AI to help workers return to the office
As government restrictions ease and normal office life resumes, computer scientists at RMIT have found a way to predict staff comfort and concentration levels in various flexible office spaces, using artificial intelligence.
Working with psychologists, the researchers identified key metrics for these variables, devised an AI tool that could monitor them, and then partnered with engineering firm Arup to develop and test it.
Study lead author Dr Mohammad Saiedur Rahaman, a Research Fellow in RMIT University’s School of Science, said by using data on noise levels, indoor temperature, air quality, humidity and electromagnetic fields — within a complex algorithm — the tool could prescribe the best physical working conditions for staff.
“We used that information along with survey data to train machine learning algorithms that could identify patterns in perceived concentration and activity, and then provided solutions for making these spaces work best for people,” Dr Rahaman said.
Overall, the data revealed that people concentrate better in their preferred working space when temperatures are above 22.5°C and when carbon dioxide (CO2) levels are minimal — ie, with lower occupant densities.
Dr Rahaman said these findings have implications for ergonomic design and management practices.
“We see this type of system having the potential to eventually be used to enable informed decision-making regarding workplace design and layout, or even to suggest to people when to take breaks, what zone might suit them best and so on,” he said.
“The results for CO2 and thermal comfort underline just how important a high-quality heating, cooling and ventilation system is in office design, as well as indoor plants to reduce CO2.”
Arup engineer and project partner Shaw Kudo said that, in addition to benefiting their own office, the findings could be useful for the wider property industry.
“Modern offices, new and existing, are likely to undergo change and potentially redesign workplaces post COVID-19,” he said.
“The valuable findings from this work can feed into future designs and allow Arup to better service our clients as they plan their future workplace — whether this is a new build or a return to the office after COVID-19.”
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