Smartphone entry, health centres up the ante in office buildings

Service and technology are reaching new levels in the office to enable a happier and more efficient workforce

October 07, 2019

Offices with meditation classes, dry cleaning, and shower facilities broke the standard for the modern workplace. But such services have increasingly become the norm at work around the world, leaving landlords and corporations reaching for new conveniences and comforts to lure tenants and employees.

The latest buildings are taking advantage of technology – like building access through a mobile phone app – while ever more space is being dedicated to communal areas.

“It takes more than a ping-pong table in a break room to impress these days. In this high-stakes business environment, landlords are working with organisations to raise the bar,” says Kate Pilgrim, Director, Tenant Representation, JLL. “They are having to think much more broadly about what amenities are perceived as enablers of efficient and happier workforces.”

In 22 Bishopsgate, one of London’s newest office towers, around 10 per cent of space will be communal facilities such as a gym, food market, innovation hub, health-treatment centre and flexible office space. In the past, the allocation was a fraction of the space, typically a cluster of comfy chairs in the lobby.

Australian property group Charter Hall will have smartphones replace swipe cards for access to the GPO Exchange building in Adelaide. Its Wesley Place precinct in Melbourne will have real-time dashboards in the lobbies and lifts for workers to access information.

More than six million people across Europe, the U.S. and Canada now work in buildings certified by WiredScore – a digital connectivity rating scheme that verifies landlords’ investment in technology and infrastructure to ensure better digital connectivity. 

“We’re seeing building owners who want to compete for high quality tenants responding with the next generation of tech-based initiatives,” says Pilgrim. “The demand for data from consumers, cloud-based services and smart building IoT devices is increasing exponentially. I don’t really see this slowing down.”

Work meets life meets tech

More than a third of organisations globally have already started implementing a digital-first approach to business processes, operations and customer engagement, according to the 2018 IDG report State of Digital Business Transformation. And around 85 percent of decision-makers believe that if they don’t digitally transform within the next 24 months, they’ll fall behind the competition and take a hit on their bottom line, says a report from Progress Software.

The challenge is integrating this into office design.

“Where we’re moving is toward facial recognition entry that will let employees walk in without fumbling passes,” says Pilgrim. “Visitors will be texted a QR code for entry, everyone will be able to control air conditioning from their desks.

“As long as buildings have a strong fibre optic backbone, landlords and tenants can implement whatever technologies deliver the best value and the best experience at the time,” she says.

Crucially, technology does not come at the expense of service. In ISPT’s Central Plaza building in Brisbane, concierge is on hand to make dinner reservations. At Charter Hall’s 570 Bourke Street in Melbourne, parcel lockers help businesses accommodate the growing number of packages being delivered to employees. Lendlease’s International Towers in Sydney offers a complimentary justice of the peace service.

Workers can typically access information they need about a building and its services with an app, just one in a suite of digital tools helping landlords – and employers – achieve optimum levels of service and insight, Pilgrim says.

“Apps are providing convenience and personalisation to the end user, as well as providing landlords and employers real time data – along with data from sensors and security access systems - to help landlords determine how many people are in a building at any given time. This can help them make appropriate adjustments to things such as temperature and lighting, and also help them determine the profile of building users so they can tailor retail and amenity offers,” she says.

Cost and collaboration

Speaking at a JLL event on global commercial real estate trends, Andrew Borger, Head of Office Service Developments, Charter Hall, notes these innovations come with costs, which need to be balanced with the needs of individual businesses.

“Every day we are sent new technology ideas to consider and it’s very easy to get caught up and obsess with what these ideas are,” he says. “But our priority is achieving productivity gains for our organisations. At the same time we have to look at things with a cost lens and try to get the best bang for our buck for tenants.”

Collaboration also helps. In trying to achieve new digitally-driven premium standards, investors are increasingly taking the opportunity to collaborate with tenants.

“We’re seeing a lot of co-design with users,” says Gavin Philips, Head of Flex and Urban Ecosystems, JLL Asia Pacific. “It’s the perfect way to prototype new technology assumptions. Ensuring what goes live solves real problems, rather than perceived opportunities, this approach should increase take-up.

“It’s putting human beings at the centre of design and it’s massively important.”

How will office demand evolve?