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Office Building Data Collection Is Even More Important Amid The Pandemic

As office owners look for ways for tenants and their employees to safely and confidently return to their workplaces despite the coronavirus pandemic, data collection and transparency from smart building technology has only grown in importance, panelists said this week during Bisnow's office optimization webinar. 

Downtown San Francisco

Data collection was already a key pillar of smart building technology before this year, but experts said Tuesday that the office sector requires even greater insights into building operations because of concerns around the pandemic. The vast majority of office workers around the country are still working remotely, and analysts are saying some offices won't be equipped to attract pre-pandemic occupancy levels.

“This notion of creating almost like an open-source experience within the property, I think, will become increasingly important as tenants and occupiers come back and have new expectations around how they want to manage their space," Jamestown Properties Vice President of Technology Strategy Ginny Miller said during the webinar.

Newer concerns, like a building's air quality and adhering to social distancing guidelines, require data for the sake of transparency for tenants and occupants, Shorenstein Director of Engineering and Sustainability Kevin Kirk said on the webinar. Managers and owners can measure the latter by space utilization data offered by companies like VergeSense. Providing indoor air quality information to occupants, especially remotely and before they have entered their building, is also crucial for the time being, Kirk said. 

“That’s really important information to share with a tenant so they feel comfortable being back in the buildings, especially now," Kirk said.

Data also goes beyond risk mitigation to enhancing offices as destinations, Miller and others have said. Cloud software company Okta, for instance, is using sensors in the Bay Area to gather space utilization data that will inform future office decisions

Clockwise from top left: Montgomery Technologies President Greg Jones, Shorenstein Director of Engineering and Sustainability Kevin Kirk, Bisnow West Coast Vice President Mike Guimond, Jamestown Properties Vice President of Technology Strategy Ginny Miller and The Detection Group President and CEO Laurie Conner.

For Jamestown's part, Miller said space utilization doesn't necessarily have to be something a landlord manages, but being something a building owner can turn on for tenants, giving them a window into the use of their offices, is important as the future of office use is being defined

"The office, as we’ve all sort of pontificated about, has changed in its nature, and it no longer necessarily is a place that you have to go to five days a week," Miller said.

"It’s more of a place that you want to create almost a destination out of. There’s a real intention for being there."

As a requirement by many tenants, sustainability, too, is at the fore of what has made data collection and utilization important, Miller said. Jamestown was one of several large CRE players posting significant energy cost savings through participation in a Department of Energy campaign announced this week. Another was Kilroy Realty Corp.  

Now, concerns about air quality and sanitation have added to the need for building intelligence and data collection in ways that might not be reversed.

"I don’t think it will just be a short-term thing," Kirk said. "I think it’s going to be a fundamental change in how we operate buildings going forward."