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Building - Real Estate

How to Build a Tech Stack that Instills Confidence and Safety in Returning to the Office

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We all learned some important lessons last year. When met with the unexpected, we pivoted, both in life and in business. We took our work home with us, leaned on remote collaboration technology, perfected our Zoom backgrounds and lighting, and maybe (hopefully) even maintained our sanity with every part of our lives happening under one roof. With mass vaccination almost in reach, there seems to be a collective exhale from workers, companies, and buildings across the world.

But before we can turn the page, new questions arise: how do we go back to the old routine? Do we want that? If it means having an office to go back to then, for many people, the answer is a resounding yes. Video doesn’t replicate face-to-face interactions, and the fear of missing out when you’re not physically in the same place is a major concern for many companies. In a recent report, JLL found that 80 percent of high performers have missed being at the office during lockdown. Yet, being in the office is about more than productivity; another JLL report found that an additional 97 percent of high performers said their office enables collaboration and that just under 90 percent view their colleagues as a second family. Being together enhances productivity, but also strengthens the sense of community and office culture.

In the meantime, to safely bridge the divide between flexible work models and the physical workplace, technology is being leveraged at a scale larger than ever before. In fact, 92 percent of commercial real estate owners plan to maintain or increase investment in TeX technology in the next year. Commercial buildings investing in ways to support tenants is as timeless as a greeter at the entrance or a concierge in the lobby. As our personal lives become increasingly connected through technology, we want the same seamless, tech-enabled experience for work. Technology has been developed to help buildings provide that support, enabling landlords to effectively and immediately put modern office strategies in place. As we move into the next chapter of re-entering offices, tenant experience platforms can be the key to future success of the office.

Safe => Informed => Engaged

Our health has been at the top of our minds for nearly a year and so returning to a populated office might raise cautionary red flags for many. What constitutes as safe varies from place to place and between individuals, but the best way for buildings to strengthen confidence about safety in returning tenants is through communication. Not only will this keep tenants engaged, but keeping them informed will also establish faith and trust in the tenant-landlord relationship.

Even with the encouragement of a vaccine, a Forrester report discovered that two-thirds of US workers want health precautions in place after they return to the office. Direct communication about ongoing health procedures like hand sanitizer access, cleaning of shared surfaces, and mask policies create a sense of physical and psychological safety. Directly communicating with a large group of people requires using as many channels as possible, as we all have our own preferred communication methods.

Having a centralized place for these building updates through a TeX platform will increase tenant engagement with buildings. As tenants source the platform for the latest information, the convenience of using it for other necessities of a modern work environment grows, too. Technology can be leveraged to set the office up for social distancing, manage office capacity, implement sanitary measures, and address space booking needs. Accessible through an already familiar device — your smartphone — these various systems work together efficiently and at scale.

Advanced communication capabilities entice tenants back to the office, as well as increase the value of a building to tenants. “Providing digital solutions for tenant engagement is paramount for commercial office buildings in our current climate,” said Sonja Ellis, Director of Property Management for Cawley Partners, which uses the HqO Tenant Experience Platform to enhance the connection between their properties and their tenants. “As property owners, we look forward to continuing to increase our value to our tenants whether they’re working in the office or at home.”

It’s not what you say, but what you do

Having consistent communication builds trust and creates efficiencies in property management processes. The antiquated system of a single tenant point-of-contact is typical in office business models, but a key competency in improving a building’s tenant experience is fostering the direct landlord-tenant connection.

Harvard Professor Meira Levinson co-authored The Path to Zero Report, which provides guidelines on how to safely reopen schools. The office sector can learn from many of the topics discussed in the report. For example, Levinson stressed that while investing in building upgrades is important, “Building the trust and demonstrating to both educators and to parents that you care about their own health and wellbeing, and that you really will invest in creating classrooms that they feel safe to teach and learn in is also a really important and good long-term investment.”

As landlords and property teams work to create an environment with a high focus on user experience, they’re activating amenities and implementing digital programming to attract and retain tenants. As discussed in HqO’s eBook “Navigating a Successful Return to the Office,” digital opportunities like trivia, giveaways, and fitness classes can connect people while also positively impacting workplace culture. Such digital programming also provides meaningful building and tenant population data that can be collected and analyzed to reveal building engagement, performance, and other benchmarking information insights.

What makes a good plan for TeX

Office amenities to improve TeX have ranged from Keurig machines and sleep pods to happy hour events and everything in between. Now as tenants demand a more omnichannel office experience, these amenities are both physical and digital. “Technology is transforming every sector; it’s been transforming real estate for quite some time in a lot of different ways,” said Natalie Teear, Vice President of Sustainability and Social Impact at Hudson Pacific. “But there are a lot of questions to tackle, including: Where do you focus? How do you prioritize different initiatives?”

Understanding each building or tenant’s need is a good place to start. No two buildings are the same, because no two companies have the same wishlist for an office, and these lists can change as time goes on. Learning about a building’s end users through surveys, amenity, and building engagement, and real-time feedback provides the meaningful data needed to provide tenants with what they really want.

Today’s tenants are already tech-enabled through their smartphones and every day lives, and they expect to be connected to their workplace in the same way. This type of connection is also appealing to the younger generations which will help attract new employees down the road. An end-to-end TeX operating platform consolidates building solutions from a wide range of technology partners, enabling tenants to go to one place for their needs instead of multiple apps or providers. Instead of using one app for reserving space, one for chatting with building operations, one for scheduling meetings, and one for fitness classes, everything can happen under one platform. These interoperable systems create a frictionless building experience for both property teams and tenants.

As we look ahead, tenant experience platforms will be a “carrot” in helping to entice tenants back to the office and enable the appealing omnichannel office experience. These attractive amenities will enhance the connection between tenants and their workplaces. As Tama Huang, Principal & Chief Innovation Officer at CohnReznick, said, “Elements that build upon that trust will be the amenities of the future that tenants will pay for.” 

The pandemic accelerated technology’s role in connecting people to their offices but it can also boost company culture and productivity. There is no replacement for the impactfulness of in-person communication and physical posture and gestures can be lost in a virtual environment. The common mute button challenges of conference calls and Zoom meetings interrupt the natural flow of conversation and may lead to fewer people speaking up. The desire to and advantages of working together is arguably natural as Charles Darwin said in his book On the Origin of Species, “It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”

The future of work will likely not look like the traditional offices we left last March, but will instead be tech-enabled with a customer-first focus. Technology that not only allows but empowers a modern workplace will be the top amenity on every company’s wishlist. It’s up to landlords to fulfill this new demand.

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