After more than a year and a half of remote work, employees’ expectations of returning to an in-office experience have forever changed. Providing for employees’ convenience, wellness, and safety is part of the new modern corporate culture. Technology platforms that empower this new balance more holistically are fast-becoming more of a requirement than a nicety.
September is the month that most companies are calendaring for a more widespread return-to-office, with more than 60% of office workers expected to return to physical offices by then, according to a June survey by the nonprofit Partnership for New York City. Ahead of the city’s full reopening and anticipated office return, landlords and asset managers are embracing technology tools and systems to operate their properties more efficiently, bolster tenant engagement and retain their occupants by providing better experiences.
Office settings and buildings that prioritize employee experience are likely to see a more welcome return by employees, according to a host of tenant and employee surveys released in recent months. Safety within shared spaces remains a major concern for employees returning to the office this fall. Upon the release of CoreNet Global’s recent Occupier Survey, for instance, Tommy O’Hallaran, president of its New York City chapter, said in a statement that “a thoughtful approach to technology and connectivity is the only way to create equity across the workplace experience. We are seeing companies embracing this stance, and that decision will keep them future-ready.”
The major takeaway of companies and landlords’ occupier research is that the practices and approaches being implemented pre-pandemic will no longer work going forward.
“It’s not just the building, it’s the digital experience that is being offered,” said Nick Romito, CEO of VTS, one of the largest leasing, marketing, and asset management platforms in the U.S., managing more than 60% of Class-A office space in the country and more than 12 billion square feet of commercial real estate globally.
Following its March 2021 acquisition of Rise Buildings, the firm has launched VTS Rise, a tenant experience platform being used to power an immersive, tech-enabled experience within commercial buildings. Regularly achieving 95% engagement among occupants, VTS Rise furnishes leasing and asset teams with real-time data on tenant behavior and building performance. VTS Rise is the most integrated building application available on the market, with more than 40 property management suite integrations.
With a sizable amount of shadow sublease space waiting to be filled, a data-driven approach will considerably help landlords to understand what types of spaces work best and how to best reposition to meet the demands of the market. The ability to measure the sentiment of tenants in real time brings two-fold advantages for landlords, by bringing them closest to the mindset and psychology of tenant occupancy and utilization in addition to keeping close to tenants throughout the leasing and utilization life cycle of an asset.
About 19.3 million square feet of subleased space has been added to Manhattan’s office market since the start of 2020, according to CBRE, but there has been some improvement in 2021, with about 2 million square feet of this space reclaimed by occupiers. Still, sublease office space currently accounts for 26% of Manhattan’s office market. Year-to-date leasing activity of about 5 million square feet reflects a 35% decrease compared to last year.
“If we look at office fundamentals, we are seeing supply outpace demand. It’s going to be a war for tenants,” Romito predicts.
For a commercial real estate industry evolving post-Covid, the immense amount of data that VTS Rise captures will be a boon for landlords looking to attract new tenants and renew current ones. In addition to providing operational data for a property, VTS Rise’s patented beacon technology enables landlords to understand how tenants utilize the building, providing vital insights that can be used to measure and refine capital improvements strategy.
“It is the connective tissue between owner and tenant in the building,” said Romito.
The embrace of new and robust workplace management technologies is by no means a fluke or fad. More than 50% of global executives surveyed in a recent McKinsey study, “How COVID-19 has pushed companies over the technology tipping point—and transformed business forever,” said their increased use of advanced technologies to inform operational decisions would be permanent.
“Every other part of our life is automated except for the place we’ve spent the most time, the office,” Romito shared. “Covid is almost over and we are in the new normal. We are not going back. You can’t give tenants a modern way to work and then say, go back to the stone ages. Here’s a key card for every room in the building. People have apps to manage all aspects of their life…food deliveries, transportation, banking, etc.; VTS Rise fills that need for buildings. Once technology makes something easier, we don’t revert back to the old ways of the past.”