A number of topics were discussed during Commercial Observer’s recent virtual event, “The Bottom Line: Proptech Reinventing the Workplace,” but one took center stage — prioritizing the tenant experience. Discussions during the event focused on how landlords and employers can attract, and maintain, workers during this modern, evolving era. Proptech, or property technology, was repeatedly mentioned as a solution, Commercial Observer reports.
“COVID has really turned proptech into a tale of two cities,” Sandy Jacolow, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Empire State Realty Trust, told Commercial Observer Editor-in-Chief Max Gross during the forum’s opening event, “Welcome to the Office of the Future — Winning Top Talent with Creative Spaces.”
Jacolow noted his “tale of two cities” thought was about how the COVID-19 pandemic has had a positive and negative impact on the built environment. On one hand, it prompted more contactless services, which has helped make buildings safer and more efficient and developed new ways for people to enter properties. The downside is staffing challenges, fewer resources and smaller in-person workforces have hindered other parts of CRE development, according to Jacolow.
Landlords and developers must identify specific issues if they want to best leverage the proptech tools available to them, Jacolow said. It’s also important they look for long-term solutions and not quick fixes. Additionally, any company that isn’t keeping up with the times and using the top long-term digital tools may have a tough time surviving or could be forced to merge with another enterprise.
A merger might not be the worst thing for some businesses, Jacolow said during the panel. Sometimes consolidation leads to more ideas, which can yield better products and more cohesive and viable company.
Making buildings more desirable to tenants
Landlords also have an opportunity to use proptech to create building amenities and give their property the feel of a hospitality venue, panelists at Commercial Observer’s “Aligning Workplace Strategies with Evolving Tenant Expectations” event said. Property technology can make a building more desirable and move tenant experience higher up a landlords’ priority list.
For example, geographical access should be a leading factor in any return-to-the-office strategy, according to AJ Greulich, director of workplace and real estate for the U.S. and Canada, at Uber. Employees come into the office from all different areas and taking a rideshare service like Uber isn’t always possible, or even realistic.
That means employers have to find ways to earn their workers’ commute, said Shelly Just, director of implementation at workplace experience software company HqO. In turn, landlords are incentivized to meet, and even exceed, tenants’ expectations if they want their buildings to remain somewhere that people want to lease space.
“We recognize that we’re competing against the convenience of working from home,” added Peter Van Emburgh, senior vice president and global head of real estate for CBRE.
In order to win the competition against remote work, businesses have to buy the right workplace proptech, but also consider environmental impact and climate-resident building strategies, Commercial Observer reports. The multifaceted approach covers a lot of tenants’ desires, while also remaining general in scope.
CRE owners must recognize that what might work for one firm might not for another, however. For example, two businesses might offer a hybrid work schedule, but one sets the days where employees must work in person, while the other leaves the decision up to its staff. These differences lead Emre Somnez, head of product at space measuring platform Density, to ask, “How do people vote with their feet?” He noted that this thinking is common when it comes to determining how to best align tenant demands with company culture and identity.
Company culture can determine if an employee returns to the office or not
Panelists at the “Bridging the Gaps in a Hybrid World” forum agreed that a company’s culture can impact if a tenant wants to work in the office. Lisa Bevacqua, executive vice president and director of asset management at developer Silverstein Properties, noted that the desire for in-person work can vary by generation, however. Younger employees might prefer to work at the office for the face-to-face collaboration and mentorship opportunities. Older employees might want to remain working remotely. Businesses have the tough job of balancing an entire workforce’s wants in order to maintain a happy office environment.
“I think the problem with the debate about hybrid work is that it was always defined by extremes,” Ethan Chernofsky, vice president of marketing for location data company Placer.ai, said during the discussion.
Chernofsky also pointed out that prior to the pandemic, worker flexibility and the hybrid option was a rarity. With today’s opportunities to find middle ground, small but impactful changes bode well for the future. And while amenities like pool tables and bean bag chairs are nice, a good company culture comes from treating employees professionally and with respect — and offering flexibility. Any digital amenities should be deployed strategically, with retention being the main goal.
“I think the tenant experience is every aspect of their work life,” said Chris James, senior vice president of business development for technology company Essensys. “And I think that begins from day one, once they’ve signed on the dotted line.”