Some elements of the office building of the future are already in use today.
WHAT DO YOU THINK of when you imagine the office building of the future? Touchscreens embedded along walls, collaborative open-floor layouts, sleek architectural choices or mobile workers? Office space is being reimagined by future-gazing individuals and companies that recognize the power that a building has to impact a company’s culture, productivity and success. The industry as a whole is aware of this potential, but the road map to execution is less clear.
The future of commercial real estate isn’t some far-off fantasy. Many elements of the buildings of tomorrow are already in use today. One of these, the beacon, is simplifying how employees access and use office space while also collecting valuable data and saving employers and building owners money by enabling them to right-size their office space and operate buildings more efficiently.
Beacons are small hardware sensors that collect and transmit location-based data through connected smartphone apps. They can be installed into touchscreen devices around an office, then wirelessly connect with a user’s phone — when that person is near the beacon — to register the individual’s presence once he or she has entered or left a specific place. They’re also remarkably cost efficient, and can be bought for as little as $20 to $40.
While they were initially used by retailers as a way to send personalized offers and targeted discounts directly to the smartphones of nearby customers, beacons and beacon-powered mobile apps have increasingly found a home in the commercial real estate landscape. Increasingly, CRE professionals and employers alike are touting the advantages of beacons. Some office building owners are deploying them in a few buildings. Others are already installing them across their entire office portfolios, creating more intuitive and mobile-driven spaces for tenants and their employees.
Simplify the Check-in, Check-out Process
The corporate workplace of tomorrow will be fully digitally customized, down to the simplest of activities. Employees will no longer need to punch a clock or log into an online timesheet to track when their workday begins and ends, or when they’ve entered or left a building or campus.
Rather than having to rely on security cards, badges or keys — all items that can be easily lost and misplaced — beacon-activated apps deployed on a mobile device can sign you in or out as soon as you pass through the door. There’s no need to take anything out, sign your name, press a button or show a card; the app and the beacon do all the work. Beacons also enable employers to see which of their employees are already in the building and where they are in the building at any time, provided the employees have location services enabled on their smartphones.
Automatically Book Conference Rooms
Workplaces often have a handful of conference rooms that are either frequently double-booked or constantly left empty. Both situations are rooted in the same problems: limited oversight of how conference rooms are reserved, as well as limited understanding of how to use what may be a cumbersome booking process. People frequently forget to reserve a conference room on paper or online, and it can be difficult to determine whether a room is available at any given time. As a result, when a group of employees needs a room for an important meeting or interview, they’re often left scrambling to find an empty one or are out of luck because every space is full.
Beacons, however, can track who’s using which room at what time. Whenever a person with a beacon-activated app on his or her smartphone enters a meeting room, the beacon automatically logs his presence there, informing others — in real time — that the room is in use. If another employee were to try and reserve that room, the app on her phone would display the names of the people already occupying it, preventing the room from being double booked. The app also shows, in real time, which rooms are still available, so an employee who forgot to reserve a room in advance doesn’t have to waste time searching for an empty one.
It’s not just conference rooms, either. Any shared space outfitted with beacons can track when, and by whom, it’s being used, ensuring, for example, that an employee in search of an empty, unassigned desk can always find one.
The beacon app can also guide meeting participants to the right room, by pinpointing its location. When the building floor plan is incorporated into the mobile app, the app can guide visitors, step by step, toward a meeting room or desk.
The result: no more running around the office in search of an empty room; no more having to guess where your colleagues are meeting. Beacons draw a road map, telling you where and when to go.
Oversee Lighting and Temperature Controls
Beacons also provide an eco-friendly, cost-efficient way to monitor and regulate utility usage in the workplace. Just as beacons can log people into a building or conference room, they can also toggle the lights on and off when people enter and depart. And, unlike movement sensors, beacons don’t rely on finely tuned sensitivity levels to determine whether someone’s in a room or not.
The same is true for humidity and temperature control. Beacons can monitor workplace data, including employees’ temperature and humidity preferences. Building systems can then use that data to automatically adjust the climate of the office accordingly.
These functions also help managers reap cost savings, since they enable them to spend less money to keep lights on in empty rooms or pump heated or cooled air into rooms where it isn’t needed. It’s a way of going green while saving some green in the process.
A Mobile-driven Workplace for Today
Beacons have created a real-time, mobile-driven office experience that provides CRE executives and tenants, employers and employees with more efficient and intuitive control over how their spaces are maintained.
Beacons are an investment, an upfront purchase now that pays for itself, and more, in the long run. The data they collect on how workspaces are being utilized allow building operators and occupiers to better identify when and how space is being used inefficiently — or not at all — and adjust the workplace accordingly, which can result in significant real estate cost savings.
By making long-standing logistical nuisances like office sign-ins, conference room bookings and temperature control easier and more efficient, beacons help to drive costs down while also creating a workplace that caters to personalized needs and promotes productivity.
John T. Anderson