Q&A: Technology Jolts Office Buildings Now and in the Not-so-distant Future

Jack Eimer: Advances in technology promise to change our work environments over the next 10 years in ways that are unimaginable. Office buildings need to be flexible enough to accommodate technology that has not even been invented yet. In your extensive research regarding the workplace of the future, what is one of the most surprising possibilities you have encountered?

Marc Allen: Imagine what it would be like if employees commuted to work in automated cars. After arriving at work, the employee’s car would drive back home—alone. At the end of the workday, it would come back to pick up its owner or perhaps even carpool participants. The cars will probably be electric so all the extra transit would not cost a fortune in gas. Additionally, the commute time could be productive rather than stress-inducing. It may sound like science fiction, but driverless vehicles are already being used successfully by Google, mining/minerals firm Rio Tinto and others. Driverless vehicles that obtain data for Google Maps have traveled 300,000 miles without incident, except one fender bender that was caused by a human. Thirty percent of Rio Tinto’s trucks that haul minerals are driverless, and the company’s goal is to increase that to 100 percent. Envision what driverless vehicles would mean for office buildings in the future. Parking ratios would drop significantly or entirely, allowing owners to more easily accommodate denser office configurations. Much of the space reserved for vehicles could become rentable square footage or building amenities. Also, less land would be necessary for new office developments.

Eimer: Are there technologies available today that owners need to consider adding to their office buildings?

Allen: One improvement that will increase an owner’s ability to attract tenants is a technology that makes it easier for tenants to use technology in the building. Owners can install a distributed antenna system, or DAS, like those found in some sports stadiums. The DAS acts as an antenna on the building to accommodate the large bandwidth required by thousands of cell phones being used simultaneously. Given a choice, a tenant might prefer to lease space in a building that has excellent cell coverage versus one that does not. Owners may also consider adding charging stations for electric vehicles. Electric vehicles will constitute 35 percent of cars made by 2025, according to a report by research firm IDTechEx. And plenty of electric cars are already making that daily commute to work.

Eimer: How will technological advances benefit building owners?

Allen: Owners may soon be able to utilize those small unleasable spaces that are invariably left over in the building. Say there is an extra 2,000 square feet on the first floor that is relatively undesirable. The space could be equipped as a co-working area, complete with coveted technology tools. A common concern regarding such spaces is portability, not only of work-related information, but also of personal data that makes the workspace feel like it belongs to the user. Technology is making its way to market to address such concerns. For example, Bionym is pre-selling a wristband device with heartbeat identification technology that will allow anyone to easily use any workspace, along with the associated technology tools, by granting them access to all of their professional and personal data. Watch this YouTube video that shows a future in which keys, passwords and assigned workspaces could become obsolete.

Technology such as Bionym’s product will become commonplace faster than most people think. Statistics show that new technology is being progressively adopted more quickly. When comparing the first 12 quarters of shipments of electronic tablets versus the first 12 quarters of shipments of smartphones, which came out first, the tablets’ adoption rate was three times faster than that of the smartphones. So don’t be surprised how soon you start seeing people wearing Glass, the Google eyeglass product that performs many of the same functions as a smartphone. It probably won’t be long before products like Glass will be ubiquitous.

Eimer: If technology makes it so people can truly work anywhere, will there still be a need for traditional office space?

Allen: The “work anywhere” mentality is being increasingly embraced, but we must remember that the office is important for reasons other than performing work and monitoring employees. Tenants will continue to need office space because that is where their company’s culture is created and maintained. The office environment encourages interaction while technology, by encouraging mobility, tends to pull people away from each other. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced earlier this year that employees who work outside of the office must now come to work, though that decision was made in the interest of increasing quality and productivity. I think the office is here to stay, though it will certainly change forms. Change is difficult, but we must remember what happens to people who don’t adopt change. They risk commoditization, or even worse, obsolescence.

This Q&A first appeared in Transwestern’s Fourth Quarter edition of Ask the Expert.

About the Author

Jack Eimer Marc Allen
Jack Eimer serves on Transwestern’s board of directors and is president of the Central region. His Dallas-based team provides property and facilities management, leasing, development, investment sales, tenant representation and corporate advisory services for clients throughout the Central region. Marc Allen offers nearly two decades of project-management experience with an emphasis on strategy, workplace trends, change management, technology planning/implementation, team building, open communication, accountability, responsiveness and value production.

1 Comment on "Q&A: Technology Jolts Office Buildings Now and in the Not-so-distant Future"

  1. Ujjval Vyas, Ph.D., J.D. | November 27, 2013 at 11:38 am |

    Jack and Marc,

    This is an interesting topic and has a great deal of import for both the future of commercial office space and the market for retorfitting of office spaces. I think that you are generally right to suggest that there will be rapid technological changes that transform the idea of office space significantly and certainly the notion of a workspace. I am myself leery of too much prognostication (the future of EVs are not as assured in my mind) but I am curious if you could share some of the research publications on this topic that are peer reviewed or have robust study protocols. Much appreciated.

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