The digital office: Why buildings need to get smart

Portrait of Emilia Cardamone

Emilia Cardamone

Associate Director - Digital


Net-zero ambitions along with post-pandemic working patterns are prompting owners of commercial real estate to scrutinise how building performance helps address societal outcomes. A digital-first approach is vital in order to overcome such hurdles. Smart technology can respond to that demand, providing the data to inform new approaches and enabling buildings to be made more energy efficient and improve health and well-being.

Commercial real estate is changing as forward-thinking investors, owners and occupiers look to prioritise environmental, social and governance (ESG) objectives, enhance building performance and re-appraise their space requirements to improve the working environment. Buildings need to get smarter by incorporating technologies that will help meet these goals and more.

These factors have been brought into sharp focus by changes in working practices in the wake of the pandemic.

That has prompted the increased focus on digitalisation, although organisations are likely to have very different technologies in their real estate and their own drivers for action and objectives.

There are good reasons for every organisation to embrace technology, but it needs to be a priority, putting users at the heart, to enable commercial real estate to remain relevant and resilient for the future.

What is a smart building?

The term ‘smart building’ is commonly associated with the building management systems that control services, such as lighting and heating, and the array of sensors and monitors gathering data on how a building is functioning and being used.

Deployment of these technologies in an office fit-out is designed to deliver clear benefits for people, enabling more comfortable and productive environments to be created for building users, while also helping to drive more effective use of energy and other resources.

A smart building is much more than its IT hardware, software and sensors. Its intelligence comes from the connectivity of its systems and the data collected on a building’s energy use, temperature, lighting and other everyday operations.

For example, CO2 and temperature sensors can give building users a greater understanding of their workplace environment, while helping to give owners and occupiers a clearer picture of how efficiently the building is operating, allowing evidence-based decision-making and more effective facilities management.

Smarter buildings make sense

Inevitably, cost can be a barrier to making buildings smarter and there can also be questions around introducing new, unfamiliar technologies. But investment can be repaid in many ways, including:

  • Driving building performance and environmental objectives: Reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions helps limit energy costs and drive pursuit of organisational and regulatory environmental targets. It enables organisations to use resources more efficiently, minimising financial and environmental costs
  • Enhancing comfort, productivity and well-being for users: Following pandemic shifts to online working, many organisations are rethinking ways of working and looking to make workplace environments more creative, collaborative and appealing, to help retain and attract talent. Smart technology provides the data to drive decisions around repurposing or enhancement and can be used to track interventions, enabling more comfortable, productive and healthier workspaces to be delivered
  • Improving portfolio management: Organisations adapting to hybrid working patterns can apply technology to gain an understanding of how space is used to inform decisions around whether a building should be retained in full or part or otherwise sold. Investment in smart technology means any buildings brought to market are equipped for the future and so may have improved commercial potential. For those retaining buildings, technology allows portfolio performance to be easily monitored remotely via a dashboard.

Strategy matters

A strategic approach can help organisations to realise these benefits effectively. We work with clients to formulate a strategy, appraising their buildings’ current technology level and business objectives to develop a tailored route map that drives targeted results.

Defining the strategy is important in ensuring buy-in for digitalisation at all levels of an organisation, providing boards with the evidence to support investment and facilities management teams with the confidence to embrace new technology. Once the strategy is in place, our set-up capability paves the way for new technology to be embedded in buildings.

The pace of technological change makes it important for strategies and approaches to smart building technology to be reviewed and updated.

There are relatively few standards for smart buildings because technology is rapidly evolving, but clauses in ISO standards can provide the foundation for a smart strategy and routemap, helping to confirm action and enhance asset values.

Time for action

Organisations developing new projects have the potential to integrate technology into buildings from the outset. But with 80 percent of buildings that will make up our towns and cities in 2050 already built, it is essential that smart technology is central to office fit-out strategies in existing buildings, with user benefits at the centre, if global environmental goals are to be met.

Technology is moving fast - it's now time to embrace a digital-first approach. There’s scope for all commercial landlords to make their buildings smarter and for the broader real estate sector to secure tangible benefits, including ultimately making the built environment better for our economy, society and environment.

For further information contact:

Portrait of Emilia Cardamone

Emilia Cardamone
Associate Director - Digital