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How Mobile Phones are Changing the Way We Use Buildings

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“I forgot my badge.” Whether you are a recovering office worker or are back in the office part or full-time, you know the nagging annoyance of mumbling this phrase to yourself as you stand in the lobby, particularly if it’s the first day back after a long weekend. Waiting in the security line to get a visitor pass, fighting with the turnstile for it to open, and then bugging someone to let you in and out of your company’s suite as you work sometimes set the tone for your entire day. 

But today, more people are getting in and out of their offices using their phones rather than a badge. Office workers can now open those turnstiles, call the elevator, and navigate their workplace without worrying about their keycards, badges, or fobs because our phones go where we go. This shift to mobile access credentials isn’t just about convenience and having one less thing to remember as you rush out the door. It also allows people to have more control over their days in the office directly from the device they take everywhere. 

The golden ticket for personalization

“People’s phones enable in-office experiences to become integrated, informed, and individualized,” explained Todd Burner, Chief Product Officer at Kastle. “They’ve become the answer for people’s desire to understand their work environment better and make decisions about their day accordingly.”

The earliest sign that people wanted more autonomy over their in-office experience when they returned to the office was the rising importance of air quality. It wasn’t enough for companies and buildings to explain how they added more air filtration systems. People wanted to know which spaces had the best, safest air quality based on the capacity of a room, actual occupancy, and unique conditions of the day. That information helps people plan their day and prioritize their well-being by choosing where to sit or even if they want to go into the office.

Today, there’s an expectation that this depth of insight will be available about other aspects of the office experience. People want to know which co-workers are coming into the office, where they’re sitting, which rooms are the warmest (and the coldest), and what’s happening nearby that may be something to do after work. This is phase one of what’s possible in terms of personalized experiences when the building knows who is at work and when. 

While it’s easy to say the level of mobile access and integration with other tools is all about productivity, there’s arguably a more impactful, intangible benefit. “Mobile has a tremendous opportunity to reduce the anxiety of going to the office, particularly if it’s a new or unfamiliar place to you,” highlighted Burner. “It’s not just about having easier access to open a door or turnstile. It’s about helping people interact and navigate space, so they are comfortable within the space.”

Learn more about how commercial buildings can more effectively engage with workers by integrating workplace apps and building systems.
Download the guide: The Power of Connecting Workplace Apps to Building Systems

Next stop: Automation 

Personalization morphs into automation when building systems can learn people’s patterns and preferences. A day at the office could look something like this: The night before an in-person meeting with a client, you book a conference room directly in your calendar app. Any external attendees on the meeting invite are automatically added to the building’s visitor management system, which emails them a barcode so they can swipe in at the turnstile and skip the security line. Meanwhile, as the meeting organizer, you get your needed electric vehicle charging station reserved in the garage. Pulling into the garage, you get a notification asking if you want to place your usual mobile coffee order in the lobby. By the time you make it upstairs, that coffee is waiting, and as you pass through the turnstile, the elevator is called to go directly to your floor. 

This example may seem like it’s all about the end-user, which it is, but it’s about the building’s benefits too. Understanding who is going to be in the office, when, and where gives building systems the data they need to run more efficiently. The most obvious example of what’s possible with this occupancy level and behavioral data is the reduction of energy consumption and resulting emissions. Run times are typically based on powering up HVAC and lighting an hour or two before people get to the office and powering down when the work day is over. 

That’s how comfort service level agreements in standard commercial leases are designed. However, when building managers can communicate with their tenants that most people aren’t coming into the office until 10:00 am or there are entire floors unoccupied on Fridays, rules for comfort can change. That means both the building and the tenant can show a meaningful change in building operations, helping them hit energy and emissions targets.

To make these automated workflows happen, the buildings themselves need more information about their occupants. When everyone with an office job went to the office 4-5 days a week, a building didn’t need to know much about the people inside of it to run efficiently. There was also far less pressure to design this level of experience, considering most tenants expected teams to be in the office without much choice in the matter. Today, those same tenants have different hybrid work policies and varying adherence to those policies. 

Benefits beyond the office 

Another way to get people back in the building is by offering something to do other than work, inside the building or beyond the lobby doors. While tenants focus on making office spaces a place for connection and culture building, landlords can think about programming, amenities, and neighborhood incentives that would make the commute worth it. 

These perks must be curated and personalized to have meaningful value and be a compelling draw. It’s not enough to have a lobby coffee event on Fridays (frankly, because most people aren’t in the office at the end of the week). 

Suppose a building or tenant experience app knows when someone leaves for lunch. In that case, it can serve up recommendations and discounts to local businesses, even based on which building door the person most often enters and exits the building. If people usually come to work Tuesday and Thursday, offers and suggested events can focus on those days rather than flooding people with notifications about events when they aren’t in the office. And if they happen to be in the office on a random Wednesday, accessing the building with their phone can trigger unexpected information about what’s happening in and around the building that day. 

People’s increasing reliance on their phones to act as their wallets makes these connections and alerts even more powerful. In 2021 alone, $1.7 billion in payments were made via mobile wallets; nearly half of all smartphone users in the United States made at least one mobile payment that year. Bringing access onto the same screen as payments, identity verification, retail reward programs, travel ticketing, and even transit access transforms the entire ecosystem that people associate with their office.

At the end of the day, the person that landlords and property managers have to impress and delight is no longer just the leasing contact; it’s every person with access to the building. Empowering people to curate their days and interact with building systems, amenities, and even the neighborhood directly from their phones creates the power of choice for them—and the power of information for the building.


Kastle provides leading managed security to 10K+ companies globally. Learn more about our access control, video surveillance & visitor management services.

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