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Technology will become omnipresent in commercial buildings -Wybo Wijnbergen, infinitSpace

Wybo Wijnbergen is the Co-founder & CEO of infinitSpace. Over time, he has held several senior and executive positions in real estate, leisure and hospitality, hypergrowing WeWork to 50+ buildings in Europe, building Merlin’s brands and scaling the company to a successful IPO.

Main takeaways:

  • The pandemic accelerated the movement towards flexible working that had already begun
  • When going to the office, people now look both for amazing facilities and seamless functionality, but also for comfort, collaboration and community
  • Commercial landlords will want to create, market and run their own spaces rather than handing the keys over to someone else
  • Technology will become omnipresent in commercial buildings
  • Through apps and other platforms, data can be collected that allows both businesses and landlords to continuously alter spaces based on users’ preferences
  • It is far more sustainable to transform outdated office buildings into modern flexible workspaces than to construct a brand new commercial building 

Although the pandemic seems to have ended, its impact cannot be forgotten. Wybo argues that we shouldn’t forget about those time of uncertainty and how it affected commercial spaces. Many venues had to terminate contracts with commercial landlords, while employees started experiencing remote work. Discovering a new sense of work-life balance, he adds, means that they will be more reluctant to returning to the office five days a week. Flexible working has become the new norm.

More generally, though, the pandemic accelerated the movement towards flexible working that had already begun. Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, as many as 70% of UK employees felt that flexible working made a job more attractive, while 30% said they would prefer flexible working to a pay rise.

Many businesses were already alert to the importance and value of flexibility – be it the time or location of work – in attracting and retaining talent, as well as enhancing productivity. The pandemic has catalysed this trend, and the demand for flexible workspaces is greater than ever – both for employers and employees.

People who do go to the office now have different requirements. According to a study conducted by infinitSpace among around 1000 UK employees, the most important features in a workspace are:

  1. Comfortable furniture and spaces (76% said this is ‘very important or ‘important’ to them)
  2. Superfast, reliable Wi-Fi (74%)
  3. Access to additional technology, such as large screens, printers and scanners (63%)
  4. Meeting rooms (62%)
  5. A social atmosphere (61%)

So, it’s not just about amazing facilities and seamless functionality, it’s also about comfort, collaboration and community. It’s about connecting with other people who can inspire and influence, share ideas, and open up new opportunities.

Flexible working will become the norm, Wybo says, which leads to a bigger number of flexible workspaces than ever before. But this isn’t the only transformation that the future brings:

There will be a shift away from large flexible workspace operators. Sensing the seismic shift, commercial landlords will want to create, market and run their own spaces rather than handing the keys over to someone else. Indeed, infintSpace’s proposition of creating white-label flexible workspaces for landlords is entirely based on this notion. 

Technology will become omnipresent in commercial buildings.

Finally, I think there will be a renewed focus on community, which really began with the pandemic. As new flexible workspaces emerge, they will be designed to be integrated within the communities they sit in.

Are there certain technologies that will play an increasingly important role in the office industry? Given that almost everybody now has a smartphone, infinitSpace’s CEO thinks that it is feasible for all of a building’s users to benefit from an app integrated throughout an entire building. These can be used to locate meeting rooms, check availability, browse events, etc.

More than that, though, tech will support the ongoing evolution of the workspace. Through apps and other platforms, data can be collected that allows both businesses and landlords to continuously alter spaces based on users’ preferences. This allows landlords to gain a better idea of what tenants want from their office space, ensuring workspaces stay up to date and innovative.

At infintSpace, white label technology is an integral part of our offering – the branding and creation of amazing physical space are important, but just as important is the tech that can underpin how the space functions and evolves.

We couldn’t have ended our interview without addressing one of the most important topics of the moment in real estate, sustainability. Climate change is happening and definitely affecting the planet in a negative way, so individual, organisations and industries all have a responsibility to tackle environmental issues and improve sustainability, says Wybo.  

The real estate sector is no exception. In fact, it has more to answer for than most. In the UK alone, buildings are responsible for 23% of all carbon emissions – with 30% of these emissions coming from non-domestic buildings. 

CRE needs to reduce both embodied and operational carbon in order to become more sustainable, he says. Operational carbon can be reduced through the adoption of more sustainable electric products, the insulation of buildings, and other factors.

Flexible workspace operators are well-placed to tackle this, implementing smart LED lighting that uses motion sensors or high-spec technology that reduce the need for paper and waste.

But to reduce operational carbon requires a fundamental rethink of how we meet building demand. Cement – a critical part of concrete within buildings – is one of the largest emitters of CO2 in the built environment. So, the more we build, the more carbon emissions are produced. 

We should therefore consider how to maximize the value of our existing CRE stock, he concludes. Buildings already in place can be better utilized. It is therefore far more sustainable to transform outdated office buildings into modern flexible workspaces than to construct a brand new commercial building.