The vaccine rollout is ushering in a return to the office as many businesses adopt hybrid working models and embrace flexible workspaces. For some employers, COVID-19 has permanently altered their expectations about where their employees will work. Some have told all but a few employees they can work fully remote forever. Examples are Novartis, Slack, and Twitter. Others plan a hybrid approach where employees will work part of the week at home and part in physical spaces. These include Ford, Google, and Nationwide. While it’s unclear now how many employers will ask employees to return to physical workplaces full time, when the time is right, there will be many.

Of course, from a social aspect, there is pent up demand for workers who miss face-to-face interaction. One thing is clear: the hybrid model will be permanent. In addition to managing the concerns about physical safety with staffers in the building, any outbreaks or high absenteeism negatively impact the bottom line and the company’s reputation. Occupier requirements are constantly evolving and they are driving new considerations for landlords and workspace providers. It takes best-of-breed technology to remove the complexity and make workspaces really work effectively while meeting the increased demands of today’s tenants.

The future of work will mirror how the world’s biggest companies are consuming and occupying flexible workspaces. The flexible model is a great fit for enterprises of all sizes because leases are shorter, occupiers can pay as they go, scale up and down as needed, and have access to more services while avoiding the responsibility of real estate overhead and management. A big obstacle in attracting high value tenants like Amazon is ensuring that a secure and private digital infrastructure is in place. It is a real concern as IBM estimates that the average global cost of one security breach in 2020 was $3.8 million. This does not measure other negative outcomes from a breach such as a loss of business and brand reputation or the time and resources to correct the damage.

Before a tenant signs a lease for a flexible space, they’ll expect the provider to demonstrate the appropriate digital infrastructure is in place. Let’s review the core considerations and components required to create a secure tech operating layer that reassures the integrity of the workspace, operation and infrastructure while delivering a great occupier experience. 

First Focus on Physical Security

People are less likely to return to the office unless they are confident that the buildings are clean, individual workspaces are far apart, and that access and amenities are touch-free and easily accessible on mobile devices. Prospective tenants are concerned about how well the access to the outermost perimeter of a space or building is managed. Smart access is more than giving occupiers a means to unlock a door or access a space; it can enable user tracking and visitor management – two increasingly important elements to any operation as re-occupancy becomes a priority focus.

Traditional office attendance meant that patterns of people entering and leaving a building were far more predictable, and even where people worked. But now, with flexible working arrangements, the access control systems have had to become more advanced. Now they have to account for different people entering different buildings, working in different spaces and entering and leaving the building at varying days and times. For the optimal digital experience, access systems must continually evolve to be secure and able to provide a seamless customer journey, regardless of which office within the system’s network someone is entering.

The evolution of smart buildings enables verification and monitoring of the identity of personnel. It is vital for workspace providers to understand who the occupiers are, the physical spaces they frequent and who they interact with. This covers all spaces within an office, including parking lots, workspaces, desks and amenities to name but a few. Not only does having a holistic view of a building allow for tighter security, but it also enables offices to be a safer space for people to return to amid the pandemic.

Knowing how often spaces have been occupied, by how many people and how often staff are interacting with physical objects, provides greater insights for the occupier to know what cleaning and sanitizing protocols must be put in place. The reality is that safety measures in the post-COVID world are going to be high on the agenda for every office worker, landlord and flexible workspace provider.

Next Focus on Network Security

It is not advisable to cut any corners when it comes to network security. Processes and solutions must be in place to protect the platform from any attacks, and also ensure that all the systems work together seamlessly in one place. It’s essential to have visibility and control over the range of devices connected to the network, and to manage and monitor wired, wireless and guest network logins around the clock. Access to Wi-Fi networks must be encrypted and authorized based on individual usernames and passwords rather than a shared password common for Wi-Fi Protected ( WPA) networks. Traffic must be appropriately encrypted and segregated by tenant, with dedicated Virtual Local Area Networks (VLANs) and blocked inter-VLAN traffic. Firewalls are also critical to protect the infrastructure. Not having these items in place leaves workspace providers and their tenants at risk of a privacy, security or compliance breach. Tenants will seek out an office provider who can demonstrate the security levels they require for their business needs. 

Traditionally, to achieve such stringent security measures, a landlord would have to work with up to 10 different vendors. There would be a system for CCTV operations, a network for access control, for desk and meeting room booking, control systems and many more. This makes maintaining the security and operations complex, and has been a real challenge for traditional landlords. Yet flexible workspace  platforms can carry out these operations in one place, equating to a more secure and fluid network.

Scope out Cybersecurity

This critical yet often left behind component of technology infrastructure must be prioritized. From malware and payment processing to compliance and phishing attacks, cybersecurity is a moving target if the framework isn’t place to manage the invisible threats in today’s increasingly digital world. It’s crucial to understand which components and systems in the operation are vulnerable to attacks and take steps to protect and monitor any possible weaknesses. Best practices include keeping cable patching and switch port configurations up to date to prevent risks to connected devices, firewalling and VLAN segregation to prevent targeted cyber-attacks on tenants on the same infrastructure, and real time protocol monitoring to contain and identify compromised devices.

Aim for an Amazing Occupier Experience

Getting workers back to the office spaces and services they need has to be simple, fast, and frictionless. Anything from printing and adding devices to door access and logging onto Wi-Fi can make or break productivity and a seamless experience. Occupiers will have to interact with the space and at some point, touch the security boundary – think adding devices like a printer, Alexa or a Sonos speaker. The fewer systems and touchpoints in the process, the simpler it is to bring new devices onto the network with minimal friction. 

Wellbeing and good health are a priority in a post-pandemic office market. Technology is the best way to monitor re-occupancy and track user behavior throughout a portfolio. Tools such as smart access control systems and remote desk-booking minimize touch points throughout an office, making it a more comfortable experience for employees.

The office experience has two layers to it; that of the provider, and that of the occupier. Occupiers will want to customize spaces to their employees’ specific needs and desires. Companies will expect experiences to be consistent and reliable throughout its many offices. Interactions with the office will be more nuanced; the modern day workspace has to adapt to these new intricacies as enforced by the pandemic.

Select secure digital infrastructure

Security isn’t always visible, but it is always critical to the technology infrastructure. It must be able to meet the different requirements for each tenant. Failing to do so can have serious implications. The role of a space provider is to build and deliver workspace and services to occupiers, not to get bogged down dealing with the myriad of details of technology management and compliance. By adopting a software and technology solution that can effectively incorporate the full tech stack, landlords can remove the core responsibility from their shoulders, stay aligned with industry standards and compliance requirements, and satisfy tenants’ ever-evolving needs. Businesses cannot afford to occupy a building that can’t keep up. They will leave spaces that don’t work for them now and in the future!