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What the Hell Is Tenant Engagement Anyways?!

Are you engaged right now? If you are having a hard time answering that it is because there are so many ways to define engagement. It can mean to pledge oneself to something, like a battle or a marriage. It can mean to perform an enterprise, like engaging in a business. It can also mean to give attention to something, like talking to someone at a party. 

To make it even more complicated, the idea of engagement has also been spun out to mean something new for specific contexts. In 1990 the professor of management and organizations at Boston University, William Kahn, wrote an influential article titled Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work for Academy of Management Journal in which he described employee engagement as a combination of personal involvement, commitment, and satisfaction with the role and organization. Since then there has been an evolving conversation about exactly how workplace engagement should be defined and thus how it can be controlled and measured. 

In 2006 the term engagement took hold in the advertising world when the Advertising Research Foundation announced the first definition of customer engagement as “turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context.” This vague term later got refined to mean “creating deep connections with customers that drive purchase decisions, interaction, and participation, over time.” But it wasn’t until the rise of social media, which is largely supported by advertising, that the idea of engagement became mainstream. The general public started to get used to thinking about the total value of all of the views, likes, and comments of all of their posts.

Now the real estate world has grabbed onto the idea of engagement. It is often described as tenant or resident engagement as a way to qualify the interactions between the building and its occupants. Some of the fastest growing technology companies have billed themselves as platforms for tenant engagement but the problem is that we still have not landed on a concrete definition of what we mean by engagement in this sense. If we are looking strictly at the attention aspect, much like advertisers do, then these apps are creating engagement every time they help someone adjust the temperature in a room or call an elevator. But if we are using the managerial definition then controlling basic building functions falls short of increasing someone’s involvement, commitment, and satisfaction with their surroundings.

Tenant engagement platforms have so far been great at getting the attention of tenants and they are used by millions of people every day to book a conference room or open a door. But I would argue that the real value of engagement, the one particularly office tenants would be willing to pay more for, would be finding ways to create workplace engagement. Companies lease offices not just to have a space to call their own but for what it can help them produce. Now more than ever they want their offices to be a tool to help them increase satisfaction and involvement in their work and hopefully reap the productivity benefits that ensue. 

But this puts tenant engagement technology at an interesting crossroads. For them to become more of a workplace tool and less of a building remote control they need to be integrated much deeper into the organizations that they serve. This isn’t always possible as usually the tenant experience platforms are bought and managed by building management, not by the tenants themselves. A tenant experience company could push past their comfort zone and become a holistic workplace tool for organizations to use, whether they are in the office or not, but might risk alienating their core user base: landlords who would like to emphasize the value of the physical office.

The recent acquisition of tenant engagement apps Lane and Office App by VTS and HqO respectively has put a spotlight on the value of tenant engagement. If you shine the light hard enough at this category though, you realize that there are very different value propositions to tenant engagement depending on how you chose to define the term.

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