How is Proptech Altering the Office Space Sector?

Will the pandemic provide an incubator for emerging property technologies in office spaces?

Proptech is altering the office space sector in two ways. The first is how the commercial model of real estate (the securing and buying or leasing of offices) is performed. The second is how technology allows us to experience the actual environment.

A digital pincer movement where innovative technology solves the problems of how to best perform the procurement and management of physical spaces humans spend a huge amount of time inhabiting.

My experience as a realtor or estate agent in the 1990s, when I required office space for my business, was this; I had a commercial agent and we agreed on a ten-year lease and that was it, all set in stone.

Proptech allows every comfort and every aspect of the office space to be quantified, controlled, and managed.

In 2020, the landscape is different. The landlord is not a landlord in that way anymore, flexibility now reigns supreme. They are a provider of services with an agile model. Tempting those in need of a workspace with flexible terms and bespoke work environments. At the pinnacle think Symbiosy by HB Reavis, where every human need is wrapped in cotton wool to ensure productivity, plus mental and social health and welfare.

Coupled with this is the advent of the smart management of buildings. Back in the 1990s innovation was wall mounted electric panel heaters. Now with artificial intelligence and the like, proptech allows every comfort and every aspect of the office space to be quantified, controlled, and managed.

More to the point, this management of office space is now increasingly off-site. Take CIM, for example. Speaking to Cillian Casey recently, he explained that decades ago a human would patrol commercial buildings to find problems and solve them. Now, remotely, huge buildings are plugged into a digital network. Like a patient rigged up to a hospital bed, the vital signs are monitored and with commercial efficiency responded to.

So automation and IoT are increasingly becoming the internet of everything. Big data, AI, and machine learning are the forces that have transformed the office space. IoT especially can manage flexible office space using smart technology. Think security surveillance, biometric entry, etc.

In 1990, you sat in an office at a desk and had a job for life. Your tower computer welded to the floor and mobile phones were the size of a house brick.

Andy Saull, formerly of the Saïd Business School, now at Pi-Labs, recently pointed to the fact that data analytics held by WeWork over the last half-decade would allow for building office and commercial space to a design most likely to be bought sold, leased, and utilised. 

Underpinning all of this is the shifting nature of the workforce. In 1990, you sat in an office at a desk and had a job for life. Your tower computer welded to the floor and mobile phones were the size of a house brick. Now, the young smart bright things, Gen-Z, who inhabit half of the world, translate into a workforce requiring a flexible approach to their work needs. Pre-Covid, there was an explosion of co-working. Maybe now this shift will pivot in other ways with homeworking now firmly back on the agenda.

Time will tell, but what is certain is this; Space as a Service (SPaaS) has been enabled by advances in technology. As the needs and wants of workers move on a generation, in order to generate revenue from them, landlords are thinking of new ways to net the capricious butterflies who are the modern workforce, who can work from a mobile or small communications device just about anywhere.

If a business professional can conduct business from their bathroom or kitchen, how can they be tempted into an office space?

So in a way there is an arms race. If a business professional can conduct business from their bathroom or kitchen, how can they be tempted into an office space? On a personal level, in lockdown I formed the company Proptech-PR to service proptech companies and real estate companies as a facilitator and advocate. 

Was our first thought a shiny new office in Shoreditch? No. Putting Lockdown aside, tech and video conferencing powered our enterprise with ten virtual meetings a week. Was this agile approach a necessity, or just the new way? 

Many businesses coming back to work and out of furlough may see that office space, in London perhaps even more so, will be a hired break-out area for larger meetings when restrictions allow, and on occasion, flex space will be utilised daily with many companies not looking to renew their leases.

JLL and many of the big corporate commercial players have invested heavily in the commercial and office space model, putting aside the multi-million defaults that Covid-19 has caused in rental payments. But will commercial ever be the same again?

JLL developed JLL Spark, a platform to help evolve technological answers for, amongst other things, office space. They look at both the good and bad of tenant experience, using data to make insightful decisions, help investors, landlords, etc to make the right key decisions and transact the correct purchase plan to wield maximum profit. 

Philip Verzun, founder of Consorto, has also developed a digital automated commercial property platform to ease the pain points of finding and then transacting commercial transactions on a pan-European model, allowing investors and brokers to seamlessly transact business. 

In a world of Boris Johnson’s “wash your hands” mantra, contact-free technology has just taken on a whole new meaning.

Paper has given way to data, which is good news as we look at the new post-pandemic office space sector. Workplace intel brings strategies to employers on how they can safely manage their returning workforce.

Landlords and tenants will be able to utilise proptech to map out the utilisation of workflows and the physical placement of people, monitoring social distancing and electronically logging who is where and the period of time they are there will be key in the battle against this virus.

Track and trace is not just a government soundbite. Proptech can pull together data from all sectors. For example, the question of who occupies what part of the building? Easily answerd by data gleaned from security card swipes, biometrics, surveillance and of course, contactless technology .

In a world of Boris Johnson’s “wash your hands” mantra, contactless technology has just taken on a whole new meaning. This virus may well be an incubator for even more proptech prowess and invention rather than an incubator for spaces that breeds this deadly disease. 

So, facial recognition technology, frowned upon by some as big brother incarnate, might be far better than punching in a code using the human hand or pushing a physical door open with all the potential for germs to be left behind and spread.


This article was first published in Unissu on 16th June 2020

Andrew Stanton is the founder of Proptech-PR and Proptech-X. He grows proptech companies using his influence from decades of industry experience and is a consultant to some of the biggest names in global real estate, advising on sales and acquisitions, market positioning, and operations.

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