A plain vanilla approach will not cut it any more

Real estate is, by definition, a responsive industry. This poses two basic problems; firstly, we all know that it takes a long time to build new buildings or modify existing ones to reflect changing mega-trends.

Combine this with the ever increasing pace of change and it’s not hard to identify the major challenge facing those of us operating in the real estate space. How can we create buildings and cities that are more relevant and responsive to current and future market conditions?

Many of these issues were addressed at a workshop I attended in Dubai last week. On the surface, Workbench ‘16 was all about new ways of working and the impact of this on the demand for and design of office space. What quickly became apparent was that many of the same mega-trends are impacting not just office space, but all types of real estate and the resulting urban landscape and physical structure of the city itself.

From the range of topics and trends covered by various speakers, three ‘mega-trends’ seemed to emerge; well-being, technology and jelly bean working. At the heart of all cities and the buildings that comprise them are the people that occupy them. So it’s not surprising that the first of these trends revolves around human well-being. In terms of office space, this involves the creation of work spaces that excite, stimulate and motivate people to work more creatively or more productively.

There has been much written about the ‘war for talent’ and how successful companies are made by attracting and retaining the right people. For the researcher in me, the bottom-line is that around 30 per cent of employees say their physical environment has an influence on their well-being. It’s not hard to realise (although it can be difficult to measure), that this translates into more practical benefits such as increased productivity or increased creativity.

In the office context, this is translating into not only creating more attractive spaces (funky offices) but also adding more facilities and services into this space. We may not all wish to participate in corporate yoga sessions, park our bikes in the office or use the technology vending machine to obtain our next mouse or headphones, but these are all trends being introduced by forward-looking firms as they seek to attract and retain the people that are the bedrock of their future success.

Much has also been written about the impact of technology on both office space and the broader physical environment. We have all become used to storing our data on the cloud, but the next trend may well be the digital ceiling above our heads, which is filled with electronic sensors and ‘ibeacons’ that control not just the environment but also the ‘digital surfaces’ that we used to call desks, within the increasingly ‘app centric’ environment we used to call the office.

New technologies are not just impacting the place in which we work but also the way we work and our lives beyond. As one author has put it, “Technology is the oxygen of the millennials as the younger generation has transformed their bedrooms into ‘entertainment centres’.”

My take has always been that technology should be seen as the enabler rather than the driver of change, but it is not difficult to see how new technologies are shaping this new emphasis on well-being, as these two mega trends converge. It’s also easy to see how this convergence is impacting not just our working environment, but also our homes and leisure environments.

One of the trends that JLL identified in our recent Top Trends for UAE real estate in 2016 is that our hotel landscape would be influenced by disruptive technologies and the demands of the millennial generation. Creating opportunities from these mega-trends will determine which hotels succeed and which lose out in a softening and more competitive hospitality market.

Technology and well-being are also not only impacting individual buildings, but also the broader urban fabric of our cities, or ‘smart cities’. Recognising the importance of this trend, the Dubai Real Estate Institute (DREI) arranged a recent workshop to examine how we can harness changes in technology to create smarter buildings and ultimately a smarter city.

Both Worktech ‘16 and the Smart City event emphasised that the convergence of wellness and technology will look different in different parts of the world. Many of the case studies and examples of best practice quoted in the literature on technology and well-being are taken from more mature overseas real estate markets.

There is a feeling that while the Middle East currently lags behind in some of these areas, this situation is changing fast. Owners, investors and other real estate stake holders in Dubai and elsewhere in the region are now looking to incorporate the latest global trends in technology and well-being into their buildings, which partly explains the strong interest in these topics from the design community and other real estate service providers.



Source: Craig Plumb, Special to Gulf News GN

The writer is Head of Research, JLL MENA


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