BTA’s startup is all about healthy and comfortable office spaces. This issue is gradually tackled by more actors, but OfficeVitae’s approach is unique. Tako Werts, CEO of OfficeVitae, wants to go even further and restore your vitality at work. He shares with us how.
What is OfficeVitae?
Tako Werts: We’re a spinoff of a project by the Delft University of Technology (DUT), in the Netherlands. We became a company in December 2016, with the help of Climate-KIC’s flagship Building Technologies Accelerator (BTA). The original project lasted 3 to 4 years: the Faculty of Industrial Design developed sensor technology to measure indoor air quality, at first in homes, then it moved to office spaces. Of course, it covered hardware and software development. Last year, the University decided this technology could be brought to venture and become profitable, as the research proved to have great marketing potential. To quote Sybren Steensma, Programme Manager BTA, “In the economy of the future, more and more employers are competing over talent. To invest in their wellbeing and productivity is becoming a necessity, which is why I see great opportunity for OfficeVitae”.
Through Climate KIC's matching effort, we came to a partnership to lead this transition and the company onward. I’m the CEO and David Keyson, Professor at DUT, is the CTO, while DUT remains one major stakeholder of the venture. Currently, five researchers are employed by our company.
OfficeVitae’s backbone is our desire to make healthy offices and grant vitality to employees there. We couple that desire with a true commitment to energy transition.
Why are health and wellbeing in office spaces so important?
Tako Werts: It is scientifically proven that healthier employees are happier at work and more productive too. They get more vitality, more energy. It is also our belief and passion that health and wellbeing will deeply benefit companies in many ways
More practically, on an investor’s point of view, it comes also down to reduce the number of sick leaves. Our current way of life leads us to more sickness leaves: stress, burn outs, sicknesses; and they have a cost. By curbing those, ultimately companies will save money.
Healthier office spaces can be achieved in multiple ways: make employees move more, listening to their perception, improved heating, improved ventilation. There is a clear link between indoor air quality and work performances.
Isn’t the issue already tackled by the building sector?
Tako Werts: It takes real commitment to take on this challenge, because health and comfort require important investments from the stakeholders and they don’t always believe in the return on investment, hence a reluctance in investing. The interest is there though, but only a few companies are pioneering on the topic.
And yet, the first steps to providing a better work environment, healthier and more comfortable, are easily achievable. It starts with caring for the temperature, the humidity, sound levels and the airflow. Settings are very important to respond to users’ needs and occupancy.
Comfort sensors already exist on the market, what innovation does OfficeVitae bring to the table?
|OfficeVitae's sensorbox to put on your desk|
Tako Werts: Sensor technologies are available to pilot Building Management Systems (BMS), feeding them with real time data. But that data shouldn’t come from a few limited and inaccurately located sensors. Nowadays, you will find at most one sensor per space, and usually planted in the ceiling. This isn’t where the real data to measure is. Data should come from where people are working: directly from their desks. Our sensors are planted there, on each employee’s desk. That way we get the most accurate data, and better understanding each office worker’s perception.
Data is good, but what do you do with it?
Tako Werts: From this data, we can propose improved layout of the workspace and of the building. We can encourage employees to move around more, we can define quiet zones and communication areas. For the redesigning, we work with an office furniture partner, an interior architect who will use this data to reshape the space to bring vitality and health to the occupants.
The data is also used to improve or set up a BMS in the building. For that aspect, we work with a BMS supplier who embraces our way of thinking.
But the data from the sensors is the objective data. When we talk about comfort, we have to take occupant’s perception into account. That’s why we complete our sensor measurements with regular short surveys among the employees of our clients. We ask for their opinion, their expectations on how the space should evolve, how they feel at their desk in terms of temperature, humidity. But we go even further: we ask them how healthy they want to eat, how many stairs they want to climb today, how much do they want to walk around daily.
Putting the employee at the center is our competitive advantage. Competitors exist but they focus on one part: either hardware or software. With of our objective and subjective data, owning both hardware and software, we can holistically look at workspaces to improve them.
Can you tell us about a workspace where you applied your technology and approach?
Tako Werts: We did our launching project at the Delft University of Technology campus. We implemented various solutions in a building:
- our OfficeVitae sensor units of course
- occupancy sensors we call “iBeacons”
- a smartphone application for users, Comfort+
To propose solutions best fitting that workplace, we needed to focus on occupancy: we had to know where people are and when in real time. The application is designed to raise awareness among the occupants by controlling heating in offices. With this app, they can order heating in their offices on an hourly schedule, depending on their occupancy. They will hence save energy while being more and more aware of their impact on environment. This application has another benefit: it provides the facility manager with lots of insights on the workings and perceptions of the occupants.
After all the initial measuring and surveying, the second step is to create a new layout based on that data.
Comfort+, the application developed by OfficeVitae (more in video)
Are there model countries on health and comfort issues in office?
Tako Werts: The Netherlands is definitely a pioneer on that topic. I can also mention the United States with the creation of the Well standard, which is making its way in European Union, through the United Kingdom. Australia is also big on healthy offices too.
Also, a Climate-KIC project in Spain is developing a building certification on health.
Do you have other projects going on with Climate-KIC?
Tako Werts: With two other companies, we recently submitted a proposal for funding a startup project on Building Management System. We’d like to improve BMS efficiency. We’re waiting for the answer.
We are also connected with the Spanish health certification project through BTA. Our challenge there will be to disseminate the standard in Europe.
What do you think offices of the future will look like?
Tako Werts: Office are already turning into more social spaces. We see them turning into fun places, with sofas, lounge layouts, like a cozy atmosphere. We’ll see more and more about this. This brings joy to the office.
But I think we’ll see more flexible office interiors, adapting to needs in a matter of minutes, spaces that can be rearranged to host a 20-people meeting or transformed into two people separate desks.