Following the radical shift in working practices thrust upon businesses by the pandemic, power is slowly but certainly moving from owners to tenants. Owners must compete for a smaller number of tenants, which will drive an emphasis on services as well as flexibility.
If owners cannot give people a good reason to come back to their buildings, they will go elsewhere. And If owners refuse to provide legal flexibility to occupiers, alternative models will become the new norm.
The ability to be flexible and adapt to change rests on knowledge you have. Building owners must get to know buildings and tenants better. They will need thorough, reliable, real-time data to make decisions that improve occupiers’ experience and make cost savings.
This requires a change of mindset and a network of physical objects capable of gathering data such as sensors that record occupancy or motion, or devices on equipment such as lifts or escalators that signal wear and tear.
These real-time adjustments will make buildings more economical and help create a seamless experience for occupiers. The data gathered will make owners’ decisions much more rational and practical, and bring about a new mindset.
But to flourish in the post-pandemic era, owners also need a vision for their buildings to separate them from competitors.
They have to forge an identity occupiers can form a relationship with, as consumers do with clothing or tech brands.
WeWork and Workspace are good examples; you always know when you’re in one of their buildings, but they often go further by matching the identity of a location to its area, while remaining faithful to the brand. Commercial real estate owners can learn from this.
We’re likely to see real estate explore diversity within buildings. We could see food halls and offices share a home. We may see a quiet space on one floor and a busy event space on another.
People are less likely to leave a building if all or many of their needs are met in a single space. It is also more economical for owners to have multi-purpose than single-purpose buildings, especially if the latter are rarely full.
Owners will need to make offices ‘pandemic-friendly’ and flexible, by constantly adjusting the number of desks and perhaps meeting rooms, or by installing hands-free technology, such as IoT or facial recognition devices for security and following up when an issue arises.
The importance of creative roles in commercial real estate may increase so owners can make buildings look and feel different. And at least in the medium term, there will be a need for someone to interpret data from IoT devices and make adjustments.
This opens the door to a wider discussion about city life and the built world, as well as collaboration between owners, tenants, proptech brands, designers and architects.
Real estate may become more ‘borderless’, demanding overlapping skills and experience. And in many areas of work and life post-Covid, not just real estate, there may be a change in mindset towards a vision of the world that is evolving, alive and interrelated.
Jade Francine is co-founder of WeMaintain