The commercial real estate industry has changed considerably over the past year and a half. Some of the short-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been devastating while the impact of others remains to be seen. However, when investors look to the future, there’s one thing we can all get excited about, namely the rise of the smart office.

Commercial Office Space in a Post-COVID World

When the COVID-19 pandemic first shocked the United States in April 2020, the majority of the American workforce still “went in” to work. In other words, they commuted into the office, plopped down in a chair, and performed their job duties in a corporate office. When shutdowns forced companies to get creative, everything changed.

Today, much of our workforce is now working remotely from home. Some companies have even decided to get rid of their corporate offices and go 100 percent virtual — a shocking 180-degree pivot that would have been unthinkable just two years ago.

Other businesses are choosing to return to the office but are making important changes and investments along the way. Listed below are a few of the early trends already unfolding.

  • Office buildings are getting smaller as remote and hybrid positions reduce the need for square footage.
  • With employees doing more work from home, many companies are turning unused office space into collaboration spaces for virtual meetings.
  • Safety, proper spacing, and social distancing are fresh on the minds of businesses and commercial office space owners.

While the long-term ramifications of the pandemic on the commercial real estate world remain to be seen, one thing is certain. Businesses are getting smarter about how they optimize their offices for efficiency, productivity, innovation, health, and safety.

No, seriously — the buildings themselves are actually getting smarter. The smart office is emerging as the next iteration of office space. For those who are paying attention, there are several exciting trends coming down the pipeline.

Breathing New Life Into Commercial Real Estate — the Smart Office

We often throw around the term “smart office,” but what exactly is it? It’s more than just having technology in a building. It’s about the intentional use of the right technology.

“A smart office is a workplace where modern technology is leveraged to help employees work smarter, better, and faster. This can be achieved by clearing away hurdles for the employees,” Senion explains. “By removing menial tasks and unnecessary obstacles — activities that drain time and energy from the workforce — smart office solutions let employees focus on what really matters.”

When compared to the traditional office, a smart office offers its workers several distinct benefits. These include:

  • Greater productivity. Technology offers many advantages for businesses, but increased productivity is probably one of the most important. By making menial, repetitive tasks faster and more efficient, organizations can better utilize resources, cut costs, and enjoy greater flexibility. This represents a solid win for everyone.
  • More efficient use of square footage. As expensive as commercial square footage is in competitive urban markets, being more efficient with square footage is an absolute priority. Thanks to the intelligent use of high-tech office spaces, companies can turn static workspaces into flexible areas with two or three different uses. This allows businesses to lease or buy smaller office spaces and save money.
  • Improved collaboration. Collaboration is extremely important, especially nowadays when most companies have some sort of hybrid workforce with some employees in the office and others working remotely. Utilizing smart solutions, it’s easier to communicate and engage with coworkers and employees — regardless of whether they’re in the same physical space or not.
  • Better employee well-being. When your team feels supported and has the tools it needs to work efficiently, there’s better overall focus and satisfaction. In other words, mental health gets a boost. Plus, as you’ll see in the following section on smart office trends, there are certain smart office technologies that also make it safer for employees to interact in a face-to-face manner.

When you add these benefits up, it becomes clear why the smart office is becoming so popular. Although it does require a significant investment on the front end, the advantages are clear.

4 Smart Office Trends Worth Tracking

As with anything technology-related, trends come and go. What’s popular right now will not necessarily be the most viable option in 12 to 18 months. Having said that, here are four smart office trends making the rounds in 2021 and 2022 that are worthy of your investment.

1. 5G Networks

The next wave of internet connectivity and data connection is here. We’re talking about 5G, of course. It’s difficult to overstate just how much of an improvement 5G is over 4G. This new network reduces download times, speeds up connections, and leads to smoother streaming for virtual meetings and other forms of communication.

2. Flexible Workspaces

Regardless of whether companies choose to go back to 100 percent in-person working in the future, or stick with hybrid teams, one thing is sure: virtual is part of our new reality. That means businesses must be prepared to host and join virtual meetings with customers and clients, business partners, and employees. And — since first impressions are everything — businesses must take steps to integrate the right technology.

Another popular trend is the rise of flexible workspaces that double as in-person conference rooms and virtual meeting rooms. These facilities come equipped with advanced camera and audio systems, lighting, and even green screens for inserting virtual backgrounds into the mix. The overall goal is to create sophisticated, high-tech spaces that can be used by employees to maintain a professional image during virtual meetings.

3. Internet of Things (IoT) Sensors

IoT sensors and associated advanced technology is allowing businesses to increase their connectivity, flexibility, and responsiveness without the need for investing in complex systems, wires, or superfluous devices.

Some solutions are super practical, such as installing fire suppressions systems that don’t require access to a water supply or electricity. Other solutions are more complex, such as temperature sensors, proximity sensors, and touch sensors. In either case, IoT technology is changing the game for good. Manual tasks are being automated, people are staying safer, and the modern smart office is becoming an increasingly frictionless place to work.

4. Intelligent Sanitization

In a world where the COVID-19 virus is still a serious concern for millions of people, it would be remiss not to mention some of the smart technology that’s helping to create safer and healthier workplaces for employees who want the ability to interact face-to-face. More specifically, there’s a lot of exciting innovation happening in the areas of sanitization.

For example, consider air purification and air circulation systems. While these technologies have been around for some time, they’re now being integrated into IoT platforms. As a result, they’re able to work together with people-counting sensors to create safer and better-ventilated office environments that dynamically adapt to real-time circumstances.

Intelligent, automated UV disinfection is another technology that’s expanding beyond healthcare facilities and into modern smart offices. These systems use UV-C lighting to disinfect surfaces at regular intervals. Depending on system integration, some can automatically detect when people enter a room or leave a room. This allows the UV-C to kick in at just the right time.

Putting it all Together

For businesses that are committed to continuing to maintain a presence in a physical office space, the smart office is clearly the way of the future.

Thanks to newer technology such as 5G networks, IoT, cloud computing, and AI, it’s now possible to enhance productivity, lower costs, improve collaboration, and simultaneously keep employees healthy and safe. In a post-COVID world, where uncertainty is high, those are positive trends you’ll want to keep an eye on.

Image Credit: rodnae productions; pexels; thank you!

Frank Landman

Frank is a freelance journalist who has worked in various editorial capacities for over 10 years. He covers trends in technology as they relate to business.