This has been a bad few years for offices. At the start of the pandemic, workers left their office, not knowing when they would return. At the time, many thought that the world would be able to quickly go back to normal. That was not the case. All of this time working from home has changed the way a lot of companies think about what they need an office for. Now, things seem to be looking up. The good news is occupancy rates in offices are rising. The better news is offices should be becoming better than they were when we left them in 2020. This improvement is a result of needs, such as safety and productivity, but also wants, such as comfort and convenience.
Sleek, spacious offices are a dime a dozen — but employee appetites have changed. An office may have attractive characteristics but, if those aren’t perceived as meaningful or important to the employee, they may not be enough. After all, the office is no longer the only place to do work, employees have options. Employees want to be in a place worthy of leaving all the perks of working remotely and modernization is a big part of that. Not just a place to work, as we’ve proven we can do that in various places with high levels of success, these offices must offer an unparalleled experience. Technology is the main ingredient.
There are many ways that technology can help upgrade the office experience. A September 2021 survey of over 3,200 occupants in the U.S., the UK, Ireland, and Australia found that 55 percent are open to working in offices viewed as having a great design and that integrate useful technology. What does ‘useful’ mean? It means a positive and tangible impact on the workday. New lobby screens may be attractive to landlords, but they may not move the dial for employees. Technology that doesn’t add value through positively impacting the workday isn’t seen as appealing as technology that does. For occupiers, this may start with access to the building via their cell phone, or reserving desk space, but it can, and should, be about much more.
Fifty-five percent of occupants surveyed are open to working in offices with the best design and most useful technology.
Office landlords must be able to demonstrate that the office is equal or preferable to working from home to bring people back. “Tenant experience has become a critical part of the strategy to engage with and retain tenants and deliver the sort of experiences that will drive employees back to the office and back to their work and building communities,” said Gabrielle McMillan, CEO of Equiem, a tenant experience platform. When asked how their community platform could best support their return in Equiem’s 2021 Global Office Tenant Report, occupiers highlighted the value of tech.
All I want to touch is my phone
Technology-enabled and mobile access control is arguably the foundation of a modernized workplace where key cards are unnecessary and data is collected in real time about who is where and how many people are in an area. Taking it another step, reserving a desk or collaborative workspace gives occupants clear expectations about where they’re going and who will be nearby. Adhering to regulations and recommendations for safety can accelerate when occupants feel comfortable about returning to the office.
The technology we depend on the most is, of course, our mobile phones. The latest data reveals the average phone user checks it up to 86 times a day and the average American spends almost five and a half hours per day looking at the small screen. While there are efforts to reduce how much time we spend on our phones for social media, there is no comparable option when it comes to office-related convenience and comfort. Our phones are familiar, accessible, and powerful and occupants want them to be a reliable part of their workday.
Touchless smartphone access control was the highest-rated way a return to the office can be supported according to Equiem’s survey. Eliminating shared surface contact is one way to reduce transference of unpleasant health conditions but it also streamlines the process of going from one area to another. No more long lines, no confusion about door codes or key cards that have access revoked for one reason or another. A third of respondents went a step further and asked for a quick and easy online onboarding guide to re-entering the building. A third also requested real time information about building occupancy levels. No matter the angle you look at it from, mobile-enabled access and experience are in high demand for office occupants.
Inhale goodness, exhale productivity
The importance of indoor air quality (IAQ) skyrocketed through the pandemic but what we learned about how much the air we breathe impacts us is sticking. From the transference of COVID-19 to the presence of other harmful volatile organic compounds, building occupants want to know what they’re breathing. Suboptimal air can make occupants sick, negatively impact productivity, and make the office much less desirable to be in. Ideal IAQ goes beyond what’s in the air and into how it feels like temperature and humidity where certain levels could irritate occupants with health conditions like asthma.
Fortunately, technology has made great improvements in this area as far as accurate and precise sensors. This hardware can be paired with real time monitoring software, deliver instant notifications, and automate ventilation processes so that indoor spaces are healthy as possible without requiring ongoing interaction with building operation teams. But is air quality something people want regular updates on? Is it on occupants’ minds enough that updates would be helpful and potentially soothing rather than annoying? The answer is absolutely. In fact, almost 40 percent of the 3,200 respondents from Equiem’s survey listed regular updates on IAQ as a preferable way for technology to entice them back to the office. With 48 percent requesting regular updates and notifications about building policies, continuous monitoring and real time access to IAQ data is popular.
“The people coming back to work, physically back into the office, are not the same people that left months ago,” said Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President at Microsoft 365. We know we’re never going back to the way it was and that’s probably good for occupant health, work-life balance, and employee retention among other reasons. While we figure out what the future of the office looks like, there is data available that reveals what occupants want if and when they come back. The next generation of offices should reflect what occupants want: modern, flexible, and technologically-advanced spaces that keep them safe, in the know, and productive. An office that offers that environment will be hard to compete against.