Chase Garbarino is the Co-Founder and CEO of HqO.
With first doses of the coronavirus vaccines being administered as we speak, it’s likely that life will begin its transition back to “normal” — though exactly what normal looks like is up for debate. Particularly, a working vaccine would have a significant impact on the commercial real estate (CRE) industry, where office landlords and tenants are already struggling to return people to the workplace safely and seeking to create environments that will both attract and retain a dispersed and hybrid workforce.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been an adjustment period of unprecedented change for CRE. The previous conveniences of technology-enabled buildings, touchless experiences, order-ahead capabilities, data collection and streamlined communications have now transformed into necessities for the office due to current health and safety regulations. With so many different factors to consider, what will go back to “normal” once the pandemic subsides, and what solidifies future value for the workplace?
Changes To The Way We Work
Before we dive into what will generate value for the office moving forward, we need to first discuss what’s changed about the way people work. Though the abrupt shift to remote work began as a health and safety precaution, it has now evolved into a unique opportunity to learn about what makes a workplace, well, work.
As individuals and families adjusted to new home offices, home schooling and rearranging their daily lives, Microsoft collected data (subscription required) on changes among its 350-person Modern Workplace Transformation team to “study how flexible and adaptable [work] might or might not be, how collaboration and networks morph in remote settings, what agility looks like in different spaces […] and how to nurture and improve employee well-being during times of crisis.”
The study provides valuable insights that can be leveraged by office owners and tenants alike. Here’s just some of what they found:
• On average, people working from home work four more hours per week.
• The 10% of employees who worked the least on the weekends before the pandemic — less than 10 minutes per weekend — saw that time triple within a month, blurring work-life boundaries.
• Weekly meetings increased by 10% overall, but the duration of these meetings shrank. Microsoft saw 22% more meetings of 30 minutes or less and 11% fewer meetings of more than one hour.
• Meeting times have shifted from the 8–11 a.m. window to the 3–6 p.m. window to accommodate more flexible schedules.
• Virtual social meetings have increased to make up for lost in-person connections. Virtual lunches, happy hours and events increased 10% in a month.
Additionally, a recent CBRE Workforce Sentiment Survey reports that 90% of employees and company leaders feel that productivity is about the same during the shift to remote work. Because of this, 85% of employees would like to work remotely at least two to three days a week after the pandemic. Despite this, 60% of employees still want to return to working in the office for community and collaboration purposes.
These statistics align with findings from companies across the world, indicating an increased need for flexible work hours and spaces, modern tools to streamline communications and efficiency and ways to recreate workplace culture and community for a workforce that is craving lost human connection.
Impacts To The CRE Industry
These types of insights have led to a shift in the CRE value equation, alongside a shift in how we address new-age needs. Historically, much of a property owner’s focus was on the buildings themselves. Now, property owners need to focus more on the people who occupy those buildings. This B2B-to-B2C transformation — where individual end users can take more control over where and how they want to work — means that the workplace and its community have now officially transcended the four walls of the office building. Landlords have to find ways to create great experiences for those who come into the office and those who stay at home or work from other remote locations.
The overarching emphasis on tenant experience to address tenant needs no matter where they are located has also accelerated the prevalence of omnichannel office experiences that provide building occupants with seamless transitions between digital and physical offerings. This can include everything from plugging into a building’s various technology systems so that the building occupant journey is tech-enabled to increasing digital programming through virtual amenities that all can partake in.
What Happens Next?
Since the pandemic, CRE has seen significant increases in technology adoption for office buildings. Most property managers are planning to maintain or increase their spending on tenant experience in 2020. This is further supported by the thousands of proptech companies available in the market that, like our company, have recognized modern office needs and are offering their services.
Technology is essential to bridging the gap between the physical office and digital workplaces — as well as facilitating a safe office return — which means these numbers aren’t surprising. Integrating technology can add immense value by bringing landlords closer to their end users than ever before, which will give them the data and insights they need to continue to provide what tenants really want, no matter the state of the market.
Though we can’t predict the future, one thing is certain: The pandemic will have lasting impacts, including more flexible work environments, flight to quality and more interactive building experiences. Technology can facilitate stronger connections, a sense of community and functionality that improves the end-user experience. Just as it has in every other industry, going digital will drive CRE forward and generate immense overall value.
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