Demand for technology in buildings is ever-increasing. How can Real Estate keep up?


2 / 17 / 2021


technology in buildings

The rate of technology-driven change is growing exponentially. In a few short decades, the world has shifted away from analogue devices in favour of a variety of smart tech. Now, digital technologies permeate and impact almost every aspect of modern life.

Technological advancement poses a challenge to real estate, as the buildings we rely on are expected to meet the growing demand for connectivity, accessibility and convenience. The key to success lies in understanding the needs and expectations of building users and deploying relevant technologies, whilst incorporating flexibility in building design so that the buildings of tomorrow can adapt in parallel with users’ evolving expectations.

What’s driving the change?

Digital technology is at the center of 21st century life. We’re so accustomed to using technology throughout our personal lives that it’s become essential to our ability to live and work efficiently. Further to that, technology has massively increased our expectations around immediacy.

Now, we expect a plethora of digital and real-world services to be readily available. Just as we can instantly communicate with people from all over the world, order a pizza in a few clicks via a smart device, or book a cab without having to flag one down, we’re coming to expect the same levels of convenience to be present within our offices: whether that’s to reserve a meeting space within seconds, check the air quality of a room, or report a maintenance issue. 

The enforced digitization of our lives throughout 2020 further accelerated these trends. As Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, said in April 2020: “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months”.

As the world shut down, tech became a lifeline for many individuals and businesses. From February to June 2020, use of Microsoft Teams grew by 894%, and Zoom by 677% in the same period. The mass adoption of even the most generic video conferencing software, albeit accelerated by Covid-19, testifies a much greater shift – one that’s been bubbling under the surface for a while. 

These behavioural changes are fundamental to how we live our lives, and the pace at which landlords must adapt has rapidly increased. The backseat approach is long gone and the best landlords have already started to respond – playing a different role as tenants begin to demand more, and flexible, tech-centered services are fast becoming a standard part of the package. 

Real estate must keep up, and it is imperative that the demand for in-building technology is both heard, and met. In a world where health and safety is placed under the microscope, and the majority of people own multiple smart devices, the buildings in which we live and operate must adapt to the evolving needs of the user. Our buildings must become as smart as the society they are constructed to serve.

Smarter spaces for smarter users

Statistics from a 2020 global survey found that more than one-third of knowledge workers* worked from home between June and August. 72% expressed a preference for returning to a hybrid remote-office model when it becomes appropriate to do so, with only 12% saying that they would like to work in the office full time when they do return to an office-based working model.

As we shift towards the “hybrid model” of working, and bring our service culture expectations into the workplace, the office is going to have to establish itself as more than just a place of work. Landlords must support their tenants in creating attractive, productive and enticing workplaces. How? By using technology to meet the ever-evolving wants and needs of the user.

If commercial real estate is going to meet the ever-increasing demand of the user, and compete against the advanced user-centric spaces that our homes are becoming, then buildings need to be built with the users in mind, using technology to underpin the in-building experience.

The industry is on an evolutionary journey, and technology is the next step: 20 years ago, commercial real estate’s overwhelming focus was on the physical elements of a building (creating statement spaces in great locations). As time progressed, the human aspect of building design became increasingly important to great placemaking (paying attention to how users and communities interact with, and flow through space). Finally, a building’s technological capacity is now considered the critical third element to great placemaking, as technology facilitates our seamless engagement with physically outstanding, human-centric spaces.

Technology enables users to interact with their spaces in a streamlined and sophisticated way, and allows operators to improve that space in a clear, user-centric manner. It’s such forward-looking, superior spaces that will attract top tenants, looking to provide their workforce with an in-office experience worth commuting to.

* A knowledge worker is defined as anyone who holds an office position and/or works with data or thinks creatively.

Final thoughts

We live in a world awash with user-centric smart devices: smart TVs, smartwatches, smartphones and even smart cars – every aspect of our lives is becoming smarter, and it’s time our buildings did the same.

As the World Economic Forum succinctly put it: “The need for more technologically advanced, affordable and healthy buildings will be critical for the industry to recover financially, support human and environmental health, and fortify against future threats.

The need to build better and build smarter has never been more important. The industry finds itself at an inflection point: the tools to deliver smart, technologically-enabled spaces are arriving at the same time that consumers are demanding smarter, safer, better spaces at an ever-increasing rate.

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