Tech-enabled offices can give workers confidence to return

As home working has become the new normal, how can staff be enticed back to the office? Spaceflow’s Lukas Balik tells Nicol Dynes why technology is the answer.

The office is here to stay, but when the disruption caused by Covid-19 ends it will be smarter, more high tech and safer. 

“It is possible to have a better life in buildings and to be ready for the new normal,” says Lukas Balik, co-founder and CEO of proptech company Spaceflow. 

Research from JLL, LeaseQuery and KPMG shows the impact the pandemic has had on the office sector: in London, take-up has declined by 61% compared to the 10-year annual average, while in Germany take-up in the first three quarters of the year declined by 37.4% compared to the same period in 2019.

The situation is not much different in the US, where 31% of tenants have reduced their footprint this year. Globally, 69% of CEOs are thinking about reducing the amount of office space they use.

“The future looks uncertain for the post-pandemic office market,” says Balik. “Landlords need to act to bring people back to the office.”

‘We needed to push tech to landlords, now they are approaching us with a clear idea of what they want and need.’

Lukas Balik, Spaceflow

People have adapted to remote working, with more than 90% of employees and executives feeling that productivity is the same or greater when working from home, according to CBRE figures. And 85% of employees say they would prefer to work remotely at least two or three days a week in future.

No one-size-fits-all 

“There will be no one-size-fits-all for remote policies, as 54% of company leaders prefer a hybrid arrangement for their team that combines working from home and from the office,” says Balik. “But the office is here to stay, as 60% of respondents will return for the sense of community and collaboration.”

Offices will become more data focused and community oriented. To attract employees back, landlords should leverage existing technologies and partner with proptech specialists to keep up with evolving tenant demands on safety, wellbeing and efficiency.

This is an area Balik has targeted with Spaceflow. “Our vision is to be the world’s leading and most innovative proptech company, driving sustainable transformation of life in buildings,” he says. “Our mission is to build unique ecosystems by connecting buildings with their occupants to enable seamless access to services, amenities and smart features.”

He describes Spaceflow as an entry-level platform through which asset owners can immediately start to digitise individual buildings or an entire portfolio.

The pandemic has accelerated demand: “We now have 1,000 buildings in the pipeline, waiting to be transformed,” says Balik. “We needed to push tech to landlords, now they are approaching us with a clear idea of what they want and need. Things have changed and it’s an exciting time to be in proptech.”

There are three elements to delivering the experience tenants want: first, the administration console, with all the data on how space is used; second, the end-user mobile app, which allows access to all services; third, community engagement support that helps operators through the transformation process.

Engaging remotely

“Landlords should engage remotely, using the communication toolkit to manage relationships with tenants on a daily basis, engaging with them even when they are working from home,” Balik explains. 

After intensive cleaning of office space, for example, timely information is the most important thing tenants expect. Keeping them engaged gives them confidence to return to the office. 

“Another tool is the dashboard with analytics which drives daily operations, collecting the data on occupancy, energy consumption and so on and translating them into practical things to do, with requirements specific to each building,” adds Balik.

One feature companies are requesting now given health and safety concerns is Spaceflow’s touch-free technology, which offers hands-free access to buildings, lifts and all services. Visitors can also sign up and enter the building securely without having to meet anyone. The technology also facilitates 24/7 contactless parcel delivery with instant notification. 

At Allianz’s building in Vienna, Austria – The Icon – Spaceflow’s platform is communicating with in-place tech tools to offer managers better access to data, in order to uncover the full scope of tenant needs. (Image: Allianz)

Room and hot-desk booking, which is increasingly useful to a flexible and rotating workforce, is also in demand. 

In a project undertaken with Allianz, the Spaceflow app is providing real-time occupancy data to help with social distancing. Employees can see how busy the canteen is, for example, and avoid it when it’s too crowded. 

Surveys show that 73% of people are concerned about going back to the office because they fear for their health. Technology can deliver quick solutions to reassure them. 

“It’s all part of establishing trust and giving people confidence that the building is safe,” says Balik. “Using technology as well as polls and surveys to have data on tenant satisfaction and what services they like is much better than relying on assumptions.”