The smartest building is one that places no burden on humans, enables choice and is carbon efficient. Imagine a scenario where the meeting room instantly recognises its occupants, the screen comes up with your apps, nobody is battling with cables or scrambling on the floor to find power and where the wireless is quick and consistent. Technology in the workplace should remove the obstructions and inconveniences that feel inextricable from daily working life and provide new data to help people to do their best work every day.
In truth, we only accept the clumsy, inefficient nature of traditional work because that’s all we’ve ever known. For millions of people, the daily routine is almost identical. They suffer public transport or motorway traffic at rush hour, they sit at the same desk every morning, and they fight in vein with the tools (spaces and technology) that they are given to do their jobs. It’s all become second nature. Even those that have had ‘agile working’ working thrust on them have experienced a poorly implemented crammed, space driven ‘hot desk’ model and not the joyous experience we need.
For business functions like corporate real estate (CRE), however, there is opportunity in this monotony. By driving workplace change, real estate leaders could help to transform their organisations and demonstrate the new value of their discipline.
Consider what happens after mergers & acquisitions (M&A). Ordinarily, business leaders will turn to their CRE teams as part of cost-out strategy, asking them to rationalise space in order to save money. Typically, they’ll revel in doing property deals. But bringing disparate communities under the same roof after an M&A event also provides organisations with an ideal opportunity to modernise, unify cultures, increase employee mobility and introduce effective new technologies. It’s represents a moment in time when CRE functions can demonstrate a greater level of business savvy and become an agent for cultural fusion and transition beyond the cost save through transactions.
Smart building technology has a pivotal role to play when it comes to implementing and adjusting to new ways of working. Change of any kind has the potential to unsettle people who have grown accustom to working in a certain rigid and systemised way over a long period of time. Moving to a flexible work environment might free people from their fixed desks, but this can also create uncertainty around the location of colleagues, tools or available space. Providing information to workers about the location of teams and availability of spaces via the installation of sensors that monitor occupancy across the workplace can help remove uncertainty and bring visibility of spaces that would simply not have been visible by eye. This capability, therefore, empowers users to make better informed decisions about how and where they work. In high-rise buildings, where organisations might occupy multiple floors, the level of visibility that this type of technology creates will save employees a great deal of time and energy.
Similarly, information provide via screens or apps provide data on the noise levels, temperature and humidity levels using sensors that monitor the varying environmental conditions within the workplace provide workers with new information to guide their choice of space in an agile workplace based on their tasks and personal preferences.
Making it stick
Organisations that want to introduce new ways of working must consider how they might impact every employee and communicate their plans effectively. Without the right guidance, people are more likely to misunderstand the company’s vision. Be clear with people about what’s being ‘sensed’, what the business is doing with the data, and how it can support their own working day. This will stop colleagues from jumping to the conclusion that the new smart system is a ‘Big Brother’ tool.
Yet, change of this magnitude can neither be piecemeal nor implemented overnight. Too many CRE and workplace teams still believe that sending a few emails and walking around with a set of nice slides constitutes a job well done in the change management department. This is far from the truth. The goal for should be to start conversations across the entire organisation. Project leaders must create a community of experts that can listen to and engage with the workforce so that they can communicate the why, the where, the when, and the how of the transition to the increasingly digital workplace. It is only possible to show people the benefits of a transformation by first identifying their frustrations, habits and expectations. The objective should be help people see the whole change rather than the bit that affects and, most likely, scares them. The vision of choice and frictionless working is pretty compelling if the story is told right and engagement is deep.
Finally, workplace change will only stick through patience and perseverance. Lots of organisations fail to realise that new models of working or technology can only become natural over time. Leave employees to their own devices and it won’t be long before their drift back to their old habits, scrambling on the floor looking or a plug socket. Ultimately, even in this age of anxiety and the heightened expectations around technology, its principle aim for work remains the same: to give people the tools and information that make their jobs easier.