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The Definition of Tenant Experience Has Completely Changed in the Wake of COVID-19

As a result of the pandemic over 100 countries went into full or partial lockdown, with social distancing measures implemented, shops and restaurants closed, and people urged to stay at home. A quarter of the workforce in America have either been furloughed or laid off and over 7 million people, almost equivalent to the entire population of London, furloughed in the United Kingdom. Now, as restrictions are beginning to be lifted and workplaces reopening, tenant experience as we know it has completely changed. As the CEO and Co-founder of the tenant experience platform District Technologies, these last few months have been a time of reflection, research, and adaptation.

We started District with the end-user in mind, the people using the buildings, with an aim to improve their experiences. Our primary objective is to support our clients using our platform to connect seamlessly with their tenants, providing them access to all the services and amenities available at the touch of a button. With new challenges from the changing needs for a building as a result of Covid-19, it’s our job to identify what they are and build the functionalities to aid them.

Now that offices are reopening and tenants are slowly starting to return, what we’ve identified is that, in the short and medium-term, tenant experience will have a profound focus on health and safety. Most people won’t want to take the risk of going into the office if they can work from home unless it’s clear to them that steps have been taken to make it safe. 

Up until recently, tenant experience has been focused on community. Whether that be events, networking, or a spot of ping pong or drinks on the rooftop bar, the buzzword in tenant experience has been community for some time. Although it’s far from dead—we all can’t wait to get some semblance of social interaction back—right now, as far a tenant experience is concerned, building a sense of community is far from the top of priorities. Not in the wake of a pandemic, when tenants’ concerns on returning to the workplace are whether they will get sick from a life-threatening virus.

What we have learned from this is that tenant experience is constantly evolving. As things change around us, in our work or personal lives, what we expect from our workplaces and buildings will adapt and thus tenant experience strategies must adapt too. Landlords will need to keep their fingers on the pulse to stay in tune with tenants’ changing needs and pain points. What will be the challenges as people work remotely more frequently? How can we adjust our offering to add value? How long will we continue to social distance, and once it’s over, how long until people feel safe in large groups? How will their needs adapt in relation to this? Tenant experience as we know it will be more dynamic than ever before in the short, medium, and long term. So, we must constantly review, analyse, and adapt to be relevant and to provide what tenants truly desire.

For now, what tenants want from their experience is the ability to feel safe and that the risk of catching the coronavirus has been minimised. They may get more out of wellness activities like virtual yoga or meditation due to the strain on our mental health during lockdown. They will desire more frequent communication, an expectation to be kept in the loop about what landlords are doing to keep their workplaces safe. But, these pain points will ease over time, when a vaccine is discovered or the rate of infection diminishes, so we must constantly be aware of their needs as they evolve.

It’s much harder to predict what the medium to long term will look like, some aspects will remain changed indefinitely, such as more flexibility offered by employers to their workforce and some aspects may return to what we had before. The scale will vary for every company. Some companies may see this as an opportunity to reduce square footage and some may even move to fully remote. Twitter recently announced that their employees can work from home forever and other companies have begun to follow suit. Many are debating what the future of work will look like. The predictions go from one extreme (offices are obsolete) to the other (the office market will see no long-term effect on demand). 

With little comprehensive data surrounding Covid-19 and the lasting effects it will have, we can only make predictions on what we think the long-term forecast is for the future of work and commercial real estate. Therefore, it now becomes more important than ever to closely monitor the changing trends in tenant experience in order to reflect and review the evolving needs and pain points of tenants. We need to have an awareness of possible outcomes and ensure we have the future in mind and not just the short term gains. Office building providers can utilise dashboards and analytic software to allow clients to quickly identify user engagement. With monitoring community conversion rates to occupancy of spaces, the insights gained from this can help them tailor future content and (virtual) community events and rethink previously successful offers that are no longer resonating with their target audience in the current circumstances. Trends can also be uncovered around desk bookings and occupancy to understand tenant behaviour. 

Ultimately, to thrive in what becomes the new normal, we must rethink values for end-users and tenants. For example, if we shift to working remotely more frequently, tenant experience will need to adapt to drive engagement for tenants both on and off-site. The office will never be obsolete, the last few months have only accelerated the trend of it being used very differently than in the past, so engaging remote tenants and rethinking on-site services and amenities that appeal to a new way of work will be key. The physical space may need rethinking structurally as people move away from the traditional “nine to five heads down at your desk” to using the time in the office as an opportunity for collaboration, mentoring, and face-to-face interaction. Now, buildings will need new functionalities to aid workplace re-entry including health check-ins, usage heat-mapping, and occupancy monitoring. As time passes, I believe the community and social aspect of tenant experience will slowly climb up the ranks, and our focus on health will become less prevalent as the spread of the virus eases.

With this in mind, office building providers need to consider both long-term and short to medium-term tenant experience strategies. They must be fluid enough to adjust their value proposition to the changing needs of tenants. If your tenant experience strategy remains static, at some point it will fail to meet the expectations of tenants as their needs change. Technology will be essential in tracking community engagement across your portfolios to ensure you will stay at the forefront and be able to keep up with your tenants’ demands. 

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