What will office buildings of the future be like? High-profile architecture firms would probably have you imagine tomorrow’s workspaces filled with lots of atria, waterfalls, and indoor landscaping. But beauty is only skin deep! When it comes to functional operations, the most attractive attribute will be how buildings of the future deploy technologies that make offices easier to manage, operate, and communicate with tenants.
At the center of this technological change is connectivity. Yesterday’s “nice to have” is already today’s “need to have.” In the age of high-speed internet access, building owners and developers have shifted the way they prioritize connectivity from an important utility to a necessary amenity for building occupants.
High-speed connectivity has cultivated more sophisticated development of smart buildings and intelligent workplaces. This includes smart devices and sensors that allow owners and building managers real-time insight regarding the health and costs of their property. The sheer speed of the internet has created an entirely new paradigm for building office owners; one that will make buildings safer, smarter, and drastically increase occupant productivity.
So, what does the not-so-distant future hold? Expect four major shifts in office buildings that will not only affect workplace real estate trends, but also the companies disrupting the space.
1 – IoB: The Internet of Buildings
The Internet of Buildings (IoB) can loosely be defined as a building-wide cloud-based network that uses an interconnected web of sensors to collect data and information on building usage, health, and occupancy. In plain English, this is technology that helps measure building performance, increases tenant retention, and decreases operational costs. By 2020, most buildings in the United States will be deploying some level of IoB.
Over the past 10 years, there has been a significant increase in IoB technology companies and implementation within office buildings.
Virtual Super allows facilities managers to control and monitor building water systems remotely. The platform provides facility managers with temperature monitoring and water leak detection services, including real-time alerts to help stop floods before they happen.
Sine tracks visitor management, making it easy for building owners to see who’s moving in and out of their spaces. The visitor check-in system utilizes iPads to take pictures of tenants and guests, instantly print building badges, quick sign in for returning guests, host notifications, and employee directories.
Keyo leverages biometric technology to enable tenants to seamless visitor management system. With the simple scan of the palm, tenants can go through turnstiles, access elevators, unlock office doors, and even purchase snacks from office snack stores.
Datahoist specializes in revolutionizing the “Internet of Elevators”, deploying smart sensors in existing building elevators in under an hour. These sensors use machine learning to extract meaningful elevator data, such as peak tenant use times and potential maintenance issues.
Beco allows property managers to track tenant movement with their space. The company uses beacons that clip to overhead light fixtures in seconds, without any batteries, wiring, or programming. Eco-friendly, each Beco sensor has a solar powered mat attached to it, so light from the light fixture powers each beacon. This platform allows real-time workplace analytics, such as space utilization and team dynamics.
This platform also allows tenants to ask questions like:
- “What meetings spaces are free right now?”
- “Where is my team sitting today?”
- “Who is in the office?”
- “How busy is the cafe?”
- “What’s for lunch today?”
Overall, the technologies that seem to be most successful and integrated into office buildings at scale are those that are easy to install and deploy in existing buildings. This ease of use will lead to faster adoption rates for technology platforms.
2 – Brains: Smart Building Operating Systems
As facilities managers install smart security, elevator analytics and intelligent visitor management systems, as well as sensors for air temperature, water, electricity, fire and flood, all of these IoB devices will need to connect to a single system for meaningful analysis. This is the building operating system, or “the brains of the building” – an online hub that displays real-time stats on building performance, with the goal of decreasing operational costs.
At TEDx 2013, Lucid Design Group co-founder Vladi Shunturov discussed software’s potential to be the first disruptive innovation in buildings since the Otis elevator. During his presentation, Shunturov illustrated the major problem: buildings built more than 20 years ago consume 2/3 of world’s electricity and are among the biggest factors affecting climate change. His solution was that “easy to use energy efficiency software has been shown to reduce consumption by up to 50%, by giving real-time feedback that’s meaningful both to facility managers and tenants.”
5 years later, Lucid’s BuildingOS system gives property managers a single system solution for complete visibility into their building portfolio, real-time data-driven energy management decision making and better tenant communication and engagement. Their platform is so promising it was acquired by Acuity Brands earlier this year.
In 2016, New York City’s largest private owners / developers, Rudin Management unveiled their new technology company called Prescriptive Data. This new company introduced a new operating system for the built environment, called Nantum.
Today, Nantum is the “brain” for millions of square feet of New York City office buildings. The cloud-based, secure building operating system integrates into any built environment to optimize energy consumption and increase tenant comfort. Essentially, Nantum learns the rhythm of existing building systems and users within the building, memorizing each day’s operations so that it can positively influence, predict, and prescribe tomorrow’s performance and ultimately creates a better workplace experience for tenants.
3 – Renewable Energy Creation Solutions
Today, when people think about creating energy and sustainable buildings, they think of solar energy. But for all of its efficiency, installing solar does not come without its own set of problems. One key issue with deploying solar panels is the required square footage of an office building’s roof in relation to the immense amount of energy it takes to run the facility. In the next few years, transparent solar cells are about to solve this problem.
Solar Window Technologies is looking to turn entire buildings into vertical power generators. Though the product is not yet released, it estimates that retrofitting glass office buildings will achieve owners and developers a return on investment within their first year of use.
So how does it work? A liquid coating is applied on to glass or plastic. This coating produces ultra-small solar cells that form groups called “arrays.” The obvious benefit means that real estate developers won’t have to replace their windows to reap the benefits of this technology. They can simply have it applied on the outside of their buildings, drastically decreasing installation time and cost.
Pavegen goes beyond solar and creates energy and data from occupants’ footsteps. The London-based company has developed custom floor tiles that generate electricity when stepped on. Each of the Pavegen tiles surfaces can be tailored to fit any visual design specification and uses a triangular composition to maximize energy output and data capture. The technology can be used to light up paths on the floor in case of an emergency or turn on lights when someone arrives at certain parts of the office.
This technology also allows property managers to heat map tenant movement, identify hotspots, and the number of people in a given area.
4 – Retaining Real-Time Tenant Communication and Feedback
In today’s competitive office leasing landscape, tenant amenities can make or break a deal. A recent survey by tenant engagement platform HqO revealed that 72% of tenants are unsatisfied with their current office amenities. In that same study, 69% of office tenants said they had never interacted with their property manager and didn’t even know their name.
HqO is a tenant experience platform that transforms a tenant’s smartphone into a remote control for their office building, offering a user experience that consumers expect from a mobile app. Designed to engage the workplace community, HqO integrates with existing property utilities such as shuttles and parking garages and gives tenants an inside track to the fun amenities and experiences they can take advantage of at work.
Equiem is an online tenant engagement platform designed to help property managers communicate with their tenants. The company is considered one of Australia’s premier property tech success stories, as it’s been adopted by 10 of the 11 largest Australian REITs. Equiem’s platform allows office owners to create a community within their buildings by streamlining communications and operations.
Comfy speaks to a new revolution of personalized workplace experiences. Employees can now control the temperature within their workspace zone and over time, their preferences automatically adjust once they’ve entered the building.
Aside from solving the too hot/too cold problem many of us face at work, Comfy also allows occupiers control over other aspects of their workplace experience including lighting levels, room booking and feedback submissions directly to the building operators.
More tenant communication and feedback will deliver a superior occupancy experience and create a more productive workplace.
As employees demand more from their office buildings and work spaces, owners must adopt the mentality that an enhanced level of user experience is necessary to stay competitive. Owners who have recognized that internet connectivity is critical to the success of their building will continue to innovate by implementing new technologies and amenities for their tenants. These are the winners in both the short term and the long run.