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When It Comes To Tenant Demands, Listen, But Verify

Listening to your tenants is well and good, but creating office buildings that people actually want to work in requires an additional step: analysing what they actually do.

The ability to utilise data to measure how people use offices and the districts around them is revolutionising the ability of office owners to understand how best to design buildings and the amenities to add, according to panelists at Bisnow London’s Creative Office bash. That is especially the case when this is combined with surveying staff and talking to corporate clients, because the two sets of information don’t always add up.

Kohn Pedersen Fox's Cobus Bothma, Gyana's Joyeeta Das, Equiem's Bronny Wilson, Landsec's Angela Maurer, Deutsche Bank's Kathryn Harrison-Thomas, Cluttons' John Gravett

“How people think they use the space versus how they actually use the space, there is normally a pretty big delta,” Deutsche Bank Managing Director Kathryn Harrison-Thomas said.

Equiem UK and Ireland General Manager Bronny Wilson offered an example: When the firm asks office space users what kind of food and services they want, people cite healthy meals and wellness-related activities. But looking at the buildings where its platform is deployed, it found in reality people are more likely to get a burger delivered to their desk or take advantage of a doughnut pop-up.

Harrison-Thomas said Deutsche regularly surveys more than 2,000 staff in London on their workplace preferences and feelings, and combines that data with sensors that provide data on building use.

The scope of this data is incredible. A single Internet of Things-enabled device will create as many data points in a day as all of Facebook does in six months, according to Joyeeta Das, the founder and chief executive of PropTech company Gyana. A self-driving car will create as many data points in a day as Twitter does in a year. If building owners can harness that data and analyse it, they can understand the way people use their space like never before.

“The greatest indicator of what people will do in future is how they are already behaving and what they already do, but they don’t always know that,” she said. “People don’t know the solution to their problems, but they are already indicating what it is.”

Das outlined how big data and artificial intelligence technology can allow building owners to use (heavily anonymised) mobile phone data to find out where the users of their building have come from before they arrive, and use their movement data to find out their likely life status: full-time employee, working parent, infrequent visitor. That information can be used to tailor the kind of office space that is provided and also the kind of amenities that are on offer.

“Most people make up their mind about how they are going to engage with a particular physical asset before they even get there, because it is dictated by their lifestyle,” she said. “If you are busy mum working flexi time, or someone driving in from 40 miles away every day, that changes they way you engage. We find the lifestyle of a person and the distance they travel makes a huge difference in how they use office space.”

Bisnow London's Creative Office Bash

How is this information used in practice? Platforms like Gyana can allow you to take this data and benchmark it against other similar assets, to see whether users are utilising space and amenities more or less than in other buildings. And it can allow owners to gain insights into revenue-generating amenities. Owners can see if staff are leaving their building to buy three coffees a day at a nearby coffee shop, rather than their in-house café, and adjust their own offer accordingly. Or knowing the lifestyle patterns of workers might make the difference between using amenity space to offer a yoga class, kickboxing session or a film and pizza night.

Wilson said office owners and their property managers are often a long way off having this kind of insight.

“We find the property team of a company often has no idea beyond a list of companies who is occupying space and how they use it, let alone what the pain points are,” she said. “You can't create a frictionless experience without understanding what is missing and how people use [the] building.”

Of course, for developers and architects things are not always that easy — a lot of the time you are designing and developing a building with no idea who the occupiers will be. In that case, flexibility is key.

“You always try and get data but in many cases you design office tower with no idea at all who the occupier will be,” Kohn Pedersen Fox Director Cobus Bothma said. “If that is the case, you have to make sure you provide [the] ability to expand the technology there. We’ve just designed a tower with 26,000 data points monitoring the whole building, and we had to facilitate the incorporation of that tech. If [you] don’t know who the tenant is, you can use algorithms and typical-use cases and try and make sure the building is as flexible as possible.”

Harrison-Thomas gave an insight into just how important high-quality office real estate can be for a corporate occupier.

“Everyone knows that Deutsche has been through the mill recently,” she said. “We ran two surveys about a year apart, and pride in the company improved by 17%. The only thing that had really changed was the office space.”

Part art, but today, a lot more science.