Thermal imaging cameras, UVC sterilizing wands, smart HVAC systems, upgraded conference room audiovisual tools: The coronavirus has inspired developers and property owners to invest in a host of new technologies to keep their tenants safe.
But all this technology comes at a price, and it’s likely not in any owner’s budget to invest in it all. Also, these solutions are not one-size-fits-all, and what’s right for one building may not work for the tenants in another. So how can property owners determine what tools are right for them?
“No one knows how long this is going to last. It could be a six-month problem or a six-year problem,” said Ken Wilkinson, founder and managing partner of Layer 10 Consulting, a Denver-based workspace technology consultancy. “This is why building owners need to make sure they are investing in technology that will not only be valuable to their properties now, but long after this is over.”
Layer 10 has developed a process and published a guide to help property owners and developers make strategic tech investments that will be beneficial both during and after the pandemic. Bisnow recently sat down with Wilkinson to learn more about how offices are changing and what building stakeholders should keep in mind as they consider installing new technologies.
Bisnow: What are some of the office trends you’re seeing emerge as a result of the pandemic?
Wilkinson: The largest trend has to be social distancing — how office design can support it and how tech can help enforce it. Office owners are now focused on figuring out the areas where people tend to congregate, like the lobby, conference rooms or the kitchen, and determining how they can manage those spaces and keep them from getting congested.
In the past, office design was all about how to fit more people into a smaller space. Now, all that has to change.
That could mean office tenants demanding more space, or it could look more like a “hoteling” model, where employees are assigned a new space in the office to work in, depending on how many people are there that day. By assigning even-numbered desks on even-numbered days and odd-numbered desks on odd-numbered days, offices have both social distancing and enhanced cleaning procedures.
Bisnow: How should developers and property owners be re-evaluating their properties as people prepare to return to the office?
Wilkinson: The first thing owners should do is determine their square foot per employee ratio. For decades, desk space and cubicle space has been steadily decreasing, leading to employees having less square footage per person in the office than ever before. Along with that, walls that separate cubicles are much shorter than they used to be to create a more open space.
Once owners understand these physical limitations of their space, they need to understand how the space will be used by both current and prospective tenants. Will their tenants be bringing back their full staff? If so, owners may need to invest more heavily in tech solutions to keep them safe. If they are just planning to reopen at 50% capacity, the investments may be better spent in videoconferencing solutions and work-at-home technology.
Armed with all this information, owners can determine the social distancing policies they should put in place, the COVID-19 screening methods they should implement in entrances, or whether their HVAC system needs to be upgraded to improve air filtration and circulation and more.
Bisnow How do you help property owners determine what tools they need for their specific property?
Wilkinson: Everything I just mentioned — determining the physical limitations of a space, discovering tenants’ plans and working out how the space will be used — can be a complicated process. At Layer 10, we help our clients through this by first sitting down with building stakeholders and walking through their vision of a typical “day in the life” of the people who occupy their building.
We discuss everyone who will walk through the doors, from tenants’ employees to guests to security personnel, and how each of them spends their day, starting with their arrival. Do they take public transit? Drive to work? Do they typically sit at their desk all day or move around and take meetings in conference rooms? Which restrooms get used the most? Are you keeping shared amenities open for them to use?
We use this analysis to establish how technology can enhance the experience. We then engage the marketplace to find the right tech partners who can deliver the best solutions, manage the deployment of those solutions and establish a comprehensive operational support model for management of the solutions long-term.
We’re not in the business of deploying technology for the sake of technology. The goal is to help every client find the technology that can make their day-to-day vision a safe reality in this new normal, or abnormal, as we call it.
Bisnow: How can these tools be used in a post-pandemic environment?
Wilkinson: When deciding where to place your investments, it’s critical to consider which technologies realize long-term benefits in a post-pandemic world. One example is touchless tech. This is the kind of solution that has long-term value, since people are always looking for ways to avoid high-touch areas during cold and flu seasons.
Upgrading conference room AV to include videoconferencing, especially as more employers move to partial remote workforces is worth strong considerations. Countless studies show how much more productive remote meetings are when video is incorporated.
Taking this one step further, imagine building a virtual training room that’s specifically designed to accommodate large numbers of remote attendees to re-create the in-person learning experience. While requiring a significant financial investment, the savings realized from reduced travel expenses make it worth considering.
We want to help property owners and developers think beyond the needs of right now. It’s not just about keeping tenants safe and productive during the pandemic, it’s also about planning for a better future.
This feature was produced in collaboration between the Bisnow Branded Content Studio and Layer 10 Consulting. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.