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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 In Practice: 7 Ways Our Office Move Has Improved Life At EVORA

In March 2017, after four years at Vintage House on Albert Embankment, close to Vauxhall, our London team relocated to The Hop Exchange on Southwark Street, by London Bridge and Borough Market.

Having outgrown Vintage House, we took the opportunity to look for a space that provided a better working environment. As sustainability practitioners, we are acutely aware of the health and wellbeing agenda. Improvement of our own employees’ health and wellbeing was therefore seen as paramount.

Employee opinions matter to us, so we decided to complete short before-and-after staff surveys, issued in our final week at Vintage House and again after our first four months at The Hop Exchange. The results have helped us to understand the hugely positive impact the office move has had on our employees’ health and wellbeing, productivity, and overall job satisfaction.

Let’s dive straight in and look at the results.


(All questions except 4 and 7 were based on the following format: “To what extent do you agree with the following statement?”, where 10 was “Completely agree” and 0 was “Completely disagree”.  With 16 employees taking the survey, there was a maximum score of 160 for each question.)

Health & Wellbeing

1. Physical Exercise

“Facilities at the office enable you to participate in physical exercise. (Consider the availability of showers and the proximity to external facilities – gyms, swimming pools, etc.)”

Vintage House: 70
The Hop Exchange: 70
Change: 0%

This question proved to be the anomaly of the set, as it’s the only one for which the results showed no improvement.

Vintage House was considered by staff to be in a worse location overall as far as being able to do exercise was concerned, but it gained bonus points for having a shower room. This enabled people to cycle to work and freshen up before heading into the office for the day.

At The Hop Exchange, although it’s in a better location generally (closer to a variety of gyms etc.), unfortunately we have no shower facilities – yet!

2. Healthy Eating

“You are able to access varied and healthy eating options in the local area.”

Vintage House: 78
The Hop Exchange: 151
Change: +94%

The options for buying a varied and healthy lunch close to Vintage House were extremely limited, with only a Pret a Manger, a Sainsbury’s, and a small handful of other places nearby.

Relocation to The Hop Exchange, which is situated next to the thriving Borough Market, has meant that we have access to a huge variety of different food every day, including a truly enormous range of fresh fruit and vegetables.

3. Natural Ventilation

“You are able to benefit from natural ventilation.”

Vintage House: 55
The Hop Exchange: 92
Change: +67%

“Productivity improvements of 8-11% are not uncommon as a result of better air quality.” – ‘Health, Wellbeing & Productivity in Offices’, UK Green Building Council

While there was the option to open windows at Vintage House, there was always an element of compromise between the temperature and noise levels from outside. With the office being adjacent to the busy Waterloo railway tracks, if the windows were open, the noise levels increased significantly. Windows would often remain closed with the air conditioning on. However, this didn’t allow for natural ventilation and the temperature often dropped too low due to the inefficient air conditioning unit’s thermostat controls.

At The Hop Exchange, we have tried to optimise ventilation now that noise from outside is less of an issue. There is the option to open various windows both in the main office and also in the meeting room to allow for circulation of air throughout the space, especially in the morning after the office has been closed up for the evening and the air has become stuffy.

We’re confident we can further improve this situation over time.

4. Indoor Environment

“How do you rate the overall indoor environment (temperature, air quality, noise)?”

Vintage House: 47
The Hop Exchange: 118
Change: +151%

This question saw Vintage House get its lowest score at just 47 out of 160. This was due to the combination of being unable to naturally ventilate the office (as described in Question 3 above) and an air conditioning system that wasn’t able to regulate the temperature particularly well, meaning that the space was often hot or noisy, or a combination of the two.

At The Hop Exchange, there are a number of options to improve both ventilation and temperature. A modern and much improved air conditioning system regulates the indoor temperature efficiently and there is also the option to open windows and circulate fresh air when the CO2 levels get too high. Hot desking in the office also allows employees freedom in where they sit so that they have some personal control of temperature in their immediate environment.

Since the survey, we have now also bought a variety of plants for the office in an effort to further increase the air quality and add a splash of colour.


Productivity

5. Productivity

“The office enables you to work effectively and productively.”

Vintage House: 82
The Hop Exchange: 134
Change: +63%

Vintage House gained its highest score for this question, but even that was only 82 out of 160. The building was well situated on Albert Embankment, with fantastic views of the Thames. Sadly, our office was on the wrong side of the building and we had a view of the train tracks leading to Waterloo – hardly conducive to a quiet working environment!

The Hop Exchange was an improvement for staff due to a better set-up of hot desking and the provision of new office equipment. I find that our excellent desks, chairs, and dual screen set-ups are particularly effective at increasing productivity. There is also better temperature control and ventilation (as discussed above), as well as an increase in the amount of natural light and a variety of spaces for working, socializing and a quiet space in which to make phone calls.


Job Satisfaction

6. Social interaction

“Facilities at the office provide opportunities for social interaction with colleagues and others in the building (e.g. provision of break-out areas, etc)?”

Vintage House: 54
The Hop Exchange: 134
Change: +148%

This was Vintage House’s second lowest score. The office had absolutely no breakout areas for the sole use of EVORA staff, meaning having quick meetings, a quiet space to make a phone call, or enjoying lunch together was practically impossible.

The layout at The Hop Exchange is far more conducive to socializing with colleagues, with an excellent breakfast bar allowing staff to enjoy time away from their desks together, whether it be meeting over a coffee or having lunch. With the exception of two desks, all others are hot desks and are arranged in small groups, encouraging collaboration and communication between colleagues from different teams and the sharing of ideas. Due to the local area, there is also the opportunity for more varied social activities outside of the office.

The 148% increase speaks for itself!

7. Overall satisfaction

“How do you rate the overall quality of the office space (considering all elements)?”

Vintage House: 71
The Hop Exchange: 134
Change: +88%

As evident from questions 1 to 6, there have been many improvements which have increased employee satisfaction since the move from Vintage House to The Hop Exchange. Our employees are very happy with the new office and the improvements in their working environment.

Importantly, it’s not just our London staff who are feeling the benefits of the move. Paul is based in our Greater Manchester office, but is in London every week for client meetings. Here’s how Paul finds the new office:

“I am delighted with our new office. It provides an ideal location for both permanent staff and visitors.  Important elements for me are location, access to public transport (it’s a stone’s throw from London Bridge) and quick access into the City, where many of our clients are based. However, most importantly, the abundance of natural light and office layout make it a great place to work.”

The Hop Exchange also has a real ‘wow factor’, thanks to its impressive facade and beautiful atrium – complete with old F1 racing car! This has a positive effect on our visitors, from clients to interview candidates, who all arrive at our office with a smile, commenting on how unique our office is. (View photos of The Hop Exchange here.)


Summary

Overall, the survey results are a great indication that we have a happy, productive workforce. This is of particular importance given our rapidly growing team – 100% growth since May 2016.

And we’re not stopping there… We are already considering new office improvement strategies, including increased use of plants and better communication of air conditioning control guidelines. And we’re also pushing our landlord for that all important shower!


Results Comparison Chart


To speak to us about health and wellbeing in your operational buildings, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Visit our YouTube channel to watch the highlights of our Healthy Buildings conference from April 2017.

EVORA goes International!

A little over four years ago, Ed Gabbitas, Chris Bennett and I launched EVORA.  Yesterday was a milestone for us – we became an international business by registering our Germany subsidiary and opening up an office in Berlin to support our pan European clients.

As you can see, our name is up on the door (even if it’s a temporary sticker for now).

The last four years have been eventful and exciting with many highlights; the most rewarding being the relationships we have built up with our clients.

We set up the business with the vision of developing a market leading sustainability consultancy for the real estate industry.  We have progressed well – our breadth of knowledge, client base and team have grown year on year, supported by strong financial growth enabling us to invest in initiatives that are benefiting our clients.  Last year we launched our own sustainability software solution for the real estate sector SIERA, which has been extremely well received.

However, there is much to do.  We are still committed to be the market leading real estate sustainability consultancy and now with a market leading software solution that will revolutionise sustainability reporting across the real estate sector. We have fantastic and exciting plans, which will extend both our service offering and geographical coverage.

Here’s to the next four years and beyond!

Paul Sutcliffe

EVORA

London, Berlin and Bolton