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Why smart and healthy buildings will get us back to work and play – faster and happier

Glenn Lurie, President and CEO, Synchronoss, argues healthy buildings hosting healthy workspaces could be a competitive advantage in the wake of Covid-19.


The phrase a “new normal” is one I’ve heard several times in my career, including after the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and during the recession that followed. Today’s version in the wake of Covid-19, however, is about far more than economics, potential layoffs and lost bonuses. The current pandemic has re-shaped our most fundamental interactions with the world around us, leaving many of us fearful of normal everyday activities, such as heading into the office or having drinks and dinner in a restaurant after work. This is a very different kind of new normal where how we interact with our places of work and other public gathering places is dramatically changed and destined to remain that way for months – or maybe even years – to come.


Leaning into technology


Some Silicon Valley giants have made media waves by granting employees indefinite permission to work from home. Most business leaders, however, don’t believe that universal remote work is realistic for a full economic recovery. At the same time, no one really knows how to make the buildings we use every day safe enough to lure the majority of people back to them. Yes, taking temperatures, installing plexiglass dividers, and wearing gloves and masks will play a role. True economic recovery, though, demands that we get much closer to pre-Covid normal.


And so we turn to technology.


Smart building solutions were gaining traction before the pandemic, but the focus was on efficiencies and making dumb buildings smart. Today, smart building focus is quickly shifting to how we can use the technology we have, or will soon have, to protect individual health and safety. Sensor technology already allows us to monitor the health of people entering buildings, space utilization, air and water quality, and more. New solutions even detect and kill pathogens through ventilation systems.


It will take connecting these new wellness-focused sensors and capabilities with a holistic, single view smart building management platform to give us the means to make a real difference. Building managers will have access to real-time, usable analytics and data that allows them to make critical decisions in a timely manner. Business leaders, employees and customers will have more confidence that the indoor spaces they enter are as safe as possible.

Smart building focus is quickly shifting to how we use technology to protect individual health and safety

The fact is that it’s only a matter of time before we see “healthy building” certifications, scorecards and grades on building doors in the same manner as we already see Yelp or TripAdvisor stickers posted in businesses around the world. These new building health certifications will inform employees and the public that a business location has taken action to protect those who walk through the door. Technology will make meeting new certification standards possible.


A healthy competitive edge


It’s not a huge leap to imagine that the healthiness rating of indoor spaces will serve as a competitive advantage. Already hospitality companies spend huge amounts of time and money creating the best experience they can for their customers. Healthy buildings are an obvious extension of this strategy, especially given the fear and paranoia created by COVID-19. We expect the healthy venue message to permeate core branding for years to come. Like great service, wellness quotients will become table stakes.


The health of buildings also has the potential to impact recruiting. When applicants have their pick of employment offers, it very well could be that five-star healthy office building ratings and Glassdoor reviews extolling a company’s effort to create a safe and healthy physical environment are more important than a flexible schedule or access to a company gym.

The health of buildings has the potential to impact recruiting

Without a doubt, smart, safe and healthy buildings are critical to driving a complete economic recovery in a time when contagions are top of mind. Building and facility owners in concert with technology companies must work together to put the necessary tools in place, including appropriate health-focused sensors and a single analytics platform capable of delivering a holistic view of the health and efficiency of indoor spaces where we work, shop and play.


In the past we used to take care of buildings. In the new normal, buildings will take care of us.

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