"The future office will be transformed from a workspace to a collaboration space. And the way we use it will be flexible and erratic."
Those were some of Palle Geltzer Dinesen’s words when presenting his take on the digital transformation of the real estate industry.
Shortly after the first lockdown following the outbreak of COVID-19, many leaders of large companies, both within tech and other industries, proclaimed the office to be dead. They predicted that we would all only be working from home after the end of the pandemic, rendering real estate virtually obsolete.
And is real estate obsolete?
More than a year later, we can conclude, with some certainty, that the office might not be as dead as predicted. It’s still too early to say exactly how the pandemic is going to affect society, but there’s plenty indicating that the office will still be important - also in the future.
“I definitely think the office will be more flexible. We’re already seeing big companies trying to tap into that, because, obviously, there is a huge savings potential in just cutting, say, 40% of all your desks in the office”, argues Palle Geltzer Dinesen.
Arguably, it’s not feasible to consider the office dead just yet. If a company isn’t dependent on a brick-and-mortar workplace to collaborate, they should be fine. But many companies depend on at least partly being physically present to properly collaborate and to have a feeling of being part of the company. Although we might see a more flexible workplace that allows for more remote work, the office, or any sort of physical workplace, will still be needed in many industries.
Instead of thinking of the future office as a concept that’s exclusively dead or very much alive, one could instead focus on the reasons why many were so quick to declare it dead in the first place. A reason could be that the real estate industry has been slow to adapt to the digital transformation of society, which made it less ready for and adaptable to the unexpected crisis that was COVID-19. The office simply wasn’t equipped to handle the sudden need for better space utilization, social distancing, etc. Some companies have indeed realized the potential of making their buildings and offices smart through IoT sensors, but the advent of technology in real estate is progressing more slowly than in other businesses.
For the office to still be relevant in the future, IoT (Internet of Things) will most likely be a very important component. Whether we like it or not, the world as we know it is changing, and most aspects of society are becoming ever more digitized, and it’s time the real estate industry follows suit. The office landscape is no longer as rigid, and it will be more flexible in the near future. It was bound to happen some time, and the pandemic, if one tries to look at it positively, was just what was needed to expedite the process and make managers realize that an inflexible, 9-to-5 workday in the office can be replaced with a more flexible, hybrid model that allows employees to however they’re the most productive.
The IoT technology capable of digitizing the real estate industry already exists, but it would seem as if the managers who could benefit the most from these solutions are simply unaware of them. There are many solutions for the digitalization of your workplace. There are occupancy sensors, booking software and apps for desks, meeting rooms, and even for parking lots. And then there’s also software helping people find their way inside buildings - a Google Maps for the indoors, so to speak.
There are even technologies in place that monitor air quality, temperature, lighting, etc. The list of possible IoT applications in the workplace is almost endless, and it’s just a question of whether the industry is ready to adopt these technologies.
In real estate, and especially in co-working offices, adapting to changing customer needs is of the utmost importance. These needs have changed and will continue to change because of the pandemic, and companies will, therefore, be well advised to adapt and optimize their spaces and buildings to suit those needs. That is, more flexibility will be needed, which could e.g. be in the shape of hot desking, which is when companies are only renting desks being used.
A good place to start is to employ occupancy sensor data to better understand building and employee behavior, enabling facility managers to adapt to the new reality that is the post-COVID era. The insights resulting from this data will remove all guesswork and enable managers to control the chaos, so to speak, and actually thrive in an environment with many companies working in the same space.
The office isn’t dead, but maybe the office as we used to know it is. One thing is for sure: companies can no longer get around the fact that technology is a huge part of life - especially so in the workplace. To follow a Darwinian line of thinking: those who are the most adaptable to technological change will be those who survive and thrive.