Commentary by Renata Hartle, Manager, Flex Office Strategy & Technology Solutions, Colliers International
Once every few years, a globally relevant event takes place. One that influences society as a whole and causes significant changes in the way we see the world. An event that shapes future generations. Over the past few decades there have been both positive and negative events that fit this description: the moon landing (1969), fall of the Berlin Wall (1991), September 11th terrorist attacks (2001) or global economic crisis (2008). We are currently experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic - another event that will no doubt make a significant mark on history and impact the future.
This kind of historically significant event brings with it in noticeable changes which have the power to turn established, everyday habits on their head in a matter of months. In terms of fueling these changes - and aiding us in the transition related to them - one of the most important drivers is technology. In the current situation we were able to continue working without leaving our homes and continue to buy goods without visiting a physical store - what made these things possible was technology.
Technology is at a stage in development that makes it impossible to ignore. According to data provided by Cisco we are estimated to produce 175 zettabytes of data by 2025. To put that number in perspective - it took us until 2016 to produce one zettabyte, but we got to eighteen by 2018. It’s also important to note that 90% of this data will be produced by the Internet of Thing (IoT) or - in other words - by machines.
People who - before the pandemic and resulting lockdown - didn’t even think about things like working from home or using e-commerce solutions suddenly had no other choice. The same thing is true of companies. Institutions for which things like hot desks and rotational parking spots were completely foreign concepts have begun and intensified search for flexible solutions that provide their employees with increased safety.
In the short term
As we think about returning to the office our main concern is safety - especially as it relates to social distancing and frequent disinfection. One of the best tech-based solutions that lets us address these concerns in the short term is an office-space-management system that provides employees with real-time information and allows them to interact with the space they are in. These are the kinds of solutions that we’ve introduced in our Warsaw office at Colliers.
The Office App system integrates several features and provides users as well as property managers with a safe and convenient way to work.
An interactive map of the office space provides employees with information on currently free spots where they can work - based on the desks which are currently marked as ‚in use’ and reservations made by fellow coworkers. That also allows us to block access to desks so that a min. space of 2 meters is maintained between employees. Desks, conference rooms and parking spots can also be booked ahead of time. Thanks to this information regarding the intentions of our employees we can guarantee them access to the spaces they need at a time when that access is limited out of necessity.
Another example of a short-term solution? An electronic register of visitors. The Office App allows employees to register each person they invite into the office. They can also reserve a conference room while verifying the maximum number of people that can safely reside in that given space. A guest can receive a customized invitation which includes details regarding the safety protocol in our offices. The reception desk has access to this list of invited guests and confirms their attendance - which is also sent as notification to the phone of the person who invited them. It’s a straightforward solution that - thanks to centralized data management - makes managing office visits simpler.
The scope of the features available in the Office App is established with each individual tenant based on needs and technological infrastructure of a given property. It is also fully customizable and adaptable to the strategy of a specific client.
In the long term
According to research by Colliers as many as 49% of employees said that they would like to work from home between 1-2 days per week. There are also groups of people who would like to work from home much more frequently. It’s interesting to note that - in terms of employee requirements - these findings aren’t significantly different than those in similar research conducted prior to COVID-19. What has changed drastically is the attitude of organizations toward a more flexible work-from-home model. As many as 74% of tenants surveyed by Colliers confirm that there will be a long-term shift in how they use their office space.
A significant increase in flexibility mean introducing a range of new restrictions related to using office space - it also means facing certain challenges. Tenants have to answer questions regarding exactly how much office space they’ll need as well as those related to managing changing needs and communication. It is therefore important to remember that as we introduce short-term solutions we need to look at them from a wider, long-term perspective. That means providing yourself with the possibility of adding additional intelligent-technology features i.e. sensors that collect data regarding the usage of office space in real time - as needed. That’s why - in the world of technology - the integration options and flexibility of software are key aspects. With these kind of building blocks it’s possible to gradually move toward a fully intelligent office.Digitalization of the workspace translates into what is not only greater flexibility in terms of space management but also decreased maintenance costs - an aspect that’s particularly important in times of crisis.