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“The way people interact with their built environment is going through a period of fundamental change. The conventional use of space and the purpose and utility of buildings is being challenged. As more workers look to telecommute, relocate, and work, live, and play together, the lines between traditional classifications of building types such as “office”, “retail”, “recreation” and “residential” space are blurring,” states our latest report: Future Proofing Smart Commercial Buildings.

The report is a deep-dive into future proofing, a topic becoming critical to smart building design due to the immense rate of technological development in our cyber-physical revolution. To future proof buildings for the next 50 or 100 years is a huge challenge and requires us to understand the various disruptive trends emerging today. From there we can predict, calculate, and imagine the potential ways we might use our buildings in the future and plan for them.

Consider the flexible and remote working trends we see emerging around the world, for example. In the US, 25% of all employees work remotely all or most of the time, according to a Gallup poll. While in the UK, on average almost half a working day (43%) is spent away from the desk at the office. The traditional office environments where each employee has their own desk are a dying breed. Modern workplaces are reacting by reducing the number of desks and increasing flexibility through hotdesking, multi-space design and greater connectivity with remote staff.

These trends are expected to increase as younger, tech-savvy generations continue to grow as a percentage of the total workforce. These “digital natives” aren’t just comfortable with technology, they also appear to be very uncomfortable without it according to a survey by Dell, which found that 82% of millennials think the quality of workplace technology influences their choice of employer. The study also found that younger employees are more likely to consider quitting a job due to lack of technology in the office.

“For organizations seeking to attract and retain the top young talent, embedding smart into the design and operation of a building can act as an indicator of the company’s culture and aspirations,” explains our comprehensive report. “Given that the cost of replacing staff can heavily outweigh the cost of space, many companies now view investments in flexible, digitally-enabled workplaces as a cost-effective way of retaining top talent.”

While future proofing strategies often aim to prepare buildings for future technological upgrades, these socio-demographic shifts are the driving forces behind the workplace evolution shaping new technology. A workforce dominated by digital natives (born after 1980) will demand different features and control systems than the pervious workforce, dominated by the baby boomers (born 1946-1965) and generation X (born 1966-1979) — raised before the digital revolution that shaped the young minds of most people born later.

The workforce is not getting younger, however, it is actually getting older rapidly, in line with general population trends. By 2030, more than 20% of the global workforce will be above the age of 55. When peering into the future, workplace and workplace-tech designers will need to take all these factors into account in order to make buildings that stand the test of time.

“Organizations will need to balance the requirements of this ageing workforce with the requirement to attract the best young talent whose technical and digital skills are so core to many industries. Workplaces that can accommodate the physical and technical requirements of both ends of the age spectrum of the workforce, as well as those that foster inter-generational collaboration will be required,” predicts our recent report.

While the traditional workplace is changing to accommodate these shifts, new types of workplace are also emerging. Similar to the way that the Airbnb model disrupted the hospitality sector the co-working space is threatening the traditional office building market. The co-working phenomenon has moved past its startup- and freelancer-driven success to become a popular option for established organizations. By August 2018, 25% of WeWork’s membership was already made up of enterprise clients like IBM, attracted by the flexible environment.

In Q4 2017, Yardi Matrix conducted a study of 20 markets and found 26.9 million square feet of co-working space, representing 1.2% of the total market. They revisited the same markets in Q4 2018 and found 43.5 million square feet, an increase of over 50% over the course of a year and representing 1.7% of total stock. The likes of WeWork, Knotel and other “Workspace-as-a-Service” firms have changed the expectations of occupants and tenants. As co-working firms continue to develop their offering they attract new business, further increasing the pressure on traditional office real estate to “smarten up.”

“When properly executed, flexible, collaborative and innovation-focused workspaces, empowered by digital technologies and data analytics can improve information sharing, worker collaboration, facilitate greater creativity, and keep employees motivated,” explains our brand new report.

“Organizations are needing to adapt their building strategies to maintain a competitive advantage in their workplace and real-estate strategies to account for these trends — the right selection of technologies to support this adaptation is crucial.”