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Buildings Get Personal to Spur the Return to the Office

How many times a day do you click “accept all cookies” without even thinking about it? How many apps have you given permission to track your phone activity in the background? I couldn’t answer this for myself because it’s such a reflex. Companies ask us to give them this access to our virtual lives so they can improve how we interact with their businesses. We give them this ability because we want the personalized experiences that they provide—or because we have just become numb to them. 

Office buildings have never had to ask these kinds of questions because, until recently, they have not had the need for this kind of deep understanding of consumer behavior. People got to the office between 8 and 9 am, left for lunch around noon, and hit the elevators again at the end of the day. That was the only thing buildings really needed to know. 

But now there is no more standard office schedule. You can’t assume everyone who works at a building is going to use the office the same way. Even if people commit to a set hybrid schedule, who knows if they’re actually going in, how long they stay, or what they’re doing when they get there?

The best way for buildings to understand nuanced occupant behavior is with technology. Some of this tech already exists, from tenant experience apps to sensors that track occupancy. But the data they collect hasn’t been used to anticipate people’s preferences at scale yet. 

Personalization over privacy

While some generational divides exist when it comes to people’s desire to share what they’re doing with tech companies, most are willing to give up a little privacy if it means that they get a better experience. One survey revealed that number to be as high as 90 percent of consumers are more likely to do business with brands that know what they like and serve up relevant recommendations and offers.

People’s access badges are one of the easiest sources for personalization data. What days are people coming into the office? What time do they get there and when do they leave? What spaces in the building do they access? If office managers can capture this data, they can serve up proactive information to people about what’s happening in the building on the days they’re most likely to be there. And on the days they aren’t there, they don’t have to receive any notices about the building, reducing notification overload. 

Building and workplace apps can do this too. From which conference rooms people prefer to the desk setups they need to be productive, these apps can take reservation history and turn it into suggestions for the next time they come into work. Suggestions about takeout options, who to invite to your meetings, and even temperature preferences could all be triggered automatically. 

“If I’m going into the office, my building app should remember my coffee order, I want to be able to plan my entire day from one place,” explained Andrew Mezheritskiy, Senior Director within JLL’s Technology Advisory. “People have been working from home for so long that they forgot about all the steps and decisions they need to make once they get there.” 

Social hour 

One element missing from this personalization trend is the ability to tailor your office experience based on what your co-workers are doing. Most people don’t want to commute just to sit in an empty office.

“There is not enough communication of who’s going in and when,” said Jacob Bates, Head of Americas at JLL. “If you knew that the people you work most closely with were going to the office on Wednesday, there’s a high chance you’re going in too. That’s the domino effect return to the office plans need.”

Social media’s influence is partly to thank for this. We’re so used to seeing who is attending what event or going to which vacation spots on Instagram and Facebook. It’s human nature to find comfort in knowing that you’re not going to be the only one in the office. Once people can see each other’s plans for going to the office, whether it’s home base or a satellite office they just happen to be near, technology can help determine what type of space a group needs. 

“Think of this as Opentable for office buildings. When you make a dinner reservation, you just pick where you want to go and how many people will be there,” Bates pointed out. “The office should do the same, ensuring that workers have the space, tech and resources they need. All people have to do is show up.” 

These consumer insights not only make the most out of current office spaces, but they can help portfolios make better leasing decisions. Corporate portfolio heads can take that user data about which offices are most popular and why to expand or contract their office footprint.

Portfolios are also turning to external data platforms to augment their internal data. These platforms often aggregate mobile phone data in order to better understand what people want from an office. By cross-referencing data from what is happening inside an office building with information about what people tend to do in the neighborhood around the property, real estate decision makers can better understand work preferences. That can lead to information about the importance of public transportation and walkability to the types of restaurants that tend to bring people into a neighborhood.

Personalization becoming increasingly accepted as long as it actually makes people’s lives easier. Some employees might still be worried about “big brother” but most are realizing that workplace managers are not trying to track who is going to the office or using the data to measure of productivity or performance. By showing what they can do for occupants, buildings can increase their data collection efforts. In time it might be just as normal for our offices to suggest who we should book a meeting with as it is for Netflix to suggest a show that we might like or Instagram to show us an ad for that new product that we didn’t know we needed until now.

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