Ritam Gandhi, Founder and Director, Studio Graphene
The real estate sector has traditionally been a laggard when it comes to innovation, with many firms guilty of being too slow to bring new technologies into the fold. But Covid-19 has served to highlight the danger of such complacency.
When the property market ground to a sudden halt in late March, firms were given the opportunity to take a step back and consider the bigger picture. Short-term volatility became a means to re-focus on customer needs, track the market, conserve resources, and ultimately enhance their ability to adapt quickly to unforeseen challenges.
So far, attention has primarily focused on how the residential property market has adapted; virtual viewings, digital conveyancing platforms and online auctions have been among the more interesting trends affecting homebuyers and sellers. In the long-term, however, it is the commercial property market that will undergo the biggest changes from Covid-19.
Indeed, the global rise of remote working and the introduction of new social distancing regulations means that patterns of behaviour have – and will continue to – change fundamentally in a business context. Property technology (proptech) is no longer a ‘nice to have’ for forward-looking firms in the world of commercial real estate: it is a means of survival.
So, as property executives increase their engagement with digital trends, how can they pinpoint the right technologies that will not just enable them to adapt to the current “new normal”, but also place them in a stronger position for the years to come?
Commercial real estate post-Covid
So, how has Covid-19 affected the commercial real estate sector?
In a practical sense, office viewings and lettings continue as normal, albeit in a largely digital format. More pointedly, health and safety is now a chief concern for occupants of office spaces.
Most importantly, perhaps, organisations’ view of office space has changed. The rapid shift to remote working has highlighted to many businesses that they do not need their entire workforce in the office; the trend towards a greater balance between working from home and in an office has been greatly accelerated.
As a result, organisations are likely to seek smaller, more flexible spaces. They might require systems that enable staff to book a workspace by the day, or even by the hour, as and when they are heading into the office. More space will be required between desks and chairs.
Firms in the commercial real estate sector – landlords, developers, agents and managers – must keep these trends in mind as they develop and execute long-term digital transformation strategies. In the months and years ahead, offices will no doubt need to become more data-focused and community-orientated, particularly when it comes to meeting post-pandemic safety standards. Leveraging technologies that can assist in these areas will help firms meet evolving demands.
The role of proptech for offices
Tech infrastructure in traditional office spaces will need to be reviewed to ensure it can support new patterns of working; and ‘smart’ offices – which have steadily been coming to the fore in recent years – will remain an essential fixture of the post-Covid workplace.
Indeed, the pandemic has been hastening trends that were already in progress, and corporate tenants and building owners alike would do well to plan around these developments. Internet of Things (IoT) enabled devices, for one, which have been increasingly used in the commercial property space, will help businesses navigate the post-Covid workplace by enabling buildings to become more interactive and responsive to the needs of their occupants.
IoT-enabled solutions can offer building occupants real-time information about the environment – including, but not limited to, workplace occupancy and the timing and frequency of cleaning. They can also eliminate the use of high-contact surfaces, if contactless solutions are integrated directly into commercial spaces. Together with sophisticated sensors, property managers should be looking to facial recognition and voice-controlled devices to ultimately create touch-free environments while also boosting security features.
In a recent report, Deloitte highlights the huge potential for smart business technology to support the transition back into the office; from tracking potential exposure through temperature screening technology, to improving air flow with the help of indoor air sensors, digital solutions will play a central role in making the return to offices safer and more comfortable.
There is a plethora of proptech businesses that have risen to assist with modern challenges like these. Solutions such as GoSpace, for instance, have made the task of deploying intelligent space management solutions painless. Using NFC technology, an employee can scan an NFC sticker when at a desk and submit that data straight into the software, keeping the system consistently updated. The employer or commercial property manager can use the AI-powered insights generated by the app to properly understand how the space is being used and where efficiency gains, improvements and health and safety measures can be introduced.
Smart office technology should not be viewed as just a stop-gap solution in a time of necessity, however. More than just easing this transition, the fusion of building technology, sensors and smartphones will make the workplace of the future inherently better and more efficient.
Do not lose momentum
Covid-19 has made many businesses reassess the way they use proptech; for many, it has become clear that the changes taking place within the commercial property sector are going to be long-lasting, which has magnified the importance of curating long-term digital transformation strategies rather than looking for quick fixes.
While opinions on the future of the office differ, one thing is for certain: leveraging technology in the right way now will enable businesses to come out of the crisis in a much stronger position than they entered it.
Ritam Gandhi, is the Founder and Director of Studio Graphene – a London-based company that specialises in the development of blank canvas tech products including apps, websites, AR, IoT and more. The company has completed over 100 projects since first being started in 2014, working with both new entrepreneurs and product development teams within larger companies.