Don’t Wait, Automate

A look at technological solutions for a safer, easier, more efficient workplace.

It’s heating up in New Orleans, and now is the time to think about making your business location cooler. I don’t mean air conditioning; I’m talking about adding the cool factor using the latest technology, some of which is designed and produced right here in New Orleans! Don’t you want to control your business locations from anywhere in the world?

Whether your workplace is located in the small guest cottage out back, a luxurious penthouse, an office park, a strip mall or a sprawling industrial-type factory, there are many solutions available to create an intelligent, sustainable office space to meet any budget and building type. This can include focuses on energy management, safety and entertainment, or a mix of all three to increase convenience, save energy, and protect people and possessions.

A new TV series airing now on Lifetime, “Office Spaces,” uses new technology from a wide variety of manufacturers to transform a large, empty facility into a cutting-edge workplace, which quickly progresses, episode by episode, into a state-of-the-art office. The conference areas feature intuitive touch screens to control the boardroom AV equipment, the parking lot has an electric vehicle charger to offer their guests, and the entire property can be controlled from an iPad in the owner’s office — from the temperatures and lighting, to the AV equipment and security features.

Just like in the TV show, you too can liven up and take control over your office space without breaking the bank. Whether your office is brand-new or just due for a retrofit, here are some tried and true tips for improving your workplace and adding some intelligence.

Light it Up

Lighting control is a logical entry point for smartening up your office. It reduces energy usage, increases safety and can improve daily working conditions.

First, ensure that you have proper fixtures placed around the premises. Studies show that a well-lit property is less attractive to bad guys.

Next, replace your “dumb” light switches with something that you can schedule or time, so that these important lights come on and go off at a preset time, maybe the same time every day. Add your company signage to that mix as well, so that your customers can find you when they need you. Install occupancy sensors in offices, warehouses, production areas, restrooms, closets and other storage areas to turn off lights automatically in unoccupied areas, saving energy. A simple light switch with a built-in occupancy sensor should do the trick in these spaces.

Once you’ve added smart light switches and power receptacles, you should create a schedule around your business. Every morning at a certain time, your office can “wake up,” automatically activating dozens of light switches, turning on small appliances, adjusting temperatures, turning on AV equipment, unlocking doors, opening the window coverings and so much more. Pressing one button on the way out the door each night is much easier than running around ensuring everything’s turned off, only to run around in the morning to turn it all on again. It’s easy to enact a lighting scene throughout the entire property as well, sending different commands to multiple light switches at once to get ready for a presentation in the office or a social event at the restaurant.

Wrestle the Hogs

Now that lighting is covered, let’s get a handle on high-draw devices (also known as energy hogs) like compressors, generators, pumps and motors. Depending upon your business, you could save some serious energy just by shutting off these devices when you don’t require them. A great case study example is a car care center that outfitted their office with only a few controls and light switches — a very affordable installation. They also began turning off every piece of heavy-duty equipment when they leave for the evening, most notably the air compressors, which leaked air all night. They’re now seeing significant energy savings each month while better managing the temperature and humidity in their spaces.

Remote access is important as well — reliably providing control of your property from anywhere in the world. Take, for instance, a Nebraska restaurant franchisee who was operating several locations within a 60-mile radius. The owner previously worked out of his vehicle, traversing the state and visiting each store to check the temperature or ensure the outdoor sign was activated. Now, from the comfort of his home office, he sits on his couch and uses an automation app to monitor and control all of his restaurants, bringing up the live surveillance camera footage, dimming a light, turning on music in a certain area, or adjusting the temperature in the lobby or food prep areas. More commonly, he does nothing at all, letting the smart facilities run the scheduled programs based on the times and days.

For another energy-conscious upgrade, you can install an electric vehicle charging station. Whether you’re offering the charge for free to an employee or paid to your customers, you can easily deliver a little juice to keep people moving in their electric vehicles.

Avoid a Good Shock

Being smart isn’t just about using an app to control lighting and temperature in your office space, it’s also ensuring that your customers and coworkers are safe throughout the day. GFCI protection is required for power outlets in all wet or damp locations such as bathrooms, kitchens, garages, outdoor areas, rooftops and locker rooms. Choose a brand that includes tamper-resistant shutters, pilot and guide lights and weather-resistant construction for outdoor locations.

Protect your electrical and electronic equipment from voltage spikes and surges (transients). These surges are not only generated from outside the facility (e.g. lightning or utility switching), but also inside the facility (motor load switching). Implement an effective surge protective network — including service entrance, branch and point-of-use protection — that protects the entire facility.

Check Yourself

Now let’s talk security. Do you need a full-blown security system that’s professionally monitored and sends the police each time the alarm activates? Perhaps, and there are plenty of smart solutions out there that tie into building management systems, including Leviton, that can coordinate wireless security sensors and heavy-duty access control to protect the property completely. Keep tabs on products and personnel using video surveillance cameras and an app. Simply adding a front door intercom and a touch screen inside allows the receptionist to buzz in a guest or dial the police in case of emergency.

For small offices and mom-and-pop retail stores, many owners are self-monitoring, meaning they open their app to check the parking lot camera when they hear something outside, they review an event log to see who entered the building last, and they receive immediate security or energy alerts via text message or email. Many systems provide this functionality with a monthly fee attached, while others build the cost into the hardware equipment. Regardless, unlocking the door remotely is really handy for deliveries, and restricting access to a cleaning staff or maintenance person is easy.

AV advances

Really want to simplify business operations and impress your customers? Incorporate distributed audio and customized AV automation within conference, meeting and lobby areas. Press the presentation button to spring a single room or entire facility into action.

Or, if you’re a restaurant, lounge or bar, ditch the dozens of remote controls and give your manager an iPad that easily works with the various TVs and cable boxes, even placing your company logo on the touch screen interface. These AV solutions are just as ideal for sports bars as they are hotel lobbies and office conference rooms. Place a touch screen on the boardroom table to manage the room or the complete facility.

Share tunes with Bluetooth using built-in speakers in the wall or ceiling for a professional appearance, and let your chef listen to his favorite music while the VIPs on the balcony enjoy different tunes than the lively restaurant guests inside.

Being smart can be affordable and fun, too. Take a USB receptacle and replace your standard power outlet in the wall. Now you have two bonus USB inputs to charge an iPad and a smartphone while retaining your two standard outlets for table fans or desk lamps.

Tying it All Together

Every day, all across the globe, contractors and integrators install the wiring devices, network infrastructure and automation solutions offices need to power their facilities, ensure reliable data connectivity and create efficient, compliant environments. With the wide variety of smart devices hitting the marketplace this year, the next step is to locate an educated contractor that can provide the complete answer for today’s smart building requirements, whether it’s a new facility or a renovation.

Walk through the workplace and identify your specific needs. Then let that individual propose a few options for automating your workplace, or even simply adding affordable safety and convenience features you may not have previously considered, such as LED lighting, USB power receptacles and Bluetooth audio systems.

What are you waiting for? Smarten up your office today!

Greg Rhoades  is the director of marketing for Leviton Energy Management, Controls,
& Automation.



Categories: Technology, The Magazine