Digitizing office buildings to get the job done right

Opinion column published on July 3, 2024 on Journal du Net.


By Pascal Zératès, Managing Director, Kardham Digital et Nicolas Cochard, R&D Director, Kardham


Since the beginning of the 21st century, the expression NWOW (New Ways of Working) has been in vogue. The digitization of work is at the heart of the deployment of new ways of working, which can be succinctly defined as more nomadic, more hybrid and more flexible. Most often, NWOW is illustrated by the use of digital terminals such as smartphones and laptops. But let’s not forget one simple fact: most work is done in buildings, and digitizing them is the main lever of the NWOW. To see this for yourself, just imagine a working day where it’s difficult to use digital technology in all its forms: performance and satisfaction won’t be there. To ensure that the user experience in commercial buildings is as seamless as possible, and that their work experience is as satisfying as possible, it is essential to digitalize the building. Functional comfort is a key measurement of a worker’s satisfaction with his or her working environment. It is defined by the capacity of the working environment to be a resource for doing great work. But what role does digital technology occupy for the worker who wants to do a great job?


Functional comfort: working well


The cornerstone of functional comfort lies in the notion of control. When occupants feel they have partial control over their working environment, their perceived satisfaction and performance increase. One way of achieving this is by controlling his or her spatial route. Let’s take the simple example of a meeting, since we all regularly have unsatisfactory experiences on this subject. Indicating one’s presence on site, being able to book the room efficiently, holding the meeting in hybrid mode as smoothly as possible with a fast, reliable connection, being able to throttle the temperature or share documents quickly by videoconferencing are all fundamentals of functional comfort that are facilitated by the digital infrastructure. Hybrid working makes these fundamentals even more important, because neglecting them can worsen the working day for both on-site and remote working employees. This simple example from the day-to-day life of office workers is enough to make the link with technology uses, since digital tools are intended to respond to workers’ actual uses in order to make their work easier. By looking at this aspect of comfort, we can measure the importance of digital technology in QLW and in the ability of workplaces to offer a satisfying experience at work, which is why employees find it easier to come to the office. Since the health crisis, many executives and/or managers have been asking the question HOW to get employees back to the office. But the more pertinent question is WHY they should come back. One of the answers lies in the smart workplace, understood for the employee as a workspace that enables him or her to better control his or her daily routine, and for the organization as the ability to better manage and anticipate the life of the site. Do you do a good job if your day is littered with digital problems?


Uses: making them evolve


By their very nature, uses evolve, but most of the time they evolve more rapidly than space, which is less malleable and therefore runs the risk of being partially unsuitable. Let’s take the example of our meetings. Meeting rooms have often been designed for headcounts of 6, 8, 10 or even 12 people. Capturing and analyzing data, particularly in the context of hybrid working, makes it possible to objectify the actual use of spaces. In the case of meeting rooms, for example, very few are used by more than 6 people, as meetings are usually held with smaller headcounts. This raises the question of the mismatch between resources and usage. In its data dimension, digital technology is a tool for gathering information which, once collected and analyzed, facilitates the adjustment of space in relation to usage, through modeling and prediction, in the service of anticipation. Anticipating usage is a major challenge for organizations, and not just from the point of view of the cost of a poorly used sq.m. space. In fact, ensuring that the working tool that space represents is in line with usage and needs is imperative for individual, collective and organizational performance. Can you do a good job with an inadequate tool??


Strategy: integrating digital


This is why the digital aspect of the working environment must be an integral part of any real estate and, ultimately, organizational transformation. To consider digital in an integrated way is to ensure that the building’s nervous system is designed in parallel with its skeleton and muscles. This is how we can make digital an integral part of our strategy. So, while we may initially think that digital addresses only technical issues, it is ultimately human and organizational issues that are the end result. This is why the stakeholders involved in the digital aspect of organizational transformations include players from Information Technology, human resources, finance, working environments and real estate. And let’s face it: technology is never just a means to an end. The ambition of a transformation that combines real estate and digital is therefore strategic, since it aims to design and then operate a high-performance work tool and living space. The design & build phase is absolutely crucial, as it lays the foundations for a resourceful workplace. However, the operational phase, the run, is just as crucial, as it involves monitoring and managing the space. Spaces and organizations are living objects, so we need to ensure that the habitat remains adapted to the inhabitant over time. Can we do a good job with a tool that wears out over time?

As you can see, digitizing an office building is not just a technical issue, because the end goal is obvious: it’s all about quality of life at work. Digital technology makes workers’ daily routines more fluid. Getting to the office to do a good job is an essential source of satisfaction and performance.


To find out more, read the recent book Stratégie Immobilière et performance au travail, published by Kardham with the French national real estate directors association (ADI), Editions du Moniteur.