To print this article, all you need to do is be registered or log in to Mondaq.com.
There is no doubt that technology is the fastest changing element in offices. Remote work has forced the shift to using virtual technologies for staff and organizations. IT departments had to rise to the challenge in order to maintain business and bridge the gap between business and home data networks.
Purchases have gone virtual, transactions have been processed by the millions in remote clouds, and face-to-face meetings have been reduced to pixel versions of themselves. Our reliance on technology has never been more critical. It is conceivable that we have seen ten years of accelerated change over an 18 month period.
What lessons did this teach occupants about their needs when they return to the office? How can technology be deployed to enable businesses to be agile and optimize work efficiency?
In the short term, technology will be crucial in managing the return to work. If staff surveys are to be believed, there is a preference for working remotely for at least part of the week, but most opt for being in the office mid-week. This indicates a trend towards the ‘bell curve’ of occupancy with a peak on Wednesdays and low occupancy on Mondays and Fridays, although this may change as nearby offices and services begin to open again. Team coordination scheduling, room and office reservations, and check-in apps will come into their own to facilitate this. However, it will be much easier to use them if they can be integrated with the building management system (BMS) and owner-controlled systems, such as access control.
Occupants may find future benefits in understanding staff attendance trends and patterns through occupancy sensors; devices that provide information about the use of the desk and the room. Data from these can also tell the BMS when and where to turn on lights, provide more or less fresh air, and even tell the staff restaurant how many lunches are needed on a given day of the week.
But for these systems to work effectively, they must be complementary and integrated. There are many examples of BMSs having operating systems and software that are incompatible with the occupants’ systems. This is an area where landlords and their tenants can set clear parameters on what is provided and what is actually desired.
Another important consideration for organizations reoccupying space is the need for flexibility. They are likely to need to modify and adapt work settings as new workplace norms evolve and take hold. Fixed cabling makes this more difficult to achieve and providing building-wide Wi-Fi enabled floor plates will support agile reconfiguration, without major investment of time and cost.
This raises the question of what is provided as part of the owner’s building infrastructure. Is the Wi-Fi system part of the basic supply and is it rented? Given the rate of change we have seen (and can expect in the future), it would also be wise to ensure that service risers, communication installations and smart building systems have the ability to grow and change. This, along with the aforementioned building control systems, has commercial value. They take up floor space and eat away at net leasable area, and there is no doubt that Grade A premises offering this level of provision will command a premium in rental terms.
Will this level of provision raise the bar for standard provisions in commercial premises, expecting the landlord to only have to provide them to keep the premises relevant and competitive? Fund owners and managers are unlikely to favor lower returns by spending more on development and infrastructure, without a commensurate increase in income.
Technology is not only relevant at the level of building management and operations. Today’s workforce is tech savvy and employers can leverage that familiarity to further enhance the employer/employee relationship. Staff apps are valuable for improving work experience, staff engagement, and ease of communication.
Companies have adopted and promoted many tools in this regard. Health apps can monitor your steps and link them to a daily air quality report; you can track and coordinate attendance with your team; use concierge services for restaurant and bar reservations; grab a spot in the gym and organize a collection of your dry cleaning. These are all things that can make life easier.
These applications also extend to local business networks where event notifications, discounts and promotions arrive directly on the employee’s mobile phone. It’s relatively easy and cost-effective to deploy, but it has a big impact on engagement and trust.
If the owner is partly responsible for the construction experience in the workplace, are these initiatives and services part of the basic offer? Are they starting to become a differentiator in venue selection?
As part of a larger vision, would owners and developers benefit from data sharing of premises, smart buildings, green systems and extensions of technology that occupants find most appealing and useful? This could begin to set new universal standards and best practice models across the industry, whereas right now it underpins the competitive advantage that every player seeks.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular situation.
POPULAR ARTICLES ON: UK property and construction