Necessity is the mother of invention. And what constitutes a safe working space or an adequate customer service experience in the world of e-commerce has been completely upturned in the time of COVID-19.
Enter the inventors.
The proptech industry is stepping in to provide solutions to problems that developers, office managers, and those in industrial real estate, didn’t have 12 months ago.
As the Australian Financial Review notes: It’s likely to be a lucrative challenge.
“Australia’s biggest landlords have been vocally lobbying for an easing in restrictions that would allow workers populating their CBD towers to return and encourage employers to bring staff back,” the AFR’s Michael Blebey writes.
“They’ll pay for a service that helps them do that at scale and across entire portfolios of buildings.”
In July, The Gateway building on Macquarie Street in Sydney became Australia’s first office tower to implement hand-scanning technology, allowing workers to enter the building, ride the elevators and enter their office without touching a single thing.
A biometric scanner takes care of security, no passes are needed to pass through gates, and the elevator is programmed to take you to your floor.
The technology wasn’t designed for the pandemic, but neither was Zoom.
That same month, Los Angeles start-up Openpath raised $36 million in funding, with investors predicting offices across the world would need to implement touch-free technology.
The Openpath system allows customers and workers to open doors with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and can be linked to G-Suite and Office 365 to schedule worker permissions and automatic locking times.
People can opt to use their hand, mobile phone, or a specific action to unlock doors (meaning you can have a secret handshake with your office door).
Closer to home, Malcom Tyson manages the Australian industrial agency team for Colliers International as NSW State Chief Executive. He leads 730+ staff in the NSW team across six offices and dozens of on-site management teams.
Mr Tyson saw most businesses across the CBD, including Colliers, exodus early in the pandemic, setting up home-based work stations with little to no notice.
“Most businesses had the technology ready to go,” Mr Tyson said on a recent episode of the Elevate podcast.
“They probably didn’t know how to use it, but they learned very quickly and adapted well. It unified a lot of organisations.”
As more workers return to office, Mr Tyson noticed the benefits of such an environment.
“If you’re looking to unlock or discover new business opportunities or try to innovate in some form, or change tactics or strategies, you can’t do that from home,” he explained.
“And you can’t really do it over screens as well, either.”
Mr Tyson suggests that “there’ll be some businesses that will persevere with the work from home experiment”.
He sees a bigger need to create the tech-savvy spaces needed to accommodate the e-commerce innovations of the future.
Mr Tyson has seen the growth of e-commerce, which has strengthened the warehousing and logistics industries.
“Some of those large fulfillment and distribution centres are undergoing very strong growth at the moment”.
With high demand comes new demands, such as convenience and reliability. Industrial real estate developers need to innovate their processes and facilities to accommodate.
“The later generation is much more tech-savvy, they deal with most things through their mobile phone,” Mr Tyson notes.
“They can order through that, and e-commerce is really benefiting from that. It was always going to happen, but the last three quarters of 2020 have probably accelerated it”.
Interestingly, the rapid rise of industry means that often the tech and automation inside the building exceeds the value of the building itself.
“The value of tech stocks, particularly the US, has increased dramatically throughout this year”, he said.
“That’s allowed for a lot of capital to be invested in research and development in this space.
“So, the way I view it is that the technology that exists today is going to be superseded a lot quicker than it would have been over the last few years”.
And the beneficiaries of this arms race will be the customers – and those professionals that adapt quickly and make their mark in this ever-changing industry.
“What’s going to come through in the next three to five years will be extraordinary for the consumer.”