Will architecture learn to dance? The future of commercial real estate.

I was recently asked what was the most obvious long-term effect of the “whiplash of 2020”. My answer was that every social change we’d usually expect to unfold within twenty years would suddenly only take five.

In the famous technology adoption curve proposed by Geoffrey Moore, new ideas often linger for ten or more years in the segments reserved for innovators and early adopters: people enamored with technology and willing to put up with its drawbacks.

But in 2020 companies all along the adopter spectrum were forced to experiment with challenges like working remotely. And many started to like it. But what’s more important: their employees started to like it.

In the meantime the rate of remote work has gone back from 40% at its peak to some 20%, but a change in work structure that not only improves employee satisfaction but also promises to reduce costs is here to stay.

The industries most likely to be affected by this whiplash will be the industries who build the most tangibles products: cars and buildings.

With a trend toward higher quality at the top end but a shakeout at the lower end, both industries have to undergo a radical mindset shift from product to service, from object to experience, from collecting rent to providing value-added.

If surveys can be trusted, most employees don’t want to go fully remote, but we can expect both a gradual shift towards remote work and also a bevy of new startups that are remote-only.

The trend towards “work anywhere” will require a flexibility and foresight most players in a traditionalist industry don’t have, so we will likely see a concentration towards players who have an understanding of these changes and the foresight to anticipate these trends.

Just to offer one example: If employees want to work from home four days a week but meet up in the office once, this creates a new task of coordinating meeting times with scarce building resources.

Rather than being held to a handful of meeting rooms with limited availability, the participants will looks for the room that minimizes their logistical effort while maximizing the shared experience.

The mental image of collaboration will shift from “in the same building” to “in the same shared space, virtual or real”, and the balancing act for real estate companies is to offer a package that seamlessly combines the two.

Future workplaces. Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

I write about how technology shapes the world we live in.