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Monitoring and visualising indoor air quality with Foobot

With the rise of the health and wellbeing agenda, monitoring and visualising the indoor environmental quality (IEQ) of the workplace is emerging as a key objective for many.

Some smart buildings already have expensive state of the art IEQ monitoring in place. But what if you don’t find yourself in this situation and need to set up a system from scratch? You could go out and procure said ‘state of the art’ system at significant expense. However, if you are budget-constrained, you may find yourself looking toward the more cost efficient, ‘consumer-grade’ end of the IEQ monitoring spectrum…


Measuring IAQ

Now, we know there are considerable limitations with certain consumer-grade IEQ monitoring devices – including their level of calibration and, ultimately, accuracy. However, for this blog we would like to set this issue aside and focus on the practicalities of installing and monitoring indoor air quality through a popular consumer-grade monitoring device: Foobot.

With an interest in air quality, one of our consultants found Foobot. Foobot is a low-cost air quality monitoring tool which can interface with internet-based apps to log air quality and also help you to do something about it.

Setup

Setting up Foobot is easy. Once you’ve unboxed and plugged the monitor in, you need to download the Foobot app to an Android or iPhone smart phone.  After registering on the app, it will then allow you to connect to the monitor. Once connected, you can then monitor Foobot readings wherever you are.  For easy comprehension, Foobot gives you a headline air quality score, which is made up of several readings including carbon dioxide, particulates, and humidity.

The main Foobot phone screen, showing an air quality score (50+ is poor)


Data and API

As well as the app, Foobot supplies an API, which can be used to extract data from your monitor for your own use. To get the data you basically fire various URLs to the API, which include an API key supplied by Foobot, that will return data. This is quite advanced stuff for those who want to build their own mini applications. An easier way to do this would be to use something called IFTTT.

Connect Foobot up to other apps using IFTTT

A useful website www.ifttt.com (If this then that) has lots of applets; readymade code snippets that are based on a trigger (this) and an action (that). Handily there’s a few setup already for Foobot. For our Foobot (named Evorabot) we have used two – one to log readings to a google spreadsheet and the other to message a reading when you physically tap the monitor twice.

The Foobot applets listed on the IFTTT website.

To use IFTTT, first you need to register as a new user on the site. This can be done using a Facebook or Google login or a login specifically for IFTTT. Once registered you can then set up applets.

To setup an applet is simple.

  1. You choose the applet you want to use (Foobot/Twitter/Instagram).
  2. You then click on the trigger part of the applet (The ‘this’).
  3. This will prompt you to connect a Foobot device.
  4. To connect your Foobot to the IFTTT site, you just need to enter the login you created when you registered your Foobot using the mobile app.
  5. Once it is registered you can use any of the Foobot triggers for the ‘this’ part of the applet.
  6. For the ‘that’ part, we first used a connection to a Google drive account to log each reading made by our Foobot to a google sheet. This graph is a google sheets graph, plotting CO2 output in the Evora office.

An example Co2 graph of the Evora office

Using Slack

We now use an IFTTT applet which logs a reading to one of our Slack channels (the app we use for internal communications with the team). The Foobot reading is triggered by someone tapping/knocking on the device which then posts a message in the appropriate conversation.

The knock knock Foobot app in action


Hacks to the future

The great thing about Foobot is that its already collaborating with other technologies to create complete solutions. This includes linking to Nest to enable more ventilation if air quality gets too bad. These hacks enable both offices and homes to create Smart ventilation, keeping poor air quality in check.

We may well explore this solution for our office. For now, when the air quality gets bad, we open some windows!

3 Simple Ways to Make Your Office a Great Place for Your Employees

Welcome to my second blog post about the creation of an engaging workplace in a growing company. Today, I will be focusing on simple and affordable tips and tricks on how to make your office a pleasant and productive environment for your employees.

Why is this important? Providing an attractive workplace is key for employees’ health and wellbeing. Studies have shown that a well-maintained office “(..) improves employee satisfaction, and increases productivity” (The Productivity Report). We all spend so much time at work, so you want your team to feel comfortable and to enjoy being there.

Let’s get started!

Ways to Make Your Office a Great Place


1. Have a Breakout Area for Lunch to Improve Team Spirit

A typical lunch scenario in the UK is to grab a sandwich plus some crisps and eat them at your desk in front of your laptop while still answering emails. According to a study from Total Jobs, the average UK employee only takes a lunch break of 27 minutes and many skip lunch entirely.

In my opinion, this is not great for many reasons. Getting out of the office and stepping away from your desk during lunch will boost your productivity for the afternoon. Coming from Switzerland, having lunch away from your desk with colleagues is an integral part of the social life at work. Isn’t it much nicer to have an interesting conversation with your colleague while having lunch rather than eating on your own staring at your screen? It also helps to get to know your colleagues better and builds  stronger team bonds.

Stressful times don’t always allow us to take the time for a proper lunch, but if you take into account that you are much more refreshed back at work, the productivity boost easily makes up for the lost minutes.

EVORA Global office breakfast barDoes that mean you should always go to a restaurant, out of the office and spend a ton on lunch? No. What we did at EVORA is the following: when we moved offices in March 2017 (read Russ’ blog post for more), we decided to provide a breakout area for our employees. I don’t think that I exaggerate when I say that our so-called “breakfast bar” (see picture) is the heart of our office. It enables our employees to take a proper lunch break and to connect with each other on a personal level.

I am aware that square meter prices in London are crazy, but even with limited space you might be able to find a free corner in your office to create a nice little lunch area – assembling a small bar table and some stools will do the job. Believe me, it makes office life so much nicer, more interactive and your team will highly appreciate it.

Pro tip: get second-hand furniture from sites like Gumtree – it is often cheaper and better for the environment.

And keep in mind, you can also use the breakout area for other purposes like a casual meeting or a company social activity.


2. Give Your Office a Personal Touch to Build Company Identity & Culture

There are so many simple and inexpensive ways as to how you can personalise your office. Mostly, all you need is a bit of creativity, some basic stationery equipment and 15 spare minutes. Here are some ideas:

  • EVORA Global office VMVCreate a photo wall in the office. Why don’t you convert a grey room divider into a colourful board with pictures from your last summer party, after work drinks and the office mascot (yes, we have one)? Our next step: add a photo from the whole team – something we will tackle in the upcoming Christmas party.
  • Have a board for news. Why don’t you use the other side of the divider as a “What’s on at Your Company” board? Our board includes information about the monthly social, our childcare voucher scheme and much more. Plus some kitschy Christmas decoration at the moment to create a festive mood.
  • Frame and hang your mission, vision and values, so that everyone in the office can see them and is reminded of why everyone does what they do. Important: this doesn’t mean that the job is done. Showing the values etc. is a first step, but there is more hard work to it (more on this in another blog post soon).
  • Get some plants in the office. To make this even more fun, I decided to make employees godmothers and -fathers of plants. An offer they could not refuse. Their duties include to inform themselves about care instructions, to water it accordingly and to make sure to find a deputy arrangement while on holiday.

Personalising and decorating your office improves your company culture and creates a nicer environment for employees to work in. But before going crazy about it, keep in mind that prospects and clients also visit your office so make sure it is also professional.


3. Keep Your Office Organised and Tidy

EVORA Global office storageI know this doesn’t sound like as much fun as the decoration part, but it is actually very important. As Edmund Burke said: “Good order is the foundation of all things”.  A tidy and organised office will enable your team to work with focus, efficiently and productively.

If you have a hot desking office as we do, it is especially important to provide your employees a small space or drawer unit where they can store their laptop, snacks and personal belongings. Before our office move, we just had one cupboard we all had to share and even if someone tidied it up, it was messy again the next day. With the storage cabinets we have in the new office (see picture), the tidiness improved significantly.

Other than that, the best you can do is to have at least one organised person in your office. Even though you have a clean desk policy, there will always be that one person who forgets to unplug the charging cable, leaves the lip balm on the desk or fails to remember the food leftovers in the fridge. I usually do a quick office check every Friday afternoon to collect forgotten items and take a look at our fridge.

Whilst this does not sound like the job of a typical Operations Manager it highlights that in a small company everyone needs to be willing to roll up their sleeves to do work beyond their job descriptions.

One last tip – and I haven’t implemented this myself yet: collect all forgotten items in a lost and found box. Announce that everything which isn’t picked up by, let’s say the 22nd December for example, will be donated to charity.


Creating an engaging workplace is always a work in progress. What is applicable for other companies might not work for your team, so the best approach is learning by doing. Give it a try and see if it is well received by your employees.

Feel free to get in touch with me if you face similar challenges – I am always open for exchanging experiences and ideas. In my next blog post, I will write about the importance of having fun with your team. Stay tuned!

Health and Wellbeing Certification Standards 101

This post was co-authored by Oli Pye, Associate Director and Rhianne Menzies, Junior Sustainability Consultant

Momentum behind the topic of health and wellbeing in commercial real estate is building […no pun intended…] and we at EVORA are committed to expanding our expertise in this area significantly. We firmly believe that the health and wellbeing of building occupants is now a critical element of the wider sustainability agenda. Here we set out a post about Health and Wellbeing Certification Standards.

In support of this, we recently held our own wellbeing event in partnership with BRE as we were keen to bring operational assets into a discussion that has so far tended to focus on the new builds and major refurbishments.

Furthermore, and looking closer to home, we recently assessed the positive improvements to our own wellbeing in our office move earlier this year and published the results on our website for all to see.

As has been evidenced by the vast amounts of discussion around the WELL Building Standard, certification schemes have played and will continue to play a vital role in the evolution of the conversation around health and wellbeing. They not only provide standardised, third party-validated assessments that support performance benchmarking, but they are also used widely as key pieces of reference material for the industry.

Certification schemes have played and will continue to play a vital role in the evolution of the conversation around health and wellbeingClick To Tweet

So, which scheme(s) can be used to assess what type of building, at what cost, and to what level of rigour? And which scheme(s) should be consulted when developing an internal strategy to progress health and wellbeing?


Three key standards – Fitwel, WELL and Reset

As the number of certification schemes has recently begun to proliferate in earnest, we thought now would be an appropriate time to provide a brief introduction to the three front runners: WELL, Fitwel and RESET.

We have provided a brief introduction to the three front runners: WELL, Fitwel and RESETClick To Tweet

This blog forms the first in a series of health and wellbeing-related communications. Following this ‘introduction’ to the three dominant certification schemes, we will return to each scheme one by one and in greater detail. The next blog will take a detailed look at Fitwell, then we’ll tackle WELL and RESET.

(It is worth noting that established green building certification schemes such as BREEAM and LEED also cover aspects of health and wellbeing within their assessments. These schemes are not covered in this blog.)


Fitwel – Simpler, holistic, office-focussed, no mandatory credits, no onsite validation

Fitwel is a process for assessing the level to which a building supports the overall health and wellbeing of its users. It looks and feels like a normal building rating system – e.g. BREEAM or LEED – with its guidance document, assessment criteria and evidence requirements. It’s assessment process is more straightforward, with photos taken on a mobile device providing sufficient evidence for many criteria and an online portal that serves as a one stop shop for guidance materials, pre-assessment, assessment and verification.

In our experience, Fitwel has been ‘on the scene’ in the UK for roughly 12 months. From the beginning, it has been touted across the industry as being easier and more cost-efficient than other schemes. This is undoubtedly true though it remains to be seen whether it’s correspondingly less prescriptive approach is accepted by the industry as being sufficiently robust. As of March 31st 2017, there were three projects in the process of achieving certification in the UK.

Fitwell table


WELL Building Standard – Complex, holistic, robust, mandatory credits, onsite validation

Like Fitwel, The WELL Building Standard (‘WELL’) is an assessment routine that takes a holistic look at building-related health and wellbeing – the topics it covers ranges from indoor air quality to sleep. It also has all the hallmarks of a typical building rating system – guidance, criteria and evidence requirements etc. However, just 5 minutes with both manuals in front of you and it becomes very clear that they are quite different in their level of complexity. WELL assessment criteria are more prescriptive and unlike Fitwel they contain many mandatory performance standards that must be third-party validated.

WELL is undoubtedly the preeminent health and wellbeing assessment for buildings. With the first manual released in 2014 it has certainly been around the longest.

Despite its profile and the number of assets registering under the scheme, so far only a relatively small number of assets have seen it through to certification in the UK: 20 registered; 1 certified (as of 16th August 2017).

Costs taken from the WELL ‘Pricing Calculator’

WELL table


RESETAir quality, robust, flexible, onsite validation

RESET (Regenerative, Ecological, Social & Economic Targets) is a modularised certification programme, currently covering just ‘Air’ – i.e. indoor air quality. According to their website, new modules to assess ‘Comfort’ and ‘Environment’ are in development.

RESET Air is a sensor-based certification programme that requires ongoing measurement via real-time monitors and communication of results directly to users. It’s stated aims are to standardise and validate the quality of sensors, their installation and calibration. It also sets standards for overall performance and reporting the results to building occupants. RESET does not prescribe any routes to compliance (i.e. design criteria); instead it is entirely results-based. There are a number of completed certifications in Asia, although we are not currently aware of any completed certifications in the UK.

Costs taken from the RESET ‘Pricing Calculator’

RESET table


Health and Wellbeing Certification Standards – Concluding Remarks

Fitwel –  If you want a relatively quick and cost-efficient third-party verified stamp of approval for new or existing assets. Challenges may arise in conveying the relevance of the standard to prospective and existing tenants, however, it should provide an effective framework for discussions.

WELL – A belt and braces design, assessment and certification routine. Likely a higher cost option, when considering certification, consultancy and capital expenditure fees but correspondingly robust and well received across the industry. Certainly, one to consider for ‘lighthouse’ schemes going through construction or major refurbishment. The manual is freely available and so provides a useful reference guide for those wanting to benchmark and or update their strategic approach to health and wellbeing without going for full certification.

WELL provides a useful reference guide for those wanting to update their strategic approach to health and wellbeing without going for full certificationClick To Tweet

RESET – One to watch closely and in the short term. There is a real need for standardisation around sensor calibration and implementation and air quality is arguably the first health and wellbeing aspect that as an industry we need to get right. It is easy to imagine a procedure like this becoming a statutory responsibility in the near future, particularly in public (e.g. schools) and health/social-care related buildings. Forward thinking corporate occupiers are also likely to be highly interested in this scheme.


Interested in exploring health and wellbeing risks and opportunities relating to your portfolio? Don’t hesitate to contact us today for a free consultation with one of our expert consultants.