Why the 7 biggest real estate companies rely on tech in office returns
Alongside many other businesses, the biggest commercial real estate (CRE) companies are grappling with how to deal with this pandemic and what it means for their industry moving forward.
Given a few months to adjust, however, we're starting to understand the do's and don't's in this new world, and real estate management companies have started coming up with roadmaps to navigate what lies ahead.
Some, like Cushman & Wakefield, have even published comprehensive recovery guides that are forward-thinking, stressing the importance of new health and safety roles, workplace technologies for handling building traffic flows, and smart building materials.
To better understand how top commercial property management companies are leading the changes in the new world of work, here’s a quick look at how 7 have responded so far, and how they’re using new and existing technologies to facilitate safe workplace returns.
Not only is Coldwell Banker one of the top real estate companies in the world, but it’s also the oldest in the United States. With 3,000 offices in 49 different countries, they had significant challenges to overcome.
Coldwell Banker has cautiously reopened some of their offices, although they are closed to the public and walk-in traffic, and they plan to use workplace technologies to help maintain safe distancing. Anyone who must visit an office needs to make an appointment with an agent prior to arrival. (See how people flow management solutions like Proxyclick digitalizes and facilitates this contactless process).
Because agents are essential workers, but offices couldn’t remain open, Coldwell Banker used remote working technologies to keep both workers and clients safe. Microsoft Teams and Zoom continue to be critical for Coldwell Banker’s business. They also relied heavily on virtual home tours, which exploded in popularity.
In fact, many agents predict that these tours will remain a significant part of their business even after a vaccine has been developed, since they allow buyers to narrow down their housing search from the convenience of their own home.
A Fortune 500 company with 300 corporate offices in 80 countries and over 90,000 employees, JLL’s top concern was their employee’s emotional and physical well-being. CHRO Office Mary Bilbrey emphasized the importance of maintaining contact with employees throughout the process of reopening their offices and navigating new ways of working.
Their reopening strategy specifically highlights leveraging workplace technologies to monitor access and occupancy. This technology includes health screening robotics and touchless solutions that limit the amount of surface contact, and therefore the spread of COVID-19.
JLL’s return to work guide also suggests limiting in-person meetings, limiting employees to certain spaces (which could be done via access control system integrations), facilitating one-way circulation patterns for foot traffic, which also means having a better overall view of people flows, and assigning desks in advance to manage office volume.
With 90,000 workers and 480 offices worldwide, CBRE wanted to reopen their offices without compromising their employees' safety. As a result, they came up with a detailed reopening plan that helps them maintain social distancing and proper protocols in all of their offices.
This reopening plan is split into five phases:
- Pre-entry: readiness teams finalize facility readiness
- Phase 1: office is accessible on an as-needed, pre-approved basis, visitors not allowed
- Phase 2: office occupancy not to exceed 40%, visitors not allowed
- Phase 3: office occupancy still does not exceed 40%, assess whether visitors are allowed
- Beyond: the new normal, with new protocols and most employees back in the office
CBRE’s gradual reopening strategy was so successful, school districts reached out to them for help reopening their schools.
To support their ongoing safety efforts, CBRE offices are working with Samsung, Herman Miller, Structure Tone, and Muraflex to improve upon current workplace technologies. Their goal is to create touchless offices with video-enabled connectivity and collaboration solutions to help boost productivity.
In addition, touchless features paired with the right employee and visitor management systems, for example, may also aid companies like CBRE in screening and tracking all people in the building.
Cushman & Wakefield
One of the largest commercial property management companies globally, Cushman & Wakefield have almost 51,000 employees in 400 offices and 70 countries. To safely manage their offices and commercial properties, they innovated what's called the "Six Feet Office."
The Six Feet Office Projects seeks to create a new and healthy office space to support today's workplace needs. It includes:
- 6 Feet Quick Scan: A thorough analysis of the current work environment for safety and opportunities for improvement.
- 6 Feet Rules: A simple, straightforward workable agreement with rules of conduct.
- 6 Feet Routing: Making building traffic flows safe with virtual displaces and routing.
- 6 Feet Workstation: An adapted and fully equipped workplace.
- 6 Feet Facility: Featuring a trained employee who can make sure the facility environment is safe and optimally functioning.
- 6 Feet Certificate: A certificate that states which measures were taken to make a virus-safe working environment.
Cushman & Wakefield’s new blueprints for the modern office also includes ways to expand workplace technologies to better protect their employees, visitors, contractors, and customers. In their Recovery Readiness guide, they write,
“As we plan to change our workplaces, technologies can support both the user experience and building management. The pandemic is accelerating how organizations evaluate and adopt these tools.”
In looking ahead, the company stresses the importance of workplace solutions for:
- advanced air filtration
- visitor management (which can include employee and people flow management)
- booking and meeting room reservations
- surface hygiene
- integrated destination dispatch
- advanced sensors
In doing so, they also emphasize the necessary focus on employee well-being and smart, sustainable building materials that will bring us further into the future.
Brookfield Asset Management
In its Future of the Office Report, Brookfield Asset Management emphasized the importance of technology in reopening its facilities. In addition to advanced cleaning procedures and the installation of transparent barriers for social distancing, they implemented no-touch elevator solutions and new air filtration systems.
Brookfield is using advanced air ventilation and filtration systems in their New York, Toronto, and Calgary offices, expecting to expand these technologies to all of their offices.
Founded in 1957, Hines is a privately owned global real estate investment, development, and management corporation that has the experience and resources to lead the way during unprecedented times. With a presence in 25 countries, Hines faced the challenge of creating safe return-to-work practices in different countries and cultures.
The company has published a complete return to building occupancy guide, which covers everything from tenant and visitor traffic flow management, screenings, and health checks, improved air circulation, hand sanitizing and social distancing, and new and existing workplace technologies.
Hines has also partnered with Well Living Lab, Delos, and Cushman & Wakefield to “generate insights and evaluate technologies for reducing the risk of respiratory virus transmission in work environments.”
In the US, Hines employees use a smartphone app to report their health status each day. If they are flagged for COVID-19 symptoms, employees are directed to testing centers closest to them. They also have added touchless elevator systems and updated HVAC systems to control transmission of the virus, and electrostatic disinfection technology has been implemented in high traffic areas of many buildings.
Avison Young is one of the world’s fastest-growing commercial real estate services firms. Like most businesses, Avison Young turned to remote work when the pandemic hit. They still rely heavily on remote workers but have started the process of returning to offices, and workers have the option to work from home until the end of 2020. However, leadership at Avison Young needed to come up with a plan for those who wanted to return, and for essential workers who must keep coming in regardless.
In their publication, Return to the Office Approach, Avison Young laid out how they plan to keep their workers safe. In-person meetings are heavily discouraged, and virtual meetings are considered the first option. Those who must come into the office are required to sign a screening form beforehand, certifying they feel well. Guests must also check in by providing necessary information for contact tracing purposes.
(With the right SaaS solution, this pre-screening process for employees, guests, contractors, and others can be fully digitalized and streamlined - learn more here).
As Avison Young’s precautionary measures are likely to become a mainstay, they may look to workplace technologies to maintain health and safety of all people in their buildings moving forward.
A new way forward for CRE companies
While we are only months into this pandemic, it’s clear that the way we do business has fundamentally changed.
But as CRE companies move from responding, to recovering, to thriving in this new era, the right technologies, mixed with sustainable building materials, a rethinking of values for people like tenants and end users, and cross-collaboration among the industry, are among the factors that will prime them for future success.
Want to discover return to office best practices from CRE professionals and other experts around the globe? Watch full session replays from our our Return Ready Virtual Summit below.