By Thomas Pedergnana
In recent months, a number of companies have announced that remote work policies rolled out in response to the Covid-19 pandemic will be extended well into 2021, if not indefinitely. It goes without saying that this shift in corporate culture adds additional uncertainty to an already uncertain situation for anyone whose business involves commercial real estate.
It also makes what JPMorgan Chase CEO, Jamie Dimon, proclaimed in September all the more noteworthy. In talking about why the country’s largest bank was recalling key employees to the office, Dimon described the “creative combustion” that occurs when people work together in-person, a phenomenon that cannot be replicated virtually. According to recent surveys from Gensler and PwC, workers themselves seem to agree with this sentiment.
The takeaway? There’s still extraordinary value in the office concept at commercial properties despite the current pressure the pandemic is exerting on the industry. The question, however, is how buildings can be modified so that occupiers are comfortable returning to them.
In many cases the answer is to leverage technology to create “smarter” buildings, and this is only possible when wireless connectivity is omnipresent. This makes it possible for interconnected systems to communicate with one another to automate key processes like occupancy monitoring, air filtration, and temperature checks, among other examples. It also allows for the integration of personal devices with building systems, which can both protect the health of those in the facility and provide building managers with more control over how occupiers navigate the space. Perhaps most importantly, smart buildings enabled through total wireless connectivity ensure that those who aren’t in the office can seamlessly interface with those who are, while at the same time providing a level of flexibility that will continue to meet business needs long after Covid-19 is no longer a threat.
Prior to Covid-19, complete wireless coverage was already becoming not just a nice feature to have, but a required component at commercial properties. In fact, in many ways it had become the fourth utility, along with water, power and gas. There’s an even stronger argument to be made for its importance with the need for flexibility now at a premium. As the desire for quickly adaptable layouts continues to grow, with workstations able to be easily moved in response to health and safety protocols, there’s no greater tool than wall-to-wall wifi and cellular connectivity. To have that flexibility from a technology connectivity perspective is key to addressing the current situation and being prepared for what’s to come with the evolution of the workspace in the commercial real estate environment.
In many cases, upgrading wireless connectivity can be achieved with little disruption in the facility, and there are even ways to reduce or completely eliminate system costs. To successfully accomplish this, however, the planning and installation must be executed well. Here’s how to ensure that happens:
Experience Matters: To achieve the best results most efficiently, align yourself with an electrical contractor that specializes in the technologies being deployed and, ideally, one that is well-versed in multiple disciplines. Integration between electrical, A/V, and wireless can complement low-voltage and other systems. When wireless connectivity is being upgraded in commercial buildings, it’s generally necessary to work with multiple wireless carriers to achieve desired outcomes. An electrical contractor with limited experience doing so is far more likely to run into roadblocks that delay and throw the project off-course.
Search for Savings: With the economic challenges the pandemic has presented, this can be a difficult time to commit to expenses as budgets are being reevaluated. Fortunately, there are options available to upgrade wireless connectivity at reduced or no cost to the end-user. Explore what options the electrical contractor is able to offer and factor that into your decision-making process.
Map a Plan Collaboratively: Once a qualified partner is identified, but before any work begins, a comprehensive needs assessment must be completed. It’s fairly common for a customer to begin a conversation with our team at Malko Communication Services with an idea of what they want installed, but often as we dive deeper into that initial request, we find that a different solution or combination of solutions that work together will help solve the problem more efficiently and in a cost-effective manner. Anyone can sell you a widget, but it’s a consultative relationship that leads to the best results now and as technologies evolve, both during the pandemic and when the post-pandemic reality sets in. Before any work begins, there should be a customized plan that is the result of extensive pre-construction communication.
Focus on Future-Proofing: Designs and solutions must be forward-thinking. Solutions should not only address the immediate needs during the pandemic, but solve more persistent, long-term business challenges. Whatever is installed should integrate with existing systems and add long-term value to the space. When we get back to a “full normal” or whatever the next new normal is, the right investment today will help prevent the need for a forklift upgrade for the technology in the near future.
In recent months, the demand for these upgrades has far exceeded anything we’ve seen in the past. And with no clear end in sight to Covid-19, we anticipate that this trend will continue and put additional pressure on facility managers that have not yet invested in solutions that increase the marketability of their property both now and once we settle into a post-pandemic reality. Educating yourself and taking action now will help you not only survive the current crisis, but thrive well into the future.
Pedergnana is a vice president at Malko Communication Services, a complete communications installation and service contractor based in Chicago that specializes in AV, DAS, Security, low-voltage solutions, services, and systems. In his role at Malko, Pedergnana is responsible for the overall management of operations and strategic direction for Malko’s Electrical, Wireless, AV, Security and TelData divisions. Malko is a member of Powering Chicago, an electrical industry labor-management partnership between the Electrical Contractors’ Association of City of Chicago and IBEW Local 134, which recently published the “Contactless Office” eBook.
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