Property related workflow is particular. There are a lot of different things that get talked about by a lot of different groups. For an office building design, for example, facilities managers want to understand layout, IT wants to plan the low voltage wiring, the real estate team is considering the amount of flex space, and human resources is trying to figure out how to plan the gender neutral bathrooms. Every decision made by one group impacts the others.
This will only become more pronounced with technology. Advanced buildings will have to a integrate with voice control, automatically react to each occupant and report their data to a central repository. For this reason it doesn’t make sense that real estate related projects would use the same types of communications tools that other industries use.
One of the companies building a real estate specific communication tool is Workframe. They recently closed a $9.5 million dollar Series B funding round lead by Newmark Knight Frank, one of the biggest real estate consulting groups.
The potential that Newmark Knight Frank sees in Workframe comes from their unique approach to communication. Rather than trying to stuff all communication into one feed or breaking it into arbitrary channels separated by workgroup or topic they use a map of the space itself.
“The Workframe platform is built around tight integration between tasks, conversations and locations on drawings and other plan documents,” their co-founder and CTO Andy Parsons explained. “Currently, any 2D location can be linked to any thread of communication so the context of the location is always part of the communication. And, CAD blocks (shapes representing mechanicals, furniture, etc.) on Workframe can have arbitrary data attached. Our customers use this to track assets, approvals and discussions about specific items. One of the most powerful implications of spatial context is that when a user receives a notification about something that needs their attention, the link we send out will bring them to an exact location on the relevant version of the document. This saves a ton of time and helps keep projects moving.”
Pegging conversations to a map helps organize conversations and makes them intuitively searchable. Rather than using a search bar for a certain part of the design (did they call it a foyer or a lobby?) an area can just be found on a map and engaged from there. The fast emergence of 3D mapping and BIM will make using maps to find files much more important going forward.
Anyone in commercial real estate knows that there are few communications tools that work perfectly for our purposes. Most people use a mix of email, CRM, cloud file sharing, and calendar integration. The unique nature of decision making around a property often call for unique solutions. Parsons saw that as the catalyst for creating his platform, “The entire commercial real estate industry is heavily intermediated, far more than other industries we have worked around as founders and leaders of software companies. Teams interact across many verticals and myriad things have to come together for projects to succeed, it is a challenge that can be addressed in large part by technology. Our aim is to bring context to every bit of communication.”
A lot of other applications use a spatial element to file organization. Pegging files to the locations give a way to search databases that are not easily searchable. Photos on phones are viewable in map view, so they can be found by the place they are taken rather than scrolling through their chronological order. Social media companies like Snap are also generating heat maps of posts on their platform, giving a way for users to connect with content that would normally be outside of their circle. Workflow tools might be the next to incorporate the trend. If communication can be pegged to a spot on a map it can be easily referenced and reduces the chances of multiple threads about the same thing (did they call it a lounge or a parlor?).
Just as our social media feeds would look vastly different if they were displayed in chronological order, the way we view our communication in the future might not look anything like our email inbox. With a test case as big as Newmark Knight Frank, Workframe would be able to examine the increases in productivity that new workflow tweaks create. If they are able to make something that is identifiably better for real estate, construction, and design related communications, they might be able to convince those industries that the specialized way that they work requires tools specialized for the job.