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Office lobbies become contactless due to Covid

After 9/11, the lobbies of many office buildings in the United States changed permanently as landlords tightened security, adding cameras, turnstiles, programmable elevators and other technological tools. Everyone who entered had to have identification, and the guards recorded who was coming and going.

Now, as pandemic restrictions ease and workers begin to return to the office, the lobby is changing again, this time with a focus on health and safety. But the changes are subtle and primarily aimed at facilitating flow at the turnstile.

Most notably, mobile apps related to building security or operating systems are replacing plastic ID badges for workers and the visitor check-in process. The goal is to digitally connect everyone entering the building while minimizing direct contact. Body scanners and air sensors are expected to become more prominent in the future.

Unlike the extra security measures of the post-9/11 world, which were obvious, the latest changes will go largely unnoticed, said Jurgen Timperman, president of fire and security at Carrier Global, a provider of building operating systems based in Palm. Beach Gardens, Florida.

“With these apps, we have all the information we need about someone before they come into the building,” he said. “So the days of someone sitting behind a desk with a big book and a pen are pretty much over.”

Building apps allows users to upload ID and other identifying information, such as their vaccination status, and provides the ability to add features such as health questionnaires that pre-screen employees or visitors before their arrival. Apps can also track users around a building, which can help businesses use space more efficiently or close off areas to reduce occupancy.

Sellers are tight-lipped about the cost of building systems, as are the homeowners who installed them. One problem, they say, is that the price varies depending on the size and layout of a building and the number of people, sensors and functions on the system.

The behind-the-scenes overhaul of security systems is spreading to office buildings and even universities. Students and faculty at Rochester Institute of Technology in upstate New York, for example, use a Carrier system for mobile entry into campus buildings.

New York-based developer Silverstein Properties has introduced a contactless entry system for tenants at 7 World Trade Center in Manhattan that allows employees to use badges stored in Apple Wallet to access office and amenity spaces. And at Deutsche Bank’s new offices in the former Time Warner Center, vaccination status is loaded onto employee badges for entry through its turnstiles, a spokesperson said.

In August, Rubenstein Partners deployed a platform and application from HqO, a building operating systems provider, in a 500,000 square foot office building known as 25 Kent in Brooklyn, about 16 months after opening. Rubenstein had decided before the pandemic to use the technology in the new development, but the desire to create a contactless entrance hastened the timing.

“In the past, when someone went to an office, you gave your ID card to a security person. But with Covid, distance has become a concern,” said Salvatore Dragone, director of property management at Philadelphia-based Rubenstein. “Now you can pre-register and your phone opens a turnstile or an elevator door. It gives us a lot more control over who enters the building.

In addition to apps, permanent but unobtrusive temperature and body scanners and air sensors in lobbies and elsewhere could become more common, especially if other airborne viruses or other coronavirus variants emerge.

As property managers continue to reinvent the office lobby, tenants and visitors can also expect a “concierge feel” in addition to basic security, Dragone said, as music, HVAC scent diffusers, art, and other experiential elements are becoming more common.

And those Plexiglas partitions? “I don’t think they’re here for good,” he added, “and we don’t want them to stay longer than necessary either.”

Technology continues a movement of automating manual processes in all sectors. But in commercial real estate, it’s also part of a trend to create a more hospitable and inviting atmosphere by borrowing ideas from hotel lobbies, like lounges and meeting spaces, said Lenny Beaudoin, who oversees the workplace, design and occupancy for CBRE, a commercial real estate brokerage firm. CBRE has also created Host, an app for tenants and landlords, and other digital building operations solutions.

“What landlords provide in lobbies is largely a response to what tenants want, and ultimately it’s a more connected experience,” said Sandeep Davé, Chief Digital and Content Officer. technology at CBRE. “The focus now is on converging functions on a smartphone that will provide a contactless experience and encourage people to get back to work, and get back safely.”

The pandemic has accelerated interest in contactless solutions, said James Scott, principal investigator at the Real Estate Innovation Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“In light of Covid, the acceptance of new technologies and their implementation has become extremely important,” he said. “The rate of adoption has accelerated from three to five years.”

In a 2021 global survey, nearly two-thirds of 250 respondents said they had adopted mobile credentials to control access to buildings or planned to do so within the next two years, according to IFSEC Global, an international organization for information and lectures on safety and fire safety in London. .

Despite the urgency created by the pandemic, some property owners and managers are still considering how and how best to enhance the safety and security of their lobby.

The lack of a unified system complicates matters. The construction software solutions industry remains fragmented, with several competing real estate technology companies. And the capabilities are still under study. For example, apps have been developed to automatically call an elevator when someone enters a building, but technology vendors have yet to deploy this functionality significantly, Scott said.

The same goes for the deployment of automated temperature scanners, he added. In many cases, temporary temperature-taking stations disappeared in 2021, before the Omicron variant of the coronavirus took hold.

“Once a pandemic has waned, these types of temporary measures tend to gather dust in a storage room unless they have been incorporated as part of the building management system,” said said Mr. Scott.

Expense is also a consideration, especially in older buildings that lack a strong technology base, said WA Watts IV, president of the Institute of Real Estate Management, an international organization for property and asset managers. .

For example, a renovation project for a 25,000-square-foot, 18-year-old building in Birmingham, Alabama, costs about $5 per square foot just to install basic infrastructure, said Watts, who is called Chip. He and other industry watchers wonder if low-density suburban offices in smaller markets even need to install such intensive safety and security measures.

But technological innovation is on the way, said Dawn M. Carpenter, founder of Dawning Real Estate and a broker who manages about five million square feet of commercial real estate in New York.

At her 200,000-square-foot office building on Staten Island, security guards in the lobby office still call tenants when visitors arrive, Ms. Carpenter said. Guests then wait for someone to come down in the elevator to pick them up. Since Omicron struck, however, no visitors have been allowed.

“Adding a building operating system is a big capital outlay, and owners need to buy into it,” she said. “There aren’t any in this building yet, but there will be.”


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