COVID-19 has proven to be a catalyst the world over for serious thinking about how property technology (i.e., PropTech) can deliver not just standard business improvements, but also solutions to our new collective concerns about health. As key decision-makers realize the rules have changed, many internal hurdles that thus far have been preventing innovation, have now been removed. It has, in other words, become clear that smart investments in PropTech can be a game-changer in the recovery phase and our eventual, new post-pandemic reality.
Back in February, we released Canada's PropTech journey: How Canadian real estate companies are faring in the digital age. This analysis of Canadian responses to KPMG International's 2019 Global PropTech survey revealed that real estate companies around the world—including those in Canada—have been cautious about technology adoption and are only "just beginning to awaken to the digital era."
Their responses were gathered prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and, at the time, many of the considerations that now dominate our collective attention weren't factored into their thinking. For those that were moving ahead with investments in property technologies, what were their main objectives? Improving efficiencies, improving decision-making, improving asset performance, improving customer engagement, maximizing revenue and reducing costs.
While those issues continue to matter, today there is a top concern that didn't even make the list at the time—namely, health and safety. That's because, as organizations across the country begin the delicate process of returning to their workplaces, many questions remain about how best to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19 infections. How many will be able to continue working from home, and for how long? For those that must return to their offices as soon as possible, how will we maintain physical distancing? How will we monitor the number of people on site, while respecting their privacy? And so on.
Over the next six to 12 months, the focus will be on using tech in ways that ensure tenants feel comfortable returning to their offices and other places of business. Building operators will have to create safe environments that people will want to enter. Tenants and visitors alike will expect that spaces are maintained at the highest levels of cleanliness and overall quality, and that landlords and operators are transparent about safety measures and associated reporting.
Mitigating risks will require the collection and rapid analysis of information. KPMG is developing a "workforce safeguarding" app that can help with this, creating connected experiences to privately and securely collect important data about employee safety and office readiness. With digital tools like this in place, business leaders can easily find and process the information they need to manage their workforce and execute safety controls in a timely manner.
Still, landlords and operators are feeling the financial pressure. Earnings are down. There is uncertainty on lease renewals and future demand. All the while, many tenants are looking for lower service charges to help ease their own financial pressures. With the timeline for a viable vaccine still unknown, how much stakeholders will be willing to spend on the necessary infrastructure remains an open question.
The following key areas demand immediate attention: Building access, physical distancing and hygiene. PropTech can help with all three.
1. Managing safe access
- Contactless entry technologies
- Employee, visitor and vendor screening, as well as temperature checks (subject to local regulations)
- Incident management policies and protocols for confirmed cases
2. Ensuring physical distancing
- Monitoring the number of people allowed in common areas and elevators
- Restricting individuals' access to certain floors
- Hoteling systems to book designated workspaces
- Reducing people flow by designating specific time periods for entry and exit
3. Maintaining hygiene
- Monitoring the frequency with which high-traffic areas (e.g., serveries and washrooms) are sanitized
- Monitoring air quality
- Contactless entry technologies (again)
Ultimately, by investing in technology, landlords will be taking a step towards improving health and safety, optimizing customer engagement, streamlining operations, and making data an integral part of decision-making in the new reality.
Because one thing is certain: COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on all real estate sectors for years to come. Technologies that can help with prevention and detection of the COVID-19 virus by analyzing data in real-time will play a very important role in the return to work.