It also showed floating cities and a flying car that would defy physics by folding into a briefcase upon George’s arrival at his employer, Spacely Sprockets. From the landing lot, George would be ushered to his office via conveyor belt before being plopped into an oversize chair behind his semi-circular desk of the future. These were neat ideas that teased the imagination several decades ago, hinting at what the future of life and work might be like some day.
Before we get too carried away with what the future might look like, let’s pump the air brakes on our metaphorical flying car and look at some data. In a recent study by real estate professional services firm, JLL, it was revealed that 54 percent of people work at home more than five days a month and 33.6 percent work regularly in other places, including internet cafes, public libraries or co-working spaces. Given this, it’s surprising that futuristic George Jetson was still going to the office.
There’s no doubt that technology is a driver of change to societies, cultures and organizations. In fact, these advancements are changing how we go to work and where we go to work. It’s also changing the expectations on the work environment by employees. For instance, 67 percent of workers already use their personal devices in the workplace according to Microsoft (as reported by CBS MoneyWatch) and all expect to be able to connect to company WiFi and servers. However, according to telecommunications giant Avaya, at least 35 percent of companies say they are not prepared to determine the right “bring your own device” (BYOD) approach. The ubiquity of technology (it’s estimated that upwards of 80% of adults worldwide will own a smart phone over the next five years) is not only defining how businesses are run, but also driving real estate design and management and how businesses are using those spaces.
The trend for high tech office space that accommodates the worker is so prominent that Marie Puybaraud, PhD, JLL’s global head of research for corporate solutions and leader of the Future of Work project says, “All of our clients use real estate to recruit and retain talent—they actually see it as a weapon in the talent war.” She also notes that office spaces are increasingly competing with off-site workplaces, which may provide additional benefits like access to better technology, food courts or enticing environments where people may prefer to work. To be attractive to today’s business models, commercial buildings are going to need to accommodate these worker-based needs.
Some industries have been quicker to adapt their commercial properties to the changing technology needs of both employees and customers. Just recently, I noticed at the airport how entire sections of the waiting area have been converted into “cyber lounges” that include deeper more comfortable seats, charging stations and, in case you are traveling without your computer, rentable workstations ala an Internet café. Without a doubt, there’s hardly an airport today that hasn’t built technology infrastructure in order to provide WiFi access or at least make it available for a fee.
In the medical office building space, the expectations placed upon care providers and the facilities they occupy include requirements of a certain level of technology to make employees more efficient and enhance the patient experience. Availability of tech is so important that some healthcare providers are actually advertising spa-like offices where you’ll find the best of modern technology and comfortable amenities for an unsurpassed level of care. Big promises like these mean clinicians need bigger suites for imaging equipment, patient comfort and additional technical staff. Additionally, and somewhat uniquely to the healthcare industry, the number of regulations surrounding patient confidentiality and electronic medical records means private practices and hospitals, clinics and outpatient facilities all need to plan for dedicated space with regulated environments to house secure server farms and other technologies.
In other industries, the use of non-employees or contract employees are changing the landscape of traditional office design. Because of technology, these semi-frequent visitors to the “corporate office” may only occupy office space and parking space or avail themselves of building amenities like food service and dry cleaning a fraction of the amount that a traditional employee might. With the increase in employees who spend substantial amounts of time telecommuting, some companies have designed their workscapes with a hotdesk model. In case you’re not familiar, hotdesking it is the sharing of deskspace based on a first-come, first-serve basis or an advanced booking. A few companies have even made this a standard operating practice. Clearly, office space for the future needs to be adaptable so companies have the flexibility to manage both permanent and not-so-permanent workforces and use space efficiently. Japan may serve as a window to the future of hotdesking as 1-in-10 workers already work under this structure, according to JLL.
The impact of technology on the human experience is just one consideration for managing commercial real estate in the future. As new technologies like Internet of Things (IOT), biometrics and robotics become more prominent, properties are going to need to be adapted to accommodate these advances or at minimum, marketed in a way that says the space is “tech-ready”. While landing lots for our flying car is still probably a long way off, the industry may sooner need to figure out how to address the needs of electric cars, self-driving cars and drone deliveries. Whatever the next big tech trend is going to be, it will be exciting.