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How today’s workplace apps are creating communities

With tech tools becoming an integral part of the modern workplace, apps could soon be a crucial way for employers to keep their employees engaged – and for landlords to retain their tenants.

July 10, 2019

Today’s workplace apps are about far more than alerting facilities management to a broken air con vent.

As companies increasingly seek to improve the workplace experience for their employees, apps are not only becoming more popular but they’re also incorporating a wider range of features. 

A new generation of platforms such as HqO and Workwell offer an all-in-one smartphone app enabling employees to get what they need in their daily working life at the touch of a button, from secure access to their office and booking a meeting room to finding neighbourhood amenities such as gyms, yoga classes and restaurants.

“These products are all about bringing the various services together for a building’s community to access,” says Alex Edds, Director of Innovation, JLL. “Fundamentally, it’s about providing a more efficient way for people to interact with the building and enhancing their experience in the workplace.”

A digitally-led workplace

Workplaces that promote wellbeing and a sense of community are highly valued by today’s employees.

“People are very focused on their experience of their office as well as the work they do,” says Akshay Thakur, Regional Director, Smart Buildings Programme, EMEA at JLL.

As workplaces become increasingly digital, employees are becoming more familiar with a wider range of online platforms that facilitate communication between teams.  

“We are already seeing more focus on collaborative platforms in the workplace, says Thakur. “Plus, many people are now used to using apps in their personal lives so workplace apps are an easy stepping stone.”

And it’s not just companies seeking to build better digital relationships with their employees; landlords are also using apps to bond with their tenants – and deliver more value to companies within their buildings.

Much of this is driven by tenant expectations, says Thakur. And happy tenants reporting a positive workplace experience are more likely to stay for the long-term.

“Landlords recognise the value of engaging with the community in their buildings. For too long the landlord-tenant relationship has been distant so apps offer a whole new dynamic,” says Edds.

The focus on improving relationships and increasing the value of buildings is something that Chase Garbarino, the CEO and Founder of HqO, is seeing first hand.

“We’re beyond the stage of early adopters for tenant experience apps,” he says. “There’s a lot of urgency in the marketplace to apply best practices and realize the value of tenant experience solutions quickly.”

In the last 12 months, HqO has partnered with Blackstone, DivcoWest, Jamestown, and Skanska.

“Those conversations are as much about holistic tenant engagement strategy, insights and recommendations across the portfolio, and data privacy as much as they are about the mobile app for tenants,” says Chase Garbarino.

Data-driven building management

For landlords – and employers – the data generated by apps can offer valuable granular insights into how tenants are using the workspace and what amenities are in demand.

For example, digital logs of equipment servicing can help with scheduling predictive maintenance, lowering repair costs, while a high volume of tenants searching for coffee bars might make the case for curating similar services on-site.

“This can help landlords to make insight-driven decisions about how to develop their space and what services to offer which in turn improves the bottom line, and could even allow them to create new revenue streams,” says Edds.

Furthermore, the ongoing rise of coworking, with its tech-enabled, amenities-filled office spaces is setting the standard for workplace apps and boosting expectations among office workers. 

“Coworking providers are increasingly attracting large companies– and that’s because they want to be able to say we have a great space, activated through all these amenities,” says Edds. “Tenant engagement apps would allow landlords to offer something similar – especially if they’re looking to provide a flexible space offering in their building.”

Creating the right app

While large companies often offer an array of enterprise tools where employees can report issues, book meeting rooms and undertake other administrative tasks, Thakur believes there is a growing demand for a smartphone app that consolidates key aspects of the workplace experience. 

However, the challenge lies in developing an app that offers everyday value.

“App overload is a real concern, and the right tenant engagement app must pare down to key capabilities rather than cramming in all the information and features already available,” says Thakur.

Data security and compliance is also a critical issue, especially if an app connects to third-party amenities such as coffee vendors or fitness centres. 

“A multinational bank and a small startup are likely to have very different attitudes to data sharing,” notes Edds.

For landlords considering an investment into such apps – and potentially upgrading equipment to work with the app - compatibility with future technology will also be a concern.

Yet as buildings become smarter and more connected, there will be greater demand for apps that enhance how people use space, Edds believes.

“Ultimately, we are only at the start of a trend for greater transparency in our physical surroundings – including workspaces. We will want to not just know about a space, but be able to interact with it and the amenities around us, in real-time,” he says.

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