Fresh work culture in the smart building of AXA Belgium

Project: AXA Belgium Headquarters

Architect: A2rc Architects

Management: AXA Belgium Facility Management

Nemetschek brand involved: Spacewell

Employees are an important target group when using our software solutions for the Operate & Manage segment, i.e. for the management of a property. For AXA Belgium, its smart building is a means to an end. At its new headquarters in the center of Brussels, the concept has allowed the leading insurance company to establish a new way of working. Thanks to the smart building technology from Spacewell, the building has been designed in a way that is user-friendly and easily accessible and uses space efficiently. Until 2017, AXA Belgium had been renting a building in Watermael-Boitsfort on the outskirts of Brussels and giving serious consideration to a move into the city center. “The idea for a new approach had originally arisen back in 2012,” explains Raf Boterdaele, Head of Building & Facilities Management at AXA. “We were looking for an arrangement that would make it easier for our employees to get around in the long term.” That was why they chose the former headquarters of Engie Electrabel on the Place du Trône. The historic part of the building, which had once been a hotel, was retained. The second wing had undergone extensive renovations, while a third section consisted of a new building with a horizontal rather than vertical structure. This was intended to encourage employees to communicate more.
 
The result is a building with a large total horizontal floor space of 50,000 square meters, 35,000 of which is taken up by offices and the central forum with the company cafeteria. “We have created an ultra-modern office building, but one with character and history,” says Boterdaele. “Above all, this location offers outstanding added value when it comes to transportation links. The design process began with the notion that the building had to be easily accessible by public transit to encourage people not to come to work by car. The central station is not far away on foot. We have subway and bus stops almost on our doorstep. We have also provided a large bicycle parking facility as well as showers to enable people to shower in the office after cycling to work.” AXA Belgium switched to its new way of working in 2014, and was offering its employees the option to work from home even then. “With the new building concept, we have remained true to this philosophy,” says Boterdaele. “For the layout of the offices, we followed a principle of active workplaces.” In practical terms, that means that different areas are designed for different activities. For example, there are various conference rooms of different sizes, offices designated for work that requires a high level of concentration, rooms for informal meetings, telephone calls and brainstorming sessions as well as dynamic and smart rooms and a number of “bubbles,” or smaller rooms with three chairs and a little table.
 
At its first location, the company had seven workstations for every ten employees. Now, that number is just six. That means there are only 1,540 workstations available for the 2,600 or so employees at the Brussels site. “The ratio of six to ten immediately saves several thousand square meters of office space,” explains Boterdaele, adding, “the consequences for our budget are enormous. Of course, it is important to ensure that this is not to the detriment of functional capability.” With the IoT system that AXA Belgium employs, it is possible to monitor the use of offices, workstations and conference rooms in considerable detail.
 
To enable this, 1,850 sensors have been installed throughout the building to detect which workstations and conference rooms are occupied at which times. The sensors transmit their findings to the IoT platform via the LoRa network every six minutes. “Analyzing this data gives us an idea of how employees are using the infrastructure provided,” says Boterdaele. “That helps us to continue optimizing the building functions.”
 
Furthermore, there are around 50 “comfort sensors” in operation, measuring variables such as temperature, ambient humidity and CO2 levels. “The IoT system takes the data gathered by the comfort sensors and puts it online immediately,” says Sven Toelen. The Global Marketing Director at Spacewell explains, “The application is used to apply a kind of quality control to the building’s technical facilities. The reports make it possible to determine right away whether the heating and ventilation systems are working properly.” A third part of the IoT process is intended to determine how the bathroom facilities are being used. The aim of this for AXA Belgium is to make sure that the cleaning of these areas can be organized to meet the actual needs of employees more effectively.
 
The combination of renovated and new building sections allowed AXA Belgium to integrate the digital components in the project from the outset. “Every department is digitally equipped,” explains Boterdaele. “We have employed LED lighting everywhere, and we are using motion detector systems. We have also received internationally recognized BREEAM certification for sustainability.” Reducing space to what is actually necessary is probably the biggest environmental factor in this respect. Not only that, but fewer offices also automatically mean lower energy consumption. “AXA Belgium’s ‘smart building’ project is being being constantly refined. We are going to be gradually collecting further data to provide better analyses and optimize the processes even further,” concludes Boterdaele.

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