Virus signals ‘watershed moment’ for property technology
PlaceTech contacted companies across the proptech landscape this week to capture their thoughts on the immediate response to the outbreak, the forecast impact on tech adoption and what shape the industry will take in future as a result.
Unsurprisingly proptech companies were well placed to work remotely according to the survey of companies carried out by PlaceTech.
Many of the 100+ companies canvassed for comment by PlaceTech this week were swiftly and relatively smoothly moving to working from home. Many of them already ran teams spread around the world.
Their apps and platforms are designed for remote control of building services and tenant community engagement.
Gab McMillan, CEO founder of tenant experience app Equiem, said: “Interestingly, early data shows that the usage of our platform is actually increasing as buildings switch to ‘work from home’ mode. I think despite the changes, people want to remain informed and connected, so our teams have developed fun and innovative virtual events and engagement strategies – such as digital competitions and live meditation classes.”
While working from home is nothing new for these techies, the length of time people might have to is a challenging prospect that needs special measures. Charlie Wade, MD of EMEA at VTS, the leasing and asset management software, said: “Some key initiatives we have implemented include providing every employee with an allowance to ensure they have the everything they need to work effectively at home (with monitors, noise-cancelling headphones, etc) and also offering parents childcare vouchers to help when schools close.”
William Newton, president and managing director at connectivity certifier WiredScore, London, is well placed to comment on the significance of good broadband at home. He added: “Company-wide home working brings into sharp focus the importance of good connectivity and so much of what we do relies on this.
“The current climate requires us to be creative and collaborate even more than before, whether it’s partaking in daily yoga classes or virtual team meetings, video conferencing is proving invaluable and enables us to maintain our relationships during these challenging times.”
Jack Greensted, director, Locale: “We have taken a measured approach, finding the balance between operating ‘business as usual’ and protecting our team as per Public Health England’s advice. A proptech business is still a people business and so their health is paramount.
“We have been in constant contact with our clients and bolstered platforms across different property asset classes. In the office sector, we have ensured platforms help keep workforces connected and in touch with their peers, meaning everyone is still capable of delivering and keeping your business moving.
“In the residential sector, we have equipped concierges and building managers with tools so they can still assist residents and operate the buildings as usual without being exposed to the virus and minimising the spread of it by being there at the front desk.
“Our Locale Life platform has also been a source of useful local information for occupiers. At a time when many are feeling alone and isolated, these are useful tools to maintain contact with others in the local community.”
Will the lockdown of communities and travel trigger invention and innovation to adopt new ways to get things done, driving tech spend? Or will property companies simply lock down their budgets and retreat to what they see as core, returning to the safety of the old way of doing things?
“Should we see a Covid-19 induced recession the impact on technology adoption will likely depend on individual company cultures,” believes VTS’s Charlie Wade. “However, it tends to be a general rule that technology becomes more important during times of need. Two key examples of that are:
1) Collaboration: as teams adjust to remote working, technology platforms give teams the ability to manage their assets and collaborate in one central place. Everyone has visibility which keeps teams on track, and executives have the answers they need immediately.
2) Using information to mitigate risk: In times of uncertainty, landlords need information (like their exposure to at-risk industries, or tenants up for renewal) to understand how to best allocate resources to mitigate risk.”
Kat Lewis, consultant at tech adviser to real estate Remit Consulting: “Since 2010, we have been undertaking a study of property management in the UK. The results of the REMark study have revealed that during previous recessions and market slowdowns, there were increases in rental collection rates by property managers, keen to secure payments as quickly as possible. While we can expect a similar reaction to any recession as a result of Covid-19, collection rates might be further improved by the use of technology and more detailed analysis of building and occupier data.”
Mike Anderson, CEO of own-brand community app supplier Padoq in Manchester, said: “The sudden increase in social distancing forces people out of the methods they are used to, and Covid-19 could be the unforeseen catalyst for longer term adoption of mobile tenant platforms and solutions. Technology provides us with a means to communicate, collaborate, socialise and work in the digital realms. Property companies will have greater motivations to seek technology-enabled tenant solutions to assist in tasks such as keeping their tenants informed whilst safeguarding their health during this uncertain period.”
“The pandemic is possibly a watershed moment for business when agile working becomes mainstream,” believes Kat Lewis.
“The current situation will give many enterprises the opportunity to rethink where people work and will give more staff the flexibility to work remotely and the enforced change in behaviour may see agile working become the norm, rather than the exception. However difficult the next few weeks and months might be, the environment of quarantine and self-isolation could act as a sort of ‘flexible working boot camp’ for those who have previously felt that it is not efficient for their roles.
“When the pandemic ends and the restrictions are lifted, the property industry will be able to take the positives it learns from remote working, and combine them with the benefits of face-to-face and co-working to launch itself into a new hybrid way.”
Neil Cobbold, chief sales officer at PayProp, an automated transactional platform for the property management industry, adds: “It’s too early to make predictions easily, but the conversation around traditional versus online estate agency will need to develop – and the longer the disruption continues, the more likely it is to drive consumer expectations of the property sector. Giving people the means to be more self-sufficient is a possibility, but is it really the solution we want? I believe the great strength of technology, and the one we need now, is to help communities pull together.”
Jack Greensted, director of Locale, the portal for connecting people with their buildings, says: “The industry is waking up to the fact that technology is no longer a fantasy but a necessity. With workforces dependent on remote access working and front-line staff in decline, proptech ensures a seamless transfer.
“Investors, landlords and developers need to think about how technology and their properties can join forces and thrive come rain or shine. An easy-to-use property management software ensures building managers and owners are able to keep up with everyday operations, for example checking security cameras, allowing for deliveries and enabling visitors to be checked in. It can also be utilised for essential communications such as internal updates and safety measures.
“Social distancing need not be a drastic measure in the future. Technology can bridge this gap and ensure lives continue and businesses thrive.”
William Newton, WiredScore, concludes: “We will start to see a bifurcation between the essentials of technology and the nice-to-haves. Organisations will still want to invest in well-connected, smart buildings as these are essentials for the productivity of a company and its employees. But the focus will be on the fundamentals and making sure that the built environment industry gets it right.”
Eugene Tavyev, CEO and founder of Spacepool: “COVID-19 has manifested into a global public health disaster. It has brought economies, businesses and lives to a grinding halt leaving everyone in a vacuum of uncertainty.
“Long before governments were asking people to work from home, we were saying that tech has the potential to bridge inadequacies in a business, adding both flexibility and efficiencies operationally. The property industry has been slow on the uptake compared to other sectors, and this has to change.
“The proptech community must make its case now, especially to the office sector. From investors to occupiers, adopting technology will ensure appropriate measures are in place for businesses to thrive in the face of adversity. Creating spaces beyond the major metropolises such as London and Manchester is vital to our country, but they can only survive if people know about them and can connect to them.
“Creating a platform that encourages communication between occupiers and workspace providers means decisions can be made faster, and tailored leases can be agreed quickly, especially when circumstances change and businesses need to adapt within minutes.
“The time has come to put technology at the heart of industry. Tech will not sever the limbs of this dated industry but prop it up and bring new blood to it.”
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