This article forms part of our ‘New How: Perspectives’ report: ‘Can real estate help solve the productivity puzzle?. To access this free report, please click on the download link to the right of this page.
If we take the traditional management of a block of flats as an example: you might have one person collecting rent, feeding that information into an accounts system, chasing unpaid rent, deciding whether to escalate unpaid rents, paying the money to the owner, paying money to the bank. You might then have another person conducting building testing, feeding into a health and safety file, checking air quality, water quality and fire safety systems. Person three would be liaising with estate agents to let the empty flats, arrange viewings, deal with new lettings, arrange moving in dates, feeding all of that information into rent and lettings schedules.
What if we said that 90% of this could be automated though the use of proptech? Sounds far-fetched but proptech companies are scripting this kind of product right now. Through the use of AI to automate decision making, the productivity of those three people could be increased tenfold as they might then be able to manage ten blocks instead of just one.
And what about when proptech is applied to a workplace environment? Well, if we are to draw people back to the office after lockdown, then our workplace firstly needs to be safe. Better managed building controls and systems will play a vital role for fresh air management but also to ensure the building is modern and therefore conducive to enhancing the productivity of a workforce.
Workers will also want safe transport but being stuck on a train or a tube with little fresh air circulation is a big turn off for people. That widens the debate around localising the use of offices and collaborating more efficiently across local hubs, which knit together local workers through the use of video conferencing, remote teamworking and the ability for marketing through augmented reality, as opposed to needing to be in a large office.
Logistics is a good example of an industry which has been a trailblazer in adopting proptech through use of AI on picking lines and robotising packing, stacking and loading on to pallets for onward distribution. The cost may be high, but the long-term effect is ultra-high productivity. Manufacturing is another sector in which output has been seen to increase as a result of AI and the building of bespoke properties which fit robotics matrices.
2020 has taught us to embrace technology more than ever before, but it is now up to us to ensure we continue to use new systems in a hybrid model that blends the physical with the virtual, allowing for enhanced productivity. A recent survey by Property Week found that the majority of new tech investment over the next five years will be on home working and digital meeting tools (81.8%) and on forging stronger digital links with the marketplace (50.2%). The same survey also found that 63.1% of respondents said that technology had “played a major role” in enabling them to maintain productivity levels during the lockdown and almost 93% of respondents said their experience of using technology during the pandemic was highly positive or mostly positive. Those who don’t jump on board the new tech train now, risk getting left behind.
But even so, the use of tech can often be portrayed as a risk to employment levels, with the idea that “robots are stealing our jobs”. This outdated view is a barrier to progress which inhibits investment in tech systems in favour of unskilled labour in some sectors, thereby impacting productivity. We need to focus on new employee skills and supporting tech systems that will take us forward into the next decade and beyond – this is an opportunity not a threat. The time has come to truly embrace change and invest in new technologies that not only save cost in the long run through driving efficiency but also enable a higher, better quality, output, globally.
To read more of our perspectives on whether real estate can help solve the productivity puzzle, download our free report using the link to the right of this page.