will be too hot or too cold. Usually, organisations rely on colleagues’ feedback via surveys and other qualitative data; gathering this information takes time and the data itself is often difficult to interpret meaningfully.
The relationship between a workspace and the people who use it should be symbiotic and mutually beneficial. To do that, our award-winning innovation team was asked to find a way to gather real-time temperature and occupancy data to help fine-tune the space.
Yorkshire Housing called in Purrmetrix, specialists in using data to deliver insights into a building’s performance. With the help of our innovation team, Purrmetrix installed 30 sensors to remotely measure temperature, humidity and movement so that we could begin to understand how different spaces were being used and how the building’s heat recovery system was performing.
Last summer, a month after The Place first opened, the UK experienced record temperatures, with the temperature reaching 39.2<degree sign> in Leeds in July 2022. Most workplaces in the UK aren’t set up to deal with such extreme heat, let alone measure its impact.
The July heatwave allowed us to see how our new workspace reacted to such extremes in real time. We were constantly learning how the building lives and breathes during extreme heat. The data enabled us to fine-tune the building’s systems and we quickly understood how best to reduce the build-up of heat, for example, by using a technique called purge ventilation during the coolest time of the day.
The data we are gathering is helping us to understand how to make the space comfortable for colleagues, even during a heatwave. Hot summers are becoming more frequent so it’s important that we know how to respond to keep people cool and maximise productivity.
Data from the sensors also allows us to monitor the effectiveness of the heating systems in real time to make sure they’re balanced between creating a comfortable working environment and avoiding energy wastage.
We are also using the sensors to monitor occupancy levels of different meeting rooms, work pods and other spaces to find out which are the most popular and when. The Place has been designed to be a flexible space that we can adapt and change easily to make sure our colleagues always have what they need. By analysing how the different spaces are used, we can move things around, add new furniture and improve the overall working environment.
Hermione Crease, CEO, Purrmetrix, said, “We know that even the best-designed offices benefit from performance data to help review and optimise how they’re used. It is particularly pleasing to run a project in such a cutting-edge building, and it’s a timely reminder that in a housing or office environment, better data delivers better outcomes for the occupants.’’
We aren’t stopping at temperature and occupancy data. We plan to integrate environmental, usage and energy data to fully understand how The Place operates to create the most sustainable and productive environment for our colleagues.
We can also use what we’ve learned and apply some of the technologies to our tenants’ homes. We want to create homes that are fit for the future; smart technologies and the consequent data can help us to achieve that.
If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that we need to be ready to adapt and change quickly; technology can help us to do that.
Darren Williams is a solutions architect at Yorkshire Housing.