The future of the office is currently shrouded in mystery. Will there be a vaccine? Will people ever return to work? What levels of occupancy are safe? Is remote work here to stay? Is flexible office space the future? The questions are endless and the answers are few and far between. We can speculate all we like, but the real problem solving doesn’t happen until we play out realistic “what if” scenarios. Only then can we determine the best ways to handle all of the seemingly equally probably possibilities. In nearly every future office scenario or model, one thing that remains important is tenant communication.
Now, the obvious argument that arises is “What if there are no tenants to engage with?” There are some experts who truly believe this is a genuine possibility, but I think even more would argue that to some degree, even if the office location changes and even if use of the office itself changes, that having a physical space for people to meet, collaborate, and be productive (outside of the home) is an essential function of knowledge work. Based on that assumption, that the office will still exist in some shape or form, we start to problem solve for some obvious issues.
I spoke with Clinton J. Robinson, CEO and co-founder of Lane, a tenant engagement app, in regards to his company’s acquisition of eServus, another tenant engagement focused company. Lane, who recently closed a $10 million series A, not only gained 25 new clients and over 300 properties through the eServus acquisition, but also over two decades of industry knowledge. The company has been successfully providing “corporate concierge services” like discounted tickets for entertainment to clients almost every major city in the U.S. “We set out to be a pure technology company,” explained Robinson. “But adding new services and expanding our offerings, which are then empowered through our technology, is an incredible combination.”
While increasing tenant engagement is certainly a way to increase retention and renew leases, it’s not necessarily on the top of landlords’ or property managers’ concerns right now. However, one ever-growing concern that falls under the umbrella of what technology like Lane does is communication. According to Robinson, tenants and occupants want to be updated constantly on what measures are being taken to make the property safe. They want to know what the cleaning schedules are, if the air quality is being monitored, what touchless solutions have been installed, how many people are allowed in the elevator at once, and so on. Similarly, if a building is implementing some sort of contact tracing, occupants want to know if they’ve been in contact with any sick persons or if there are any parts of the property they ought to be avoiding. “It’s about building that trust through constant communication,” said Robinson.
Other experts in the industry are echoing this sentiment about communication being a huge priority for tenants and occupants. Chase Garbarino is the CEO and co-founder of HqO, a tenant engagement platform for commercial office buildings, and he also told me how important communication is right now. HqO’s platform offers a marketplace that allows customers to browse a curated catalogue of vendors who can then be integrated into a customizable customer-facing application. “What we’re seeing is landlords need to have direct communication lines with people in their building. Previously, they had a relationship with one or two points of contact within the tenant company. Now, they’re trying to communicate much more broadly across the tenant population,” Garbarino said.
Garbarino explained that some of their marketplace providers like Lipsius, for example, offer emergency notification systems in addition to other tools like messaging features to notify staff and tenants of health and safety protocols, cleaning schedules, and “anything that makes it easier for landlords to have a direct relationship with the end user of the building. We’re seeing communication is the top priority.” In addition to communication, the other most requested categories in the marketplace are for providers of logistics and health and wellness. Logistics include things like coordinating deliveries and measuring office capacity while health and wellness focuses on things like contact tracing and touchless solutions.
Regardless of what type of office model takes shape going forward, all of these things will still be crucial to the health and safety of occupants. “We expect to see owners physically break up large floor plan offices, in addition to offering satellite offices in suburban areas. Choosing the right technology partner, one that’s dynamic and flexible, should enable you to make that shift fairly easily. That’s what’s really important. That’s the future of work,” said Robinson.
While there is no way to tell exactly what the future office will be or where, we can start to have a better idea of how it will function by making educated guesses and playing out those scenarios. What tools will be required to meet tenants’ needs? What measures will need to be taken to ensure offices are safe for occupancy? These are million, even billion, dollar questions. The solutions to these questions will inevitably become a part of our daily (work) lives, as will the technology that facilitates and communicates the answers to these questions.