January of every year seems to bring out the crystal ball gazers of every tech industry. A new year – and some would argue (incorrectly, but maybe that’s just me and Seinfeld 1) a new decade – gives rise to reflection as the last year closes and the annual cycle begins anew.
In the #PropTech world, we trade in clichés, writing about “the future of workplace,” “demands of tenant experience and Gen Z,” “next generation of building tech at the edge,” or some other such trope. That’s not to say that the prediction you’re about to read doesn’t fall beneath the umbrella of that philosophy. Like a nine-year-old falling into their ‘tween years, stumbling within, learning from, and raging against an ever-evolving world around them, so too does the world of smart workspace (to borrow Gartner’s official, all-encompassing label 2) enter a new phase in 2020. Gartner sees this, too, deciding in 2019 to advance “smart workspace”into the second phase of their famed Hype Cycle, the “Peak of Inflated Expectations.”
Looking back, we got a lot done in the 2010s. The market for workplace apps and occupant-facing smart building technology was born, iterated, grew, and grew some more. Seemingly overnight, CRE leaders of large occupier companies evolved from rolling Blackberries across the enterprise in 2010 to planning for mobile app POCs in 2018, per CBRE’s Americas Occupier Survey, to investing in provider partners at scale in 2019. Buildings like Deloitte’s “The Edge” set the early standard for connected buildings, and inspired competition worldwide continues to push forward creative, innovative thinking as we look to new ways to provide dynamic, adaptive space, meeting the agile ethos of “right space for the right work at the right time.” As with most ‘tweens, the next decade is going to present a number of challenges to the industry, and will also be a time of considerable new steps and evolution.
Factors Driving the Workspace Tech Roadmap into the ‘20s
As smart workspace roars into the ‘20s, a number of factors and prevailing winds will continue to guide focus, adoption, and overall value:
Now that the “Triforce of Performance” (defined as power outlets, fast internet, and good coffee) exists pretty much anywhere and not just at corporate offices, the number of employees who work remotely hit a tipping point toward more accelerated growth around 2007 . Companies today have to balance the modern employee’s traveling schedule and desire for flexible work with the need for maintaining a collaborative culture supported by the physical office. For someone who owns the digital workplace, you now have to factor virtual employees into your design of your stack including unified communication/collaboration (UCC), desktop apps, mobile apps, and network access.
A Growing Share of U.S. Employees Working from Home
SOURCES: IPUMS USA and authors’ calculations
NOTES: The data are for full-time employees who usually work from home and for the period 1980-2017.
The data excludes self-employed people.
FEDERAL RESERVE BANK OF ST. LOUIS
As of this writing, recession has not yet gripped a regional or global economy. As CBRE Capital Watch observed in December 4, the US enters 2020 in the middle of its longest period of economic expansion on record. That inflation has largely held at minimal levels and market growth has been slow and volatile has experts cautiously optimistic as to the timing of the next recession. As Capital Watch notes, “This is a quite different situation to any of the last four cycles in the last forty years.” For a still nearing-adolescent industry heavily dependent on favorable budget conditions like smart workspace, this is a (for now) good thing, but we can’t stay complacent. .
From the movies we stream (“Ex Machina” FTW) to the television we binge (“Westworld” and its brilliant “hosts,” for example), the world of the 2010s fully embraced the coming-soon, ubiquitous reality of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), and autonomous machines. While robots have a ways to go before Host hires them to work the mail room, a number of compelling use cases have emerged that I’m excited to watch and innovate in the coming years.
Four Rising Technologies of the '20s
Four technologies, in my view, will accelerate the impact of digitally-enabled FM and workplace services in the ‘20s, and they all focus on autonomous, potentially the next term du jour for the industry. The “smart workspace of the ‘20s” will learn, analyze, and (most importantly) automatically nudge users to a better workday. Ultimately, I see successful deployments of technology in the workplace targeting outcomes of employee performance and wellbeing, as well as operational efficiencies.
Dynamic Allocation of Your Work Day
According to a 2018 Gallup survey of 7,500 full-time employees 5, two of the five contributing factors to mental burnout are “unmanageable workload” and “unreasonable time pressure.” Technology could play a stronger, more proactive role in bringing more balance to your week by not only surfacing data around your work habits (how often you disconnect from email, messaging, and files, for example, as Microsoft has started with their MyAnalytics offering), but also by going a step beyond to dynamically optimize your calendar on your behalf to drive a greater presence of focus time. I list this opportunity first as it has the greatest potential impact for all workers, remote as well as in-building, and remote work grew quite sharply in the ‘10s. For the physical workspace, I see in the next year a world where a digital FM platform learns occupancy patterns from multiple sources (productivity suites like Office 365 and G Suite, collaboration software platforms like Zoom and WebEx, video conference hardware like Crestron, mobile app platforms like Host, occupancy sensor networks, and more) over time and then automatically assigns space based on aggregate characteristics like proximity of collaborators and amenity preference (whiteboard, video conference, etc.). Instead of patching problems like underutilized space and zombie rooms, the machine learning, smart workspace of the future – in conjunction with hospitality-focused people and processes – will optimize for the space needs of every occupant on its own. Those issues will effectively melt away at a certain point.
In addition to contributing to wellbeing of occupants by delivering to them the right space for the right work at the right time, this kind of dynamic assignment also allows for optimization of front-of-house services like janitorial and AV resets. A platform that knows the 10 out of 25 conference rooms that went unused in a given week can auto-generate a cleaning schedule accordingly to focus only on those high-traffic areas. Forward-leaning enterprise companies will take this a step further to shut down unused floors on days where “the algorithm” predicts occupant demand won’t warrant the spatial supply. The FM team won’t be prompted – the workspace platform will simply set the affected floors to “unoccupied” in the BAS, automatically reassign any meetings to similarly amenitized spaces on active floors, and notify users via a mobile app of their available space options.
Beyond the Dashboard with Digital Twins
Gartner estimates that the market for Digital Twins will triple by 2022 6. A digital representation of a physical object, the digital twin has found deep value and use in the manufacturing and aerospace worlds for many years. Given that buildings are effectively massive, physical systems of systems – both “building systems” and “business systems”– I’m highly confident that an ML-driven flavor of digital twin finds broader adoption for smart workspace and digitally enabled FM in the ‘20s. In addition to providing a “single pane of glass” view into the end-to-end operation of a facility, the digital twin affords the ability to go beyond the dashboard to forecast and predict how various systems would react to theoretical system changes or shocks. Imagine being able to predict the impact of 30% headcount growth on OpEx due to changes in energy consumption, space and conference room utilization, collaboration platform usage, janitorial needs, visitor volume, and more. It’s akin to running your own, hyperlocal version of SimCity just for your building, its underlying infrastructure, and everyone inside it.
Technology drove (pun intended) the advancement and evolution of the transportation industry in a very big way in the 2010s. We now have the ability, from our mobile devices, to order a car ride home, rent a bicycle or scooter, and visualize the next train or bus to arrive at any stop on its route. As more and more CRE end users build a “digital assistant” technology strategy for smart workspace (beyond just a “workplace app”), I see transit playing a big role as workspace platforms deliver outcomes that start when you wake up in the morning – not just when you hit the front door of the building. Office workers will start their day with a push notification letting them know to leave the house by 7:15 am in order to catch the train that will deliver them to the office just in time for their usual cup of Americano (which the platform automatically orders as they near the front door) and arrival to their 8:00 am meeting on the 34th floor. Thoughtful nudges will factor in real-time status like taxi availability, corp-orate shuttle “busy times,” and closeness of available rideshares, all based on historical learnings and predictive modeling inclusive of calendar data.
Spatial Anchors for FM
CREtech, ConTech, and PropTech circles have talked much about Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality (AR/MR) in the past two years. I see persistent spatial anchors as a big step toward bringing that technology to a more ubiquitous…reality…in the coming years. Leveraging anchors will ensure a consistent coordinate system to power a rich AR wayfinding experience for employees and guests alike. Further, I imagine a world where spatial anchors also tie into CMMS, so a responding building engineer or FM technician can see on their mobile device the exact point of space where an issue has been reported. Instead of using static text or images to guide users to a specific place, spatial anchors and MR will visually show them how to get there.
Conclusion: More (Autonomous) Work to Do
Much like adolescence, the next ten years of smart workspace will be hard. They’ll be marked by incredible growth, some stumbles and hardships, and ultimately, a period of development that we’ll all relish ten years from now. If Roko’s Basilisk holds true, an omnipresent AI will be writing a similar recap of the ‘20s, and they should know I was on their side the entire time.
1 When Does the New Decade Really Begin, 2020 or 2021?https://www.farmersalmanac.com/new-decade-2020-or-2021-100900. Accessed 13th December 2019.
2 Hype Cycle for the Digital Workplace, 2019. Gartner. https://www.gartner.com/en/documents/3953515/hype-cycle-for-the-digital-workplace-2019. Accessed 13th December 2019.
3 “Working From Home: More Americans are Telecommuting” https://www.stlouisfed.org/publications/regional-economist/third-quarter-2019/working-home-more-americans-telecommuting. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Accessed 14th January 2020.
4 “How Much Longer Can the Record Economic Expansion Last?” https://www.cbre.com/investor-hub/how-much-longer-can-the-record-economic-expansion-last?article=%7B645A3BA5-F1E7-41A2-9586-D26943156EE7%7D&feedid=a1151dde-0511-4ff2-909b-438ced7dbc5e. Accessed 20th January 2020.
5 “Employee Burnout, Part 1: The Five Main Causes.” https://www.gallup. com/workplace/237059/employee-burnout-part-main-causes.aspx. Accessed 16th December 2019.
6 “Gartner Survey Reveals Nearly Half of Organizations Implementing IoT Are Using or Plan to Use Digital Twin Initiatives in 2018.” https://www.gartner. com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2018-03-13-gartner-survey-reveals-nearly-half-of-organizations-implementing-iot-are-using-or-plan-to-use-digital-twin-initiatives-in-2018. Accessed 16th December 2019.