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COVID-19: A Catalyst for Smarter, Healthier Buildings

Manish Sharma, Vice President, Chief Technology and Chief Product Officer, Honeywell Building Technologies

One of the biggest changes brought on by COVID-19 is that people are more aware of and concerned with the spaces they use for work, school, travel and entertainment. They want to know if changes were made to make the spaces safer and healthier – and aren’t afraid to ask. Many building owners and operators have worked diligently to adopt better indoor air quality, building management systems, contactless building entries, pre-screening protocols, enhanced cleaning procedures and smart building technologies to help reduce the risk of transmission and restore occupant confidence. 

According to a 2021 Honeywell survey,  some facility managers working in four different sectors — education, healthcare, data centers and commercial real estate — in the United States, Germany, Saudi Arabia and China report that COVID-19 will likely have a lasting impact on their operations. In fact, 75% of U.S. respondents indicate that the pandemic has prompted their facility to permanently rethink how it operates. COVID-19 is also driving them to adjust their priorities. Today, nearly 6 in 10 U.S. surveyed are more likely to invest in indoor air quality (IAQ) optimization and other solutions supporting healthier buildings than in pre-pandemic times. 

COVID-19 Measures: Many Are Here to Stay 

Surveyed facility managers also say they plan to keep several key COVID-19 measures in place as permanent changes to their procedures and infrastructure. Nearly half of U.S. respondents (46%) have upgraded their IAQ systems and 78% will keep those upgrades as permanent improvements. Over half (51%) of U.S. respondents adopted a regimen of enhanced cleaning procedures in their facilities and 70% plan to keep those procedures.

Contactless entry and access control have also been adopted. Of the 41% of surveyed U.S. facility managers who installed this technology, 68% of them plan to keep it in place beyond the pandemic.

A majority (56%) of U.S. respondents who initiated health screening protocols such as temperature checks report that they’ll continue the practice beyond COVID-19. Notably, more than half of the 57% who adopted health safety protocols such as social distancing will stick with them after the pandemic subsides. 

Lastly, three in 10 surveyed U.S. facility managers report that COVID-19 prompted them to install an application that provides real-time building health information. Over half of those (53%) plan to keep this technology in place permanently. 

A Smarter Building is Key to a Healthier Building

This need for real-time building health data highlights smart building technology as a foundational element for healthy building upgrades such as IAQ monitoring and management. Among U.S. respondents, 67% are more willing to invest in smart building solutions today than they were before the onset of COVID-19 — an even larger majority than those who are more likely to invest in healthy building technologies. 

Among smart building technologies they’d consider most important for their facility, a more than half (56%) cited “managing all building systems through a single platform with unified data and insights” than any other technology. A building management system (BMS), when paired with enterprise performance management software, can aggregate data across disparate systems into a single source. This type of system also uses data from IAQ and occupancy sensors to give a more enhanced perspective of building performance.  

Healthier Indoor Environments: A Path Forward

This last capability, remote building management, ranks among the most sought-after improvements among U.S. respondents. In fact, 93% of them consider it an important asset. Of particular interest, more than half (54%) report that digital transformation of their facility has accelerated since the onset of COVID-19 — because solutions like IAQ monitoring, contactless entry, occupant tracking and predictive maintenance have come to be viewed as essentials rather than luxuries. 

Digital transformation — driven primarily by the need to aggregate and analyze vast amounts of information — is laying the groundwork for monitoring and controlling indoor environments to a degree that was inconceivable even a year ago. Investments in a smarter building synergize strategically with investments in a healthier building. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is prompting U.S. facility managers to reconsider their operational strategies and invest in smarter, healthier technologies. As occupants become more aware of how the buildings they use for work, school and care can affect their wellbeing, we expect them to push building owners and operators to implement more efficient, sustainable solutions that better support their comfort, safety and wellbeing — not only for the immediate return but for the long term as well.

Honeywell Building Technologies, “Rethinking Buildings Post-COVID-19,” 2021