Earlier this week, Chris Edwards, Event Director of Facilities Show contributed to Raconteur's Future Workplace report.
Changing workforce expectations will drive the adoption of smart buildings
For the past ten years, the workspace has been undergoing a quiet revolution. There was a time when the humble office was temporary, 9-5 accommodation for the workforce and things like onsite catering and bike racks were about as good as perks could get.
We now live in an age of one-upmanship. Every week there’s a new workspace featuring slides, tree houses or gondola carriages. The office has now become a badge of honour for what an organisation stands for – but it’s not this that will drive the adoption of technology in commercial property.
Over that same period, our expectations as a society have shifted. The Information Age has allowed a range of disrupters to change the way we do everything; from ordering food to owning music to managing our finances to meeting the love of our life. It is all underpinned by technology.
In a lot of respects, the commercial property sector still lags behind, but even here the impact has been felt from start-ups such as WeWork.
Building owners and operators can no longer ignore technology as a major factor in their forward planning and should be increasingly mindful that having a connected building is becoming a hygiene factor for the latest generation of workers. Before, we were happy with quick. Now we want instant. Instruction manuals are a thing of the past and everything should work from the phone in our pocket.
The benefits of getting this right are huge. And they are matched in scale by the risks of sitting still. Some high street retailers are bemoaning not investing more heavily in e-commerce all those years ago. In the same way, commercial real estate professionals could regret failing to adopt technology ten years from now.
Once people get a taste of technology as an enabler in the workplace, it’s hard for them to consider downgrading, and therefore, they are less likely to switch employers. Staff in a smart building are used to meeting rooms with localised air conditioning controls, access control passes that also allow you to buy lunch or earn rewards and a building that allows you to work as easily from the café as your desk. They are far less likely to enjoy heading off to a building where the last one out has to turn the lights off.
It also shouldn’t be underestimated how smart buildings can have an impact on wellbeing. We’re just starting to understand how powerful mental health can be – both when things aren’t right – but also when they are. Wellbeing can make an truly positive difference to business performance.
An organisation whose building provides light, space, healthy catering and areas of the workspace not necessarily dedicated to facilitating work, is more likely to be seen as one that cares for its people. And this breeds commitment and dedication from them.
Technology can have a huge impact on this important area too. Better engineering can provide buildings with cleaner, fresher air and internal temperatures that react to users’ and the overall environment.
From an asset perspective, if FMs, landlords and boards start to show a commitment to these areas, there are inevitable benefits that come with making a multimillion-pound property produce the kind of data that would make the likes of Google sit up and take notice.
Improving energy management and space efficiency are two outcomes that are hard to avoid once you understand exactly how your building is being used. But it all starts and ends with a genuine focus on technology improving the lives of the workforce.