Richard Morris, director of technologywithin says that technology is key to providing attractive workspaces as employees return to the office

Technology is now a key structural component of commercial real estate, and truly “smart” office space is increasingly in demand, as companies place a premium on sustainability, as well as staff productivity and wellbeing.

As we look ahead to the post-pandemic era, businesses will also need their office buildings to provide cutting-edge digital infrastructure that will be capable of managing flexible working models and will provide a safe space for returning employees. Landlords who have invested in fostering a smart environment will be in prime position to offer these solutions and to reap the rewards in the months to come.

Staying alert to COVID-19

A roadmap out of lockdown is well underway throughout the UK, which means that businesses and employees alike are considering a return to the office. A look back over the last twelve months suggests that this move is likely to be widespread; according to data from the Office of National Statistics, almost two-thirds of workers began to go back to workspaces following the first national lockdown.

Buildings will need to meet exceptional hygiene standards and create a safe environment for employees on their return. Cutting-edge tech will be vital to this effort and, in turn, play a large part in encouraging tenants back to offices. Contactless infrastructure, for example, can minimise infection spread and boost confidence, while sensors can monitor space density, heat and movement throughout floors, all ensuring that workers feel safe as they return.

Prioritising wellbeing

The past twelve months have shown remote working to be a two-sided coin. Whilst reduced commutes have improved the work/life balance for many, working from home has many challenges. Indeed, a 2020 survey by Nuffield Health found that 80% of those surveyed felt that working from home has negatively impacted their mental health.

Smart digital infrastructure could also be key to protecting employee wellbeing now and in the years to come. Offices equipped with suitable AI-driven tech can ensure that workspaces are optimised to meet the needs of workers, offering careful control over environmental factors. One key factor of this is lighting – indeed, 33% of workers in a 2018 report said that better lighting would make them happier. However, this tech could also extend to heating and air quality systems, each proven to play an important part in worker wellbeing. Automatic sensors can constantly monitor for any necessary adjustments, ensuring that the workplace is a comfortable space.

Ensuring safe flexibility

Digital security is essential to ensuring that remote workers can work with real flexibility. As the number of employees working from home with third party devices grows, so too do privacy concerns, and a 2020 survey found that 57% of IT decision makers believe that remote workers will expose their firm to the risk of data breach. Smart offices will be key to reducing this risk.

Workspaces that have exceptional digital capabilities can ensure that workers are securely plugged into their businesses wherever they are located – whether that be at home, in the office or in a co-working flexspace – and are able to disconnect fully and safely when their working day is done. Software that can host large quantities of data and infrastructure that can provide reliable connectivity will be key to establishing adaptable working models that are likely to be integrated by many companies following COVID-19.

A sustainable focus

Sustainability is now a global priority, and changes to our cities will play a central role in achieving net-neutrality. Currently, the UK’s built environment accounts for around 40% of its carbon footprint, and technology will be at the heart of upgrading offices to be as eco-friendly as possible.

Smart buildings can integrate systems that constantly monitor energy usage, and both landlords and business owners should leverage this in-depth data to improve systems and reduce environmental impact. Tenants will increasingly be looking for workspaces that have sustainability as a core design value, and managers should leverage the wide variety of digital infrastructure options that can offer energy-efficient solutions to increased office use as the workforce returns.

A new workplace

Smart buildings offer solutions to many of the anxieties that will be affecting both businesses and workers as they face a return to the office. Technology can equip commercial real estate to offer safe and hygienic workspaces that are built with employee wellbeing firmly in mind, with the added advantage of addressing environmental considerations.

Office operators and landlords should take the opportunity to integrate digital tools that will be both appealing and reassuring to potential tenants. New business models will emerge post-pandemic, and companies will be looking to change their workspaces accordingly. Smart buildings can offer immediate benefits, but they will also prove highly attractive in the long-term.