How Workplace Tech Can Support The Return To The Office (Proxyclick for Forbes)
Written by Gregory Blondeau, CEO and Founder of Proxyclick, the leading provider of enterprise visitor management software.
Commercial real estate felt like a roller-coaster ride this past year. After a slow, steady climb, it hit a drop-off no one saw coming. Lockdowns, empty buildings and general fears of public spaces became commonplace. While some of these post-Covid-19 occupancy changes are transitory, others are likely here to stay.
One thing is for sure, though, commercial real estate took a big of a hit as any industry.
This sudden market downturn caused many commercial real estate (CRE) brands to take a long, hard look at office space strategies for the future. Working for an enterprise visitor software company, I saw firsthand that “smart” workplace tech and integrated people flow management systems became a central theme of discussion.
Proactive CRE leaders are preparing now for the massive changes (and opportunities) that lie ahead. In thinking about what return-to-the-office plans might be, I believe many companies have realized that safety and productivity cannot be mutually exclusive goals. As we move forward, there are a few areas CRE leaders will need to consider in regard to the new work environment and the role technology can play.
Commercial Real Estate Might Be Down (But Not Out)
There’s no denying that the pandemic wreaked havoc on office space occupancy. My company, Proxyclick, surveyed over 300 CRE professionals around the globe in the final quarter of 2020 and found that 74% of CRE managers said less than half of their properties were currently occupied. Furthermore, 52% felt only “somewhat prepared” to provide safe and healthy environments for the eventual return to the office.
With the drastic shift to remote operations, many are questioning whether office space will eventually be needed at all. If it is, what about the decades-old trend of densification (allotting less space per employee) and the push for increased social distancing?
The advantages of working from home (no commute, more flexibility, better productivity) were all the rage when the pandemic began. Yet, as time wore on, some of the benefits lost a bit of their luster. Granted, home offices work for some, but many employees crave office camaraderie and the collaborative nature of multiple teams working under one roof.
In fact, a Harvard Business School survey found that, while not everyone wants to return to the office, 79% of employees prefer at least a partial return with two or three days in the office. Therefore, I believe it’s safe to say that traditional office space won’t be going away anytime soon.
Merging CRE With Existing Workplace Technologies
A bright spot in the occupancy dilemma is that many commercial real estate firms already have technologies in place to create flex-space scenarios. However, the key is in centralizing many of the disparate tools and services they currently use. One of our solutions, for example, helps organizations manage visitor, employee and contractor flow using a single integrated platform, all while simultaneously collecting health screenings, managing workspace density and regulating secure workspace access.
ID badge sensors, digital kiosks and QR code registration options have been around for years, and the pandemic accelerated the expansion of these technologies to improve people flow management. According to our survey, 85% of respondents believe that technology will play a vital role in return-to-work planning, especially when it comes to remote registration, touchless check-ins, person presence, and employee health and safety.
Any building owner looking to future-proof their premises for a post-pandemic future should do a thorough assessment of building technologies. There are many platforms out there to explore. It’ll be critical to find one that has integration capabilities in order to seamlessly fit into your existing stack.
The Challenges Of Centralizing People Flow Management Solutions
While employing such tools is great, they lose much of their value operating in silos. Our survey data indicates that 87% of CRE experts believe only half (or less) of their workplace tech solutions integrate with one another. This pitfall has the potential to make each less effective, negatively impact visitor experiences and increase health/safety risks.
I find that some business leaders hesitate to adopt people flow management solutions, believing they are too complex to integrate or may become unnecessary after the pandemic passes. True, many providers used Covid-19 to rush new services to market, which did not fully deliver on their promises. However, the best vendor management system (VMS) solutions have been around for years and simply needed minor revisions to accommodate pandemic workflows.
I believe these concerns highlight the need for flexible, software as a service (SaaS)-based solutions that can be scaled up or down as needed. And as I mentioned, looking for flexibility in regard to integrations with your current stack should be a major consideration when choosing a technology.
Large enterprises will likely always need to maintain a physical presence somewhere. However, the future of the office space will look different. Hybrid and flex-space office models were here before Covid-19 and will likely continue to grow in the future. Returning to the office won’t be an either-or proposition, but rather a combination of on-site and remote work options that fit both organizational and employee needs.
I believe smart technology will play a crucial role in the office of tomorrow for safety, attendance management and proper workspace density. People flow systems are leading this change by providing enterprise organizations occupancy control and workspace flexibility at scale. CRE leaders who recognize this opportunity are poised to capitalize on this market shift and strengthen their brand positioning.