Months in this global pandemic, many questions remain about whether and when companies of all sizes return to their offices and what will be required of the move. The future is so unclear that even people impregnated in the real estate sector don’t have all the answers, even if they are starting to make weighted assumptions about what will happen next.
A large number of new data that will be released tomorrow by the giant of the commercial real estate services CBRE underlines the somewhat schizophrenic situation that employees will face. Based on CBRE studies conducted on 200 companies around the world that claim to be returning to the office, 59% say they will provide cover for their employees, 28% plan to request face cover at all times, 21% will allow visitors to the workplace early in the reopening and 13% will screen employees on-site at each facility.
How companies get back to the office
However, deciding exactly the right patchwork of social removal measures is only one piece of the picture. Until a vaccine capable of eradicating COVID-19 materializes, organizing office spaces will be just as demanding as companies try to strike a balance between employee safety and some semblance of normality. In fact, the only certainty for many management teams is that they need to make some changes. Among the many questions that CBRE asked in its survey, the most uniform answers focused on how many companies plan to establish space use policies that reflect social distancing (80%) and how many plans to reconfigure their furniture layouts ( 60%).
Presumably, many will abandon breakrooms and even cafes. Others will try to ensure that employees are spaced at least one and a half meters apart or to invite people to work in shifts. But also expect many more changes, suggesting that venture capitalists who focus on real estate and construction technology and who are currently focusing on which technologies will be most in demand in the coming months and years.
Among the most focused of these outfits are Fifth Wall Ventures and Brick and Mortar Ventures, two companies that have emerged on the scene in recent years and are following closely what is happening for both professional and personal reasons.
Darren Bechtel, for example, who announced Brick and Mortar’s $ 97.5 million venture capital fund just nine months ago, is working on an Airstream trailer in the driveway of a rental property where he, his wife and their children live because they both have business calls to be made during the day.
While running in and out is far from ideal, says Bechtel, he is not ready to reopen the Brick and Mortar Bay Area offices soon, although California will gradually reopen the state. “We are in no hurry; I am wrong on the side of being excessively conservative.” (Virtual happy hours also help, he says.)
Brendan Wallace, co-founder of Los Angeles Fifth Wall, is equally hesitant in forcing employees to return to the office too early and suggests that it is a decision with which he and co-founder Brad Greiwe struggle, even if they have been “optimistically surprised by the productivity of the our team is in a remote working environment. ”
Part of both companies’ reluctance appears to stem from knowledge of their offices – like many others – may need to be redesigned. In fact, although office design activities aren’t adventurous bets, Wallace notes that the need now to consider employee movement flows should mean a brisk activity for those outfits.
Scalable technologies are more interesting to both investors and also, in today’s environment, suddenly more compelling for building owners, managers and developers. Both Wallace and Bechtel mention advanced air purifiers and air treatment units used to re-condition and circulate air as part of a heating, ventilation and air conditioning, as an area of growing interest, to example.
Wallace also expects commercial spaces that were already adopting all kinds of smart technologies to install them much more aggressively, from sensors that can determine how many people are in a room or going through a turnstile, to facial recognition technology that helps keep the physical points contact to a minimum. Even imagine that more companies will embrace robots, to patrol buildings and perhaps even to clean them.
Companies now “have to take responsibility for tenants they didn’t have before,” says Wallace. And while they “try to adapt [their spaces] more ambitiously, we want to be at the forefront. ”
Bechtel, for his part, thinks that the industry could see the demand for individual private offices or much larger conference rooms to meet new safety or personal health concerns.
He also thinks that now may be the time for companies of materials that produce, say, antimicrobial fabrics. “People have developed [related] greener materials for some time but there was no demand for it, “he says.
Since brick and mortar activities largely focus on construction technology, it will also examine more vigorously the ways in which construction firms can improve workplace safety and improve productivity as they are re-imaging the spaces they have to be redone. This could mean anything from contact tracking to reality acquisition software that creates 3D models from photos and laser scans.
It could also mean an increase in demand for off-site prefabricated buildings. “If you are limited by how many people can work in the field and you have to put controls for people who don’t work on top of each other, the question becomes: how can you do the work in a more controlled environment, with an HVAC system of a new generation [to purify the air] and marks on the floor? ”
Says Bechtel, “People are now saying,” How much can we prepare out of the office? “”
There is no doubt that much of this technology and its adoption will depend on how long it will take a vaccine that can eradicate COVID-19 to materialize. If one were to arrive faster than expected, already cash-strapped companies could see major changes in their physical spaces as a lower priority. It is human nature to be quickly forgotten.
“There are only 75 days left,” says Wallace. “There is still a lot of information that needs to come to light,” he adds, pointing out that at a fundamental level, nobody knows yet whether people will return to their offices en masse or instead continue to work remotely. “What happens in the office, I don’t know, I’m just being honest,” he says.
However, with the reopening of economies, businesses, universities and other institutions will have to have an attack plan to prevent the spread of the virus and some will presumably lead to permanent changes.
Investors hope so. Right now, Wallace says, “Buildings are stupid. For the most part, they exist only to keep heat and air conditioning.” Wallace predicts that if something good emerges from this situation, it could make buildings smarter. and safe and able to adapt to health risks like this.