Corporate: Tech first?

In the changing realm of work, flexibility is key. Inavate discovers how technology can revolutionise the slow-moving world of real estate if it is discussed earlier.

When it comes to creating and establishing a modern place of work, should technology come before real estate? Many integrators will tell you that the AV side is often considered an afterthought when it comes to designing and creating spaces. This means that technology is late to the party and has to fight fires that could be avoided if tech became part of the conversation at an earlier stage.

Getting real

There has been a lot of disruption over the past two years, so could the build process be disrupted as well?

Matt Makan, channel partner manager, Space Connect, believes that technology can be used as a method to save both space and money in an era when the cost of office space is reaching unprecedented highs. Makan says: “I don’t see how, in today’s world, that tech can’t come before real estate. I now see tech has a new role in corporate real estate because space is expensive wherever you are.

“The assumption that one person needs one desk doesn’t hold true anymore, the assumption that ten people in a meeting will be in a meeting room [physically] just isn’t true anymore, I see technology as an enabler.”

Technology being an enabler is being recognised and the approach to technology is changing. Jacob Pereira, head of channels and alliances, Asia Pacific, Zoom, explains: “It’s all about what fits your business and what makes your team succeed. Over the last two years, we’ve learned a few things and people have learned to adapt to working from home or remotely. Real estate has one fundamental flaw which is capacity, it’s how we redefine capacity and you have to adapt as fast as you can.

“For example, when the pandemic was raging, court rooms had to go hybrid, so we’ve seen a huge adoption of how court rooms have gone hybrid to expedite cases. At Zoom, we also piloted programs around the globe to have hybrid workspaces for our teams to work. It’s not a one size fits all [solution], we still need real estate to play a huge part and we’ve seen multiple versions of [hybrid workspaces].”

Christopher Lim, general manager, Esco, believes that with hybrid workspaces coming to the fore means we have to start talking about tech earlier. He says: “Esco primarily operates in the enterprise and videoconferencing space as an integrator and we have seen some steps in the right direction in terms of the perspective of technology and the role it plays.

“A lot of the time, when you go for a meeting, there’s generally already a floor plan and the space allocations have already been talked out. When we talk to the client about what to install, the technology we recommend is going to be limited by pre-decided factors such as room dimensions, furniture placement and other design related issues. It’s not really a coherent workplace strategy per se. When you’re investing in technology that enables hybrid working, it may still not be utilised properly, as a room may only be around 20% occupied. Organisations need to plot an adoption plan for the workforce, educate them on how these systems are easy to use and scale up.”

Changing perspectives

Ensuring that the technology is in the right place at the right time is of paramount importance, but what does this look like from the client’s side? While some clients may have worked a particular way for several years, some are looking to change mindsets to build a more technology-conscious workspace.

Jonathan Wright, director, flexible workspace consulting, Asia Colliers International, explains: “Real estate moves quite slowly and at Colliers most of the clients we deal with are large corporate customers. They are hamstrung by the fact that they cannot change their real estate [quickly] until they have a lease event.

“We’re seeing the tip of the iceberg right now because the people that have those lease events are reassessing what their strategy is, using space differently. There will be more of that to come, landlords are aware of this and are changing. Some of the landlord clients I work with are looking at how they can make a building better through shared amenities, meeting rooms, better wellness facilities etc. Everything is now very market specific, a real estate solution in Hong Kong may look very different to a solution in Singapore as each market is different.”

Makan adds: “The clients we interact with are corporate occupiers and one of the biggest concerns for them during the pandemic is flexibility. Because corporate real estate moves slowly, the question becomes how do they introduce that flexibility? We adopted a very flexible approach that allows our clients to either scale up or scale down the use of their services depending on what government advice [around Covid-19 legislation] is or staff demand to return to the office.

“If you’re going to be putting in a solution, you have to engage with your employees to find out what tech they are using that makes their lives easier and what they can use in a working environment. There’s also a wealth of information out there as to what historical trends were in terms of usage, looking at average occupancy, meeting room usage and more. You need to look at what fit-for-purpose solutions are out there to get that accurate information.”

Pereira says: “The future of tech and real estate is a gradual shift, it’s not going to be a tech-centric view [overnight] but a lot of companies will put more effort into this and once you have more thought leadership within these companies, they will naturally gravitate to thinking about use cases for technologies which will benefit all of us.”

Making the change

As technology takes greater precedence in the build process, how does a build project play out and progress to completion? What would be the new ‘natural order’?

Lim clarifies: “In terms of the technologies, there are a few key priorities: we need to establish a good use case for the customer, then move on to the hardware. It needs to have good quality and be futureproof, ideally supporting two or more platforms. The technology also needs to be scalable. When you’re talking about enterprise scalability, you need to go the whole way, those are key priorities for us.”

Wright says: “Historically, we’ve always had flexible workspaces in a building on a traditional lease between landlord and operator, but we are now seeing more management type agreements and partnerships. You’re never going to get to a point where people can fluidly use space because real estate doesn’t work like that, but we can do better. My job is to make sure that those deals are structured in the right way to remove as much friction for the end user as possible.”

Makan closes: “It’s all about having conversations and figuring out what you want in your environment. Gone are the days of employees working in a basic office space. It’s about stripping it back to people and finding out what clients want.

“It’s about opening up and just asking them: what do you want to see in your environment? What wasn’t working for you before and what do we need to do to enable you to be the best possible productive self in the office space that you can be? We’re in a technological world these days so it’s not just the four walls around us, but the entire world.”

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