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When flex working & rigid office buildings collide

Written by Andrew Bull | National Director, Engineering & Operations, Real Estate Management

It’s 9:33am on a Monday in August 1999. You stick your head out of your office and it’s a sea of heads, as every cubicle’s occupant diligently begins their working week. The workforce operates largely in unison, following the same patterns from Monday through to Friday. Peak lift demand is an hour in the morning, an hour at lunch and an hour in the evening, and they sit comparatively idle in between. The Heating, Ventilation, and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) system ramps up from a standing start to full load at 9am each morning and then ramps down at 6pm each night. Predictable workforce patterns, predictable building response.

Fast forward 20 years. 

Recently I was talking to a young graduate about her career plans. She wanted a job with flexible hours, and I asked why. Her response was that she wanted the freedom to take a short nap right after lunch when her energy level was at its lowest and the ability to work late at night when her brain was more focused. If I’d made a comment like this when looking for my graduate role 20 years ago, I would have been laughed out of the room. But in today’s workplace, the request doesn’t sound all that strange.

According to a 2016 study by Bentley University, 77% of Millennials say that “flexible work hours would make the workplace more productive for people their age”. Given their comfort with digital technology that allows them to work anytime and anywhere, this statistic is hardly surprising. But as the Millennial generation becomes the workforce majority, we can expect flex time and telecommuting to become a common workplace practice rather than a special privilege. In fact, by around 2030, it’s likely the traditional 9-to-5 workday will not be the norm.

What impact will this significant shift in behavious have on the office of the future?

Gone are the predictable work patterns allowing engineers and facilities managers to design and manage the building in the conventional manner. 

Over the past 10 years we have been predicting weather patterns in order to run HVAC systems in a more efficient manner and now academics are looking at predicting workforce behaviour in order to gain more efficiencies. In a recent paper, Occupancy-Based HVAC Control with Short-Term Occupancy Prediction Algorithms for Energy-Efficient Buildings, the authors explore ways to develop a concrete occupancy prediction as well as an optimal occupancy-based control solution for improving the efficiency of HVAC systems.

In a new study commissioned by UK corporate wellness business StepJockey, it was found that new flexible working patterns, break-out spaces and a boom in hot-desking and internal meetings are creating many more inter-floor lift journeys in modern office buildings. The report found that the change in workforce behaviour meant that lift wait times had increased as had carbon emissions, with electricity consumption up to 36% higher in real-world use than the standards had predicted.

Lighting systems are also impacted by this shift in workplace patterns, whereby a full floor or large banks of lights may be operating for only a few users. This increase in energy consumption has impacts for both building users and their owners. While tenants carry the cost of inefficient building performance via the outgoings, owners will be affected when it comes to reporting, particularly mandatory reporting like National Greenhouse Energy Reporting (NGERS) and the Building Energy Efficiency Certificate (BEEC).

Workforce patterns will continue to change over the next decade. What is less clear, however, is how building services will evolve to meet the challenges associated with that change.

Andrew Bull, National Director, Facilities Management, Melbourne
Mobile: +61 2 9257 0241

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I have more than 30 years experience in the property industry with extensive relationships across institutional and major private owners throughout Australia. My experience includes the management of major assets and portfolios across Australia, across all asset classes and all categories of ownership, working for clients such as Challenger, Charter Hall, Grosvenor, ISPT, Macquarie University, QIC, IOOF, Mulpha, Mirvac, Dexus, Perron Group, REST, Glebe Administration Board, KAH Australia, Valad, Australian Unity, Far East Organization, Bunnings, EG Funds Management, Eureka Funds Management, Heathley Limited, Real I.S., Roxy-Pacific and Altis Property Partners.

In my current role as Managing Director, Real Estate Management, I am responsible for driving operational excellence and leading business growth for Colliers International Real Estate Management service.

Colliers International Real Estate Management team offer specialised property management services to optimise the performance of our clients' assets. We partner with our clients to develop and execute asset strategies to achieve their investment goals. We provide property management, facilities management, financial management and sustainability services across all property classes and client categories.

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