Workplace expectations and traditions are quickly being redefined through the sudden arrival of COVID-19. Locale wonders whether offices & cities will accept technology to restore value post-pandemic.

 

The office has taken on many forms throughout the years. From the chunky filing cabinets of the 50s, the questionable design of the 70s, to the lack of personal space in the 90s due to the rise of technology (which was still evolving), meant huge computers, telephones, fax machines, photocopiers and more. The common theme throughout has been a lack of personality and creativity in the work environment. However as time went on, the office has begun to play a larger role in attracting and retaining talent, and businesses now seek out spaces that not only reflect their culture, but offer services that cater to evolved preferences. To remain competitive in 2020, property and building managers are working to extend services that achieve a better business, comfort, and social experience that has been popularised this decade by millennials.

Basics of a building & beyond

Today, people want to work in a space that is engaging, comfortable, central and has easy access to amenities and facilities. The Savills’ What Workers Want 2019 survey has revealed that respondents need to have at least the basics provided, such as clean air, close to good transport links and a quality wifi signal. These basics have been covered by tech for a long time, with software and wifi providers in abundance.

Beyond these basics, respondents have shown that there are many essential factors to what they look for in a workplace. 70% say the internal design is an important factor, 65% want work ‘break-out’ areas, 63% want personal storage space, and 63% want to be in close proximity to green space such as parks. Furthermore, a 2020 Commercial Real Estate Outlook Survey of 750 US CRE executives conducted by Deloitte Insights revealed that most respondents rated tenant experience as a top priority, with Jim Berry, Vice Chairman and Partner, Deloitte & Touche LLP, and Deloitte’s U.S. Real Estate leader, stating “The on-demand economy is reshaping tenant expectations about how real estate is consumed, and technology-enabled facilities and personalized experiences are already transforming the CRE industry”.

This reveals how spaces must adopt the philosophy of placemaking, as the boundary of work and home becomes more blurred, and expectations are high for work spaces to be hospitable and enhance the well being and happiness of the employees. This trend has certainly been identified, with an increasing amount of proptech entering the market that focus on the idea of placemaking, and using technology that goes beyond management and operations to focusing on social and cultural value.

A forced change

Despite this, buildings are still late to the tech party, with most not changing what they offer to occupiers in decades and not acknowledging the change in attitudes towards workplaces. Commenting on commercial real estate trends in Wall Street Journal, Surabhi Kejriwal, a Research Leader in Real Estate for Deloitte stated, “CRE firms see the imperative to invest in technologies to drive tenant experience, but the survey found most are not planning to invest in them very quickly.”

However, the sudden arrival of COVID-19 has forced the hand of commercial property leaders, with tech playing a large role in uniting buildings, stakeholders, and tenants through this unprecedented event.

Many buildings have turned to proptech that provide a range of functionality. Such as controlling visitor management, digitised forms and documents to minimise contact, communicate to occupiers and stakeholders through push notifications and announcements on the latest news and guidelines on maintaining a clean work environment, and monitor and track cases to reduce risk of an outbreak. Adoption is still slow going, with property firms still reluctant to embrace this new digital direction, however the benefits have become increasingly clear to the ones who have fully transformed.

In terms of placemaking and tenant experience, creating spaces that cater to these preferences while also maintaining a safe environment will be challenging. The idea of being social in a time of social distancing seems mission impossible, however with tech, it can be done, and will set a new standard for spaces in the future.

Some companies, such as Locale Life, have introduced a service that activates the building through an elevated experience by utlisiing the community, prompting engagement, and connecting local businesses and occupiers. To achieve the experience required and restore value in offices and cities, they must embrace the digital and push a platform such as Locale Life that delivers social value.

Cities rising to the occasion

54% surveyed in Savills’ What Workers Want 2019 survey want to spend the majority of their working time in a town/city centre. But for people to want to return to dense spaces, cities must be the first to use technology to support reentry. Proptech, such as Locale Life, have been working with businesses throughout lockdown to provide digital experiences, activities, and offers. Now that we are slowly reopening the UK, these must now be transferred to the physical to bring people back.

While it has been fortunate that tech has provided the capability to work from home during the lockdown, it has also been an unintentional experiment in whether the traditional office is obsolete, and unfortunately, some believe it is due to the success of remote working. To combat this, cities must continue to work with proptech to bring the best experience possible and work towards offering a place that people want to live and work in.

Working in cities brings with it vibrancy, as there is much to do, see and enjoy. From gyms to cafes to classes, there are endless possibilities for buildings to utilise to create buzz and connect the people in their building. By collaborating with the local businesses and offering discounts, offers, and promotions, people are able to enjoy the surroundings, and boost loyalty within the area and the building. Using these facilities must be done so cautiously, and can be managed with tech, ensuring staggered use and enforced cleanliness rules.

By improving services, offering comprehensive guidelines and understanding what people want, offices and cities can thrive once more. All of these experiences can be housed under one proptech solution. This hub will act as a gateway for people to explore their city and become closer to their place of work.

A safe & social future

Despite initial resistance, property and building managers must be quick in creating their digital strategy to not only ensure smooth building management, but to save social value in a period of isolation and concern and evolve the tenant experience through tech solutions. Without embracing tech, views of offices within big cities and towns could be negatively affected, and as a result will impact footfall and local businesses.

By working together, along with proptech that provides the tools to connect each party, will a sense of community be restored, but prove to be a new era of the workplace.

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