Commercial Real Estate Investors Consider The Office of the Future; In the Age of Coronavirus, Is The Future Already Here?

In commercial real estate, everyone is talking about the (perhaps) permanent shift and acceptance of work-from-home dynamics. A recent UBS Office Real Estate report quoted a Marcus & Millchap study that estimated the number of people working from home leapt from the historically long-term average of 3.5% to April 2020’s report of 43%. It is right to think about the long-term implications this trend may have on commercial real estate, but I believe there are other seismic shift coming to commercial real estate as well. In my early career, I spent all of my time as an entrepreneur, looking for industries to innovate. It became ingrained in me to look for ways to add massive value and bring something completely new, to solve fundamental problems. More recently, my focus has been on commercial real estate, but I can’t seem to shake my desire for innovation, left over from my most entrepreneurial endeavors. As I am now fully ensconced in the commercial real estate world, I can’t help but envision some of the changes coming to commercial real estate as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Necessity is the mother of invention this has always been true and will apply to the commercial real estate industry as well, as we work our way through these unprecedented times. Commercial real estate is an industry that is primed to see a huge impact from new technology, driven by the “new normal,” as dictated by the realities created by the coronavirus outbreak. Here are some of the trends and innovations that are probably already being worked on right now:

Re-imagining Office Spaces to Accommodate Ongoing Social Distancing and Enhanced Building Safety

This one seems pretty easy and straightforward; plastic barriers in conference rooms, cubicles or other physical barriers can better delineate personal work spaces. There is a company selling UV lighted barriers to casino owners in Las Vegas that kill germs. These barriers can be put in between slot machines to increase the safety of gamblers. Why can’t that same technology be put to work in office buildings?

More Frequent and Professional Cleaning Systems

At the very least, there are additional expenses related to increased cleaning staff hours. The innovators of tomorrow are going to figure out how to automate all that is cleaned manually right now. I envision cleaning “smokers” that send out COVID-killing cloud bombs that instantly neutralize all the microbial threats in a room for instantaneous clean.

Next-Level Thermal Scanning Technology

We’ve all heard about thermal scanning technology that is being required either as a personnel-manned station in the front lobby of every office building or as a mounted scanner, but what technologies will integrate this more thoroughly throughout the building without seeming like “Big Brother.” 

More Intricate or Upgraded Air Filtration Systems

These systems need to monitor and filter air at a faster rate than previously seen. I would also expect this to be an area where further innovation is going to change the types of systems used for these situations.

Voice-Activated Technology for Many Devices

The IoT (Internet of Things) has been threatening to radically shift commercial real estate for several years, but we haven’t seen it completely take over yet. Now, there will be strong pressure to (at the very least) enact touchless technology wherever possible, including appliances in shared kitchen spaces or bathroom fixtures in public restrooms. Certainly, more innovation will be coming here, if only from Jeff Bezos and his Alexa-focused company.

Collaboration Tools

Jetson-esque conference room technology for communal spaces will need to be innovated to continue to allow for collaboration and conferral without sacrificing safety. Some entrepreneur is going to turn his childhood cartoon into a reality!

Chemical Surface Technology in Real Estate Spaces

This seems out of the blue, but to me, anti-microbial furniture seems rudimentary right now–a good idea and a good start but major leaps forward in innovation are necessary

Senior management teams nationwide are laboring for long hours at a time to develop comprehensive return-to-work plans that ensure compliance with the latest CDC guidelines and conform to federal, state and local orders for their particular niche. Commercial real estate owners and managers will need to flex to accommodate mandated physical structural changes and operational rules and regulations necessary in our New World order. In addition, some of the short-term solutions that have been put in place to get companies through these past few months may become permanent. What will the long-term implications be? Commercial real estate investors may find that there is a substantial impact on their holdings or operations as a result of those necessary changes.

What do you see coming in your industry?