The Future of Commercial Real Estate: Going Digital

There’s no tried-and-true method in finding the perfect commercial real estate property. In the “good old days,” you’d look for advertisements in local newspapers, trade magazines, and call around to brokers to meet and discuss your options within their portfolio. But with the growth of the digital media market and diversification of technology, there’s no shortage of resources to help you find the right fit for you and your company. 

The benefits of adopting a digital-first approach for your commercial real estate research makes total sense. Without even leaving your computer (or smartphone), you can access and compare details, visuals, and even participate in virtual walkthroughs to save a lot of time and energy if the property just isn’t the right fit. 

Before we dive deeper, it’s important to know the resources available to brokers, how to identify misleading property listings, and where to look when you need advice in the ever-changing realm of commercial real estate. 

Here are a few ways taking a digital-first approach to commercial real estate shopping can save you time, energy, and money.

More Resources at Your Fingertips

From the perspectives of both buyers and sellers, utilizing the vast amounts of data, listing websites, and market research available via just a few clicks can help you sort and manage your “maybes,” “nice to haves,” and “that’s perfect” properties at any end of the equation. Whether its free services like Zillow, OfficeSpace.com, or even Craigslist, you can easily find and access information about potential properties without even contacting a broker. Of course, paid services exist and are available to get more information about the history of the space, so there’s virtually no limit to the number of avenues you can use to find the right property for you. 

Utilizing Virtual Walkthroughs

Especially now, more and more listing agents are utilizing digital tools to recreate virtual walkthroughs and digital media assets as part of their listing pages. As long as you’ve got access to a computer or a mobile phone, you’ll literally be able to walk through properties and get a sense of the space without having to leave your desk. 

While the use of virtual tours and other digital tools have historically been utilized in residential real estate, it’s not uncommon to have these digital assets available for commercial real estate listings nowadays. In fact, commercial real estate brokers now have plenty of options at their disposal, including virtual tours, staging, 3D floor plans, and drone videography that help give prospective clients a better understanding of how a space looks (and could look) without physically visiting the property. 

More Ways to Reach You

But with all of these advances in tenant-facing technologies and solutions, it’s easier than ever for brokers to see what people are looking for in the market based on keyword searches, key photography, and what’s popular on YouTube. Plus, Google Display Ads will ensure that the property you looked at yesterday will show up wherever you go online. As you go through your search, be wary of services that require you to sign up with an email address, Facebook account, or other restriction before you can view a property. You’ll likely be added to a marketing email campaign, so if you’re just doing preliminary searches or not  really interested in a property, it’s not a bad idea to put a little-used email address to avoid unwanted messages from brokers and listing agents. 

Brokers are also utilizing digital platforms to market their listings and are more accessible than ever before – from posting their listings across listing websites, posting on social media, publishing blog posts, white papers, and even webinars. That’s good for you, as the more information you can gather and share with your team, the more informed you’ll be when it comes to making a solid decision on a new commercial real estate space and the process behind leasing or buying it. 

Streamlining Your Search – and Using Technology to Help

Aside from the obvious benefits of using digital technology in the commercial real estate world, the tools available to help make your search easier and more streamlined are readily available than ever before. This may have been a different story even 5-10 years ago in commercial real estate, but new companies and online resources are making it easier for prospective tenants and buyers to research and complete their transactions online. 

While you’re now just a quick Google search away from finding what you need online, if you’re looking for resources to ease the commercial real estate leasing or buying process, there are notable resources like the National Environmental Title Research Online. NETR is a public directory of all public records platforms in the United States, providing an easy way to locate public records in your area in order to find ownership history, construction projects, and other publicly-available information about the property in question. Not only will this help you understand the history of the building, but it’ll allow you the opportunity to leverage this information during a lease agreement negotiation. 

There are also services like biproxi, a platform that specializes in helping commercial real estate brokers, sellers and buyers. For buyers specifically, biproxi provides an easy way to access data reports, including Phase 1 ESA reports, sales comps, property valuations, and appraisals to help you during due diligence and closing.

And then of course, there are free commercial real estate listing websites like OfficeSpace.com that offer tenants and buyers a comprehensive look at the available commercial listings in their area. And, should you approach a tenant representation broker and move forward with your search, you’ll be able to reference the spaces you’ve located on these platforms, giving them an idea of what you’re looking for and your price range right away, speeding up the process and getting you into your new space faster. 

Assessing the Technological Aspects of a Physical Space

Especially with the onset of COVID-19 and the shift to a more work-from-home tolerant business community, it’s important to look for the infrastructure, resources, and perks that a building itself can provide to its occupants – whether they’re working there full-time, remotely, or on a rotation. Whether it’s smart lighting, integrating charging ports at workstations, server space, modern air filtration systems, or dedicated fiber lines, a listing that shows the most information about a property will only help your efforts in picking the right space for your company’s future. 

Technology touches everything we do in our modern lives, but it’s especially true in commercial real estate. Even as you utilize some of these tips in your research, it’s important to do the due diligence in investigating beneath the surface. Contacting neighboring tenants to ask about the property owner, asking for references on previous tenants, and learning more about any recent improvements or upgrades the building has undergone won’t be found on every real estate listing page. 

Especially as more millennials become an increasingly larger demographic for commercial real estate, you can expect to see more virtual and digital ways to experience potential properties – and that’s a huge win for anyone looking for their next commercial real estate space. 

John is the VP of Sales at OfficeSpace.com where he leads broker relations and sales. Prior to being VP of Sales, he was the Regional  Director for the company. John has over 25 years of experience working in the commercial real estate industry. Before OfficeSpace.com, John was a commercial real estate broker for the Norman Company in Seattle, WA.

How Office Space Will Change After a Pandemic

Many countries and states within the U.S. are beginning to ease restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic. While many aspects of life are expected to return to normal, the idea of returning to work – and occupying open-floor/shared workspaces – continues to trouble both employers and employees alike. 

For everyone, this crisis has been inconvenient, worrisome, and dangerous. But for companies seeking new office space, it’s been a complete game-changer. Not only do you have to consider the possibility that your company may never return to “normal,” you have to think about the potential for another outbreak. That means planning for adequate social distancing, contract tracing, and strict adherence to cleanliness and safety should you decide to bring your employees back into the workspace. 

Focus on Virtual

It’s not difficult to imagine a fully virtual office environment after COVID-19. As companies have been forced to move to more flexible, adaptable working environments, the reality of working from home has come to roost for companies across every industry.

For both employees and managers, the shift to working remotely has been swift and sudden. But with ever-changing circumstances and the uncertainty of future working situations, it’s important to be vigilant and progressive to keep your company’s continuity of business intact – no matter what happens day-by-day and week-by-week.

If you haven’t already invested in virtual technologies to keep your team connected, communicative, and performing at a high level, now is the time. 

Create Rotating Schedules

Should you decide to return your employees to a physical office environment, it’s important to take account of not only social distancing protocols, but the potential for spreading diseases and contagions within an isolated office.

Many companies take advantage of larger offices to place multiple workers at workstations. With a global pandemic, these seating arrangements become more problematic. Consider shifting your employees on a work-from-home to in-office schedule, rotating the number of days each employee spends in a shared office during each week. Not only will this help limit exposure, but it will provide an office environment in which your workers will feel safe, more comfortable, and less worried about their health and safety. 

Studies also show that, despite the common preconception that remote workers are less productive, there are plenty of benefits to switching to remote work compared to a mandatory in-office structure. According to a 2019 study, remote workers provide an average of 1.4 more working days per month than in-office counterparts and only sit idle for 27 minutes (besides lunch and breaks) compared to 37 minutes for in-office workers. 

Become More Flexible

It should go without saying, but companies who were already reliant (or capable) of providing remote working situations had a leg-up during the quarantine. That means, whether you’re looking for new office space or re-envisioning your working environment, you need to consider the fact that you may not be able to have all of your employees in-office every single day. Thankfully, there are sleek, modern office spaces available to provide reliable and adaptable working environments – in case you’re thinking about a move. 

It may be infrastructure, adding new and improved ways to keep everyone online and connected throughout the day, or simply improving spacing between workstations, but you need to be prepared to make a shift at a moment’s notice. 

No matter your solution, you are beholden to the safety and health of your employees. Unnecessarily exposing them to dangerous conditions in the workplace isn’t a good move for anyone at this point. Make sure your employees feel safe, contained, and protected in a physical working environment before you give the so-called “all clear.”

Safety First

From touchless hand sanitizer stations to readily available disinfectant wipes, the modern office needs to change in light of COVID-19. In addition to covering the basics, it’s important to limit the number of people per office, open floor space, and the entire office in general. There’s also another factor: housekeeping. Most offices have a contract through the property owner to have housekeeping service the building once or twice per week. Increasing the number of housekeeping visits won’t just help sanitize your office space, but help give your employees better peace of mind during the workday. Rather than having housekeeping come during the nights/weekends, try having basic surfaces like bathrooms, door handles, and shared spaces cleaned periodically during the workday. 

Furthermore, progressive companies should consider implementing more advanced cleaning solutions for employees to utilize. 

Electrostatic cleaning solutions provide sanitizing mists onto surfaces, objects, and shared spaces. It’s not cheap, but it’s a good method to defend against contagious particles and help employees feel safe at work.

And if you’re like most companies, your employees use their smartphones throughout the day for both business and personal affairs. Research has shown that most personal smartphones carry a level of bacteria higher than most public toilets, so investing in UV phone sanitizing stations in your company’s entryway will help protect visitors, employees, and housekeeping staff from unintentionally spreading infectious particles. There’s no proof that these devices prevent or offset the spread of COVID-19 specifically, but the more you can do to safeguard your workplace, the better. 

Lean into Technology

From VoIP solutions for routing calls to remote workers to video conferencing apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, providing your team with a vast, reliable set of tech solutions will help keep your team agile – whether they’re in the office or not. 

Outside of the virtual realm, you’ll also need to rethink how you’re using your technology in the workplace itself. As social distancing measures come and go, it’s important to consider some very basic elements of a workspace. Rotating shifts and shared workstations bring about questions of how many people are physically touching and using surfaces like desks, keyboards, mice, printers, etc. If you haven’t yet, it may be a good time to provide workers with a stipend to purchase their own equipment they can use at home and bring into the workplace to limit exposure to notoriously dirty office gear. 

No matter the measures you take in this new reality, it’s common knowledge that companies who try to return to “normal” before the pandemic will likely struggle to adapt. While companies throughout the world are quickly shifting to remote or flexible working environments, it’s important to consider the growing pains of that transition and acknowledging that your employees will always factor their happiness at work around their ability to feel safe going forward. Whether truly, 100% remote work will be a consideration in the modern and future workplace remains to be seen, the more your company can do to understand the new reality in which we live, work, and play will pay dividends moving into the future.

John is the VP of Sales at OfficeSpace.com where he leads broker relations and sales. Prior to being VP of Sales, he was the Regional  Director for the company. John has over 25 years of experience working in the commercial real estate industry. Before OfficeSpace.com, John was a commercial real estate broker for the Norman Company in Seattle, WA.