This article is the first in a 3-part series, where we will delve into global trends affecting the Commercial Real Estate sector, how they have evolved in the past year and how professionals are adopting technology to stay ahead of the curve. If you missed our January webinar, led by Sine’s Global Sales Lead, Jordan King, be sure to check it out here.

Architects and building owners have long understood the role of building design on physical and mental wellbeing of occupants, but they haven’t always had the tools necessary to implement new health and wellness plans or measure their effects.

If we’ve learned anything over the past two decades, it’s that we can’t simply enact building plans based on general theories of health and wellness. Just think of the failures of open workspaces: These were supposed to encourage collaboration and give everyone access to larger spaces and natural light. But years later we found that these constantly communal spaces often resulted in poorer health outcomes, less productivity, decreased job satisfaction, and increased stress and tension among occupants. It even led to less interaction among co-workers.

So, while we may try to make decisions based on legitimate data, if we don’t collect and incorporate results and feedback in real-time, we can end up defeating the purpose of our plans to improve occupant health, wellbeing, and productivity.

Now, COVID-19 has changed the rules of the game entirely. General well-being is still key, but now there are concrete measures we have to take to keep building occupants healthy and safe. Luckily, we have the tools to do it. Our ability to have direct digital engagement with buildings has been the key to guiding us through the paradigm shift towards smarter, safer, and more wellness-focused spaces.

trends affecting the Commercial Real Estate sector
The pandemic was a digital disruptor for real estate businesses

How the pandemic changed commercial real estate

The pandemic simply accelerated the transformation of the commercial real estate (CRE) sector. For the most part, plans to align building design with the health needs of their end users were already in the pipeline, COVID-19 just made them urgent.

Of course, identifying shortcomings in commercial buildings and addressing them are two different things. Deloitte’s 2021 CRE Outlook survey revealed that while the majority of CRE companies are concerned about creating healthy spaces, only around 20% have a modern enough core system that would allow them to easily incorporate emerging PropTech. But in the long run, the investment will be worth it, not only to stem the spread of disease but also because proving you run a healthy building can help retain and attract new employees.

“As occupants become more aware of how the buildings they use for work, school and care can affect their well-being, we expect them to push building owners and operators to implement new procedures with efficient, sustainable solutions that better support occupants’ safety and enhance their experiences, not only for the immediate return to office but for the long term as well.”

Vimal Kapur, President and CEO, Honeywell Building Technologies

Using data to ensure occupant health and wellness

Concerns about healthy spaces and the rise of the hybrid workforce mean that many companies will need to rethink their real estate plans across the board. But while commercial real estate managers are committed to enhancing the experiences of occupants, only 40% said their company had built a digital roadmap to achieve the transformations necessary to improve their facilities. In fact, 60% of CRE executives said they were still using archaic spreadsheets as their primary tool for reporting on building usage instead of specialized software.

The good news is that a recent survey conducted by Honeywell Building Technologies found that since March of 2020, roughly 56% of global respondents have seen an acceleration of digital transformations.

Gone are the days when fitness centers and communal lounges were the pinnacle of building perks. Now, occupants are concerned about air quality and the option for touchless interaction as well as larger issues such as green energy.

Software needs for CRE managers

No one can create a hyperpersonalized experience for building occupants using spreadsheets and legacy technology. Tracking building usage, measuring efficiency, and improving building processes like air circulation and people flow require fully-integrated apps with easy-to-access features and predictive algorithms that automate decisions for CRE managers.

PropTech apps can also help measure and track occupancy levels for social distancing purposes, perform and record thermal screening data, and keep track of the COVID-19 vaccination status of occupants. This not only helps manage building safety in real-time but aids in contact tracing down the line.

Honeywell command wall
Business presentation

Honeywell Enterprise Buildings Integrator

Creating a healthy building requires pre-planning, a good sense of your key performance indicators (KPIs), and the means to measure risk. Plenty of software companies have built dashboards that control individual systems like HVAC or manage visitors, but Honeywell’s Enterprise Buildings Integrator (EBI) is a totally integrated facility management platform that helps manage core building functions. It allows third-party systems to work together to provide the whole picture of a building and the people in it. It can also allow users to modify energy usage and employ occupant blocking strategies in real time and alert the right people so that you get an ideal combination of automation and human oversight.

The most sophisticated CRE software will be open, scalable, vendor agnostic, and ready to interface with a variety of third-party apps. Honeywell EBI does all of this, helping to reduce operational and lifecycle costs of your commercial real estate while leaving room for the expansion of diagnostics and monitoring decisions down the line.

Building occupants are now keenly aware of the role that their surroundings have on their health and well-being. They also want proof that buildings have amenities such as efficient air filtration systems. One of the biggest benefits of PropTech such as Honeywell’s EBI is that it encourages transparency. And that in turn encourages people to behave with health in mind.