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Tech plus workspace equals what?

Excitement about new tech workspace solutions needs to be kept under control, say Nick Taylor and Keir Dixon, Directors in Savills’ building and project consultancy team.

27/04/2020 3 min read

This month, David Thame spoke exclusively to Nuveen’s Jack Sibley about the workplace tech innovations to embrace, and those to treat with caution. But what is the reality for property agents like Savills?

‘It’s a constant battle,’ says Nick. ‘For instance, everyone wants the stripped back warehouse look, but if you strip out the suspended ceilings then you struggle to get consistent temperatures. Cool air gets dumped in some places and not others. We try to solve this with oversize fan coils, but it’s a problem.’

According to Keir, it’s not so much the new tech itself that causes the headaches, as the fancy apps and management systems that control it. ‘There are dozens of smart systems on the market, ranging from Bluetooth sensors connected to oxygen sensors, to light controls, to ways of using data from sensors to direct cleaners to the right part of the building. But they all tend to be separate apps or systems. There isn’t really anything yet that brings it all together.’

‘The risk is that it’s so complicated you get a lot of fantastic systems that only a specialist can control. That would mean, to run a smart building effectively, you need to have an engineer that comes with the building.’

The danger that expensive systems will not deliver is multiplied if the original building design is not respected by the interior fit-out.

‘You can find sensors in the wrong places very easily. When tenants start doing their own thing, you often find that good tech solutions in the building just do not work as intended.’

Worse still, some systems are seriously pricey, adding several pounds per square foot to the development cost. Developers naturally balk at high additional capital expenditure, but they also worry that, if they do invest in fancy kit, the tenants won’t value what they’ve done.

‘Developers have to take a gamble that they will end up with a forward-thinking tenant who gets what they’ve done. And they might not get that kind of occupier,’ says Nick.

The final worry for developers is that, by making their buildings as up-to-the-minute as they can, they will, accidentally, make them redundant.

‘The fear among developers is that they promise the town planners that they will do X or Y to meet sustainability targets. But by the time the building is built and occupied, the technology they promised is out of date. Or just not adequate – as is the risk with something like electric car charging points,’ he says.

Their conclusion is that the safest approach to workplace tech is to multiply the amount of ducting and chose new tech with care.

Manchester-based Truth Creative has recently completed all of the interior design work for UA92, the fancy new university academy from the Class of ’92. Darren Scott, Founder and Creative Partner, says: ‘The problem with tech isn’t necessarily the way it has changed workspaces but the way that it has allowed work to take over aspects of our lives away from those workspaces.’

The result is a stressed-out workforce. ‘The next great wave of technology will allow us to connect with ourselves a lot more than we do with each other,’ he says – with one eye firmly on wellness apps and trends.

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