Virtual Collaboration Still Matters in 2021 — Here’s Why

Virtual Collaboration Still Matters in 2021 — Here’s Why

If 2020 and 2021 have taught us anything, it’s that humans are resilient. The way we once did things in workplaces, homes, and public spaces worldwide suddenly changed. Although things have slowly begun to move back toward the way we once existed, we’re left with a noticeable shift in other areas. For one, as 2021 advances, it’s clear that virtual collaboration isn’t going anywhere. For many industries, it’s even opening up new doors.

What 2020 Taught Us About Virtual Collaboration 

Perhaps you learned a new hobby in 2020. Plenty of us developed new hobbies or returned to old ones as the world collectively embraced the time to finally break out dusty Raspberry Pis and start fresh sourdough starters.

Additionally, though we’d always suspected we might be able to make it work before, we were suddenly thrust into virtual collaboration, even if we lived next door to one another. After a week and then a month, many companies talked about closing up permanent office locations altogether. When push came to shove, it turned out that employees could work together from anywhere.


Uncovering Issues

Of course, nothing reveals the problems in a system more quickly than many people relying on the system. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced people to work from their homes, employees who might otherwise speak to one another within a cubicle were asked to share information across virtual platforms. Some companies used existing frameworks, and some were forced to choose collaboration software quickly out of necessity. Well into 2021, companies may still be experimenting with the right software for their permanently remote teams, which have likely grown (and perhaps even grown further apart) in the pandemic.

What Makes a Good Tool For Virtual Collaboration?

As remote workplaces grew, many companies felt growing pains quite acutely during 2020. Cloud-based tools that allowed real-time collaboration through file sharing and communication quickly proved themselves valuable in all industries. Better still were those tools that allowed users to see changes, notified members when there were things to view, and operated intuitively. While the tool doesn’t make the team, it provides an easy way for group members to interact, no matter their time zone or location on the globe. Good tools pave the way for great teams to excel, no matter the project.

The Advantage of Virtual Collaboration at Work

While meeting with a group of like-minded professionals in person is satisfying, it isn’t always possible — due to a global pandemic, for example. Virtual workspaces replicate the personal and professional environments in which teams thrive and come with several advantages.

Virtual work allows companies to hire the best people for the job, no matter their state or country. The right tools overcome differences in time zones while maintaining constant communication and an environment of collaboration. Similarly, virtual workplaces allow for additional opportunities for people who live in small places that don’t often employ people in their industry and provide companies in small towns with limited labor markets with a wealth of employees.

Virtual workplaces are typically more cost-effective as well since they eliminate the need for large office spaces. They tend to increase employee productivity since they limit distractions and provide flexible hours for employees, leading to higher employee retention rates and overall job applicants.

When companies focus on developing an effective virtual workplace, they pandemic-proof themselves to protect against other economic fluctuations and potential labor shortages.

Finding the Right Tools for You

Over the past two or so years, we’ve seen a rise in virtual workspaces utilizing the best tools. The renewed demand for better online workspaces has given rise to several tools, and Autodesk remains committed to offering virtual spaces for collaboration that exceed expectations and create a productive, easy-to-use environment for all your needs.

This also means that implementing Autodesk with Robotech will improve customers access to these virtual workspaces, with our vast knowledge and resources, and provide better CAD & BIM delivery and support. Robotech is a certified Gold Partner of Autodesk for over 35 years.

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How COVID-19 Will Change Office Building Design

How COVID-19 Will Change Office Building Design

Earlier pandemics had a huge effect on how cities were designed. The COVID-19 pandemic promises to do the same for offices.

As the pandemic surges on, businesses must reconsider their office building designs, looking for ways to improve traffic flow and upgrade their ventilation and airflow systems. Implementing necessary changes may be an issue for some businesses, but it’s a crucial task just the same. As Elvis Garcia, DrPH, a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Design says: “Let’s not fool ourselves. This is not the last virus we’ll face.” Watch the video to learn more about how COVID-19 may reshape office spaces.


Sam Omans, Architecture Industry Strategy Manager, Autodesk: Pandemics have had an enormous impact historically on architecture. If you’ve been to Manhattan, it’s got these straight gridiron streets. Those emerged during the 1800s as a response to health concerns associated with sewage, associated with light, associated with air. By building straight streets, you can build sewers right under the street. Earlier pandemics, flus, and contagions were understood to be associated with things like water and waste. So moving those out of the city and bringing light and air into the city became, from the 19th century forward, an enormous consideration in city planning.

Elvis Garcia, DrPH, Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design: The office, by default, is not a safe environment. We are talking about an enclosed space with air circulation, with people inside, so we have to learn how to live with that because—let’s not fool ourselves—this is a virus, but it’s not the last virus we’ll face.

Lilli Smith, AIA, Senior Product Manager, Autodesk: There are certain points of interest in an office: coffee, bathrooms, exits, places where people’s paths lead. It’s important to analyze how those paths cross, where there could be congestion.

Pete Thompson, Senior Principal Engineer, Autodesk and Adjunct Lecturer, Lund University: What’s changed in the current pandemic conditions is that one-way flow is now really required in many aspects, just to try and keep people that radius of 6 feet, or 2 meters, or a meter further apart in all directions. So different aspects of technology can help in implementing those new routes and planning.

Garcia: One of the biggest challenges for people is organizing the traffic flow within the offices.

Smith: There’s a lot of thinking in offices around spacing for social distancing.

Thompson: When you’re planning office space, the default position of people is just to mark a grid on the floor and start from there. That doesn’t accommodate the fact that if you lay it out as 6 feet apart for each point, it doesn’t include the body size of people. And it also doesn’t allow people to walk in between each other, either.

For a regular doorway, you get about 130 people a minute through in “normal times.” For social distancing, that’ll drop to 25, 30 people a minute, but it’s a 75% drop in flow rates. And people need to be aware that when they’re planning on people going in or coming out of their building, it’s going to take a lot longer.

Garcia: Another important parameter is ventilation and airflow. It would be easier, yes, to just to open the windows and that’s it, because it will reduce the amount of viral load in the air. It’s not that straightforward. This has to come together with some more complex systems like air purification with specific filtering systems in place. It’s true that many offices don’t have the possibility to open windows. I think it’s an issue—it’s a problem for offices—the fact that they need to really upgrade their ventilation systems and their airflow systems.

Thompson: It’s a little easier than it would have been 15 years ago to plan for some of these requirements in 3D space for buildings. We’ve got digital tools available to us, so the designer can use things like Building Information Modeling packages like [Autodesk] Revit, where you can design the 3D space and lay out all those pathways.

Smith: Just as the pandemic was in full force, we released our generative-design tools. They allow you to encapsulate your design ideas and a system for how your design is going to work. So in the case of a restaurant, you’re looking at the spacing of the tables and making sure that it’s safe for restaurant patrons. But you’re also looking at the number of tables that you have, and is that going to be enough tables to make my restaurant still economically viable?

The consideration of spacing was always important, and that’s why it was part of our pre-pandemic plan for these tools. Being able to easily adjust that spacing is something that we can do. So it turned out to really be a good system that we could use for a purpose that we never envisioned.

Garcia: Technology can help us to adapt whenever new discoveries are made. And if we discover that this virus is spread in a different way, then we can adapt technology very easily to produce solutions that we can use. Otherwise, we will have to start from scratch. So I think technology can help a lot when trying to adapt very fast to new scenarios that come with new knowledge of the virus.

Omans: Throughout history, we’ve moved from closed offices to cubicles to totally open-plan offices, with as many people in them as possible. And what we’ve seen, if you look at the history, is that worker satisfaction has gone down actually. So this is an opportunity to bring worker satisfaction up and to reinvent the culture of the space.

Garcia: I believe this is a tipping point, and I believe that people are realizing that the way we inhabit spaces has a direct impact on health. It has to be far beyond a single virus. It’s more about how we live and how this technology can help us to understand the way we are building and how we can decrease the impact of the built environment on our health.

Designing for Social Distancing: Balancing Safety and Human Connection

Designing for Social Distancing: Balancing Safety and Human Connection

Before 2020, when people visited a museum, attended a concert or sporting event, went shopping, or simply commuted to work, they probably never thought much about what it took to ensure the experience was safe. People took for granted the ability to move confidently within their environments and didn’t often pay attention unless something was amiss: crowding, long lines, an out-of-service elevator, a fire alarm.

It takes a considerable amount of forethought to ensure that groups of people can move around safely. That planning requires an understanding of math, biomechanics, data science, design, demographics, psychology, local regulations, sociology, and geography, among other disciplines. Designing for social distancing requires an ability to consider thousands of factors and analyze many different types of data about what people do and the roles they play in physical spaces, whether they are institutional environments such as schools, offices, and hospitals or social environments such as stadiums and tourist attractions.

the next normal susan etlinger
Author Susan Etlinger, senior analyst at Altimeter Group. Illustration by Micke Tong.

“Before the pandemic, we’d be looking at how to reduce congestion to make crowded environments safer and ensure people have a positive experience,” says Dr. Aoife Hunt, associate director at Movement Strategies, a people-movement consultancy based in London. “And then, at the start of lockdown, the focus changed.”

Movement Strategies is primarily known for its work assessing large-crowd dynamics at locations such as tourist attractions, sports stadiums, offices, and retail spaces. In early 2020, Hunt says: “We looked ahead to our summer and our work with football and Wimbledon and music festivals, and we thought, ‘Goodness, all these crowded events are just not going to happen this year.’ But now the problem of people movement has become a really critical issue of safety and reducing risk of transmission of the virus. So understanding how to lay out spaces and how to organize for people movement has actually moved up the agenda. And there’s been a bit of a spotlight on our little niche world.”

Today, some locations that faced early COVID-19 surges are returning to a semblance of normalcy; some remain closed; and many fluctuate between the two stages, often on extremely short notice. While no one knows when the pandemic will end, a few clear lessons and imperatives have emerged: Spaces where people can congregate—offices, construction sites, schools, retail spaces, warehouses—need to be designed to reduce the risk of viral transmission. They need to be built with enough flexibility to accommodate rapid changes. And it all has to happen in a way that satisfies a range of critical health, financial, psychological, and organizational needs, as well as core life-safety concerns such as the potential for fire and natural disaster.

One of the most challenging aspects of designing for social distancing is its incongruity with social norms. “Probably the fundamental thing is that previously, in terms of spatial planning, we used to do a lot of work to bring people together and socialize,” says Pete Thompson, principal engineer at Autodesk. “It’s almost like we’re doing the reverse now; we’re deliberately keeping people apart. Trying to get that balance of safety while enabling some sort of socialization is tricky.”

To accomplish this balance requires a different approach. “We have moved from trying to set the maximum occupancy levels at a population level to influencing how people behave at an individual level,” adds Prof. Steve Gwynne, research lead at Movement Strategies.

A Shift in Behavior

One thing that makes COVID-19 so challenging from a medical standpoint is that it is a novel virus. Generally speaking, human bodies have no natural immunity. ​And that lack of biological immunity requires people to protect themselves against transmission, ​which has a downstream effect: They are behaving in largely unprecedented ways.

A May 2020 article by Will Douglas Heaven in the MIT Technology Review illustrated the dizzying changes during a single week at the end of February: “When COVID-19 hit, we started buying things we’d never bought before. The shift was sudden: The mainstays of Amazon’s top 10—phone cases, phone chargers, LEGO—were knocked off the charts in just a few days.” And they were replaced by a familiar litany of post–COVID-19 staples such as toilet paper, face masks, hand sanitizer, paper towels, and the like.

These behavioral changes affected business systems, too, “causing hiccups for the algorithms that run behind the scenes in inventory management, fraud detection, marketing, and more,” Heaven continued. “Machine-learning models trained on normal human behavior are now finding that ‘normal’ has changed, and some are no longer working as they should.”

Despite what you may see when you run to the grocery store, designing for social distancing isn’t as simple as marking out 2 meters or 6 feet on a sidewalk. The ways people occupy physical space have changed multiple factors that we must account for. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1: What Has COVID-19 Changed?

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Category What Has Changed What It Means
Occupancy and Space Requirements Offices, retail stores, schools, and other venues can now accommodate fewer people. Reduction in productivity per unit area means that space is more valuable than ever.
Route Planning The extra spacing required for safe distancing severely limits door-traffic capacity and requires rethinking ways to measure one-way flow. Planners must minimize instances of people crossing in front of each other. Planners need to consider one-way movement in most situations and incorporate partitions to facilitate safer routes within buildings.
Risk Calculation Focus on “life safety,” specifically fire protection and evacuation, expands to COVID-19 infection and transmission. This may rebalance over time, but it is by no means certain.
Speed and Flow Although assumptions about walking speeds will likely stay the same, enforced extra spacing between people will result in lower traffic-flow rates. It takes longer for people to enter, exit, and move around buildings and built environments.

Source: Movement Strategies and Autodesk

designing for social distancing
Illustration by Micke Tong

Design Principles

One constant in all of this change is that effective design depends on context, whether you’re considering an office environment, a sporting event, a concert, or a school. “We consider the social factors, so our analysis is in context with the space and environment in which it occurs,” Gwynne says. “So those skills and that view of looking at how people use the space is actually pretty well suited to the new challenges. You can’t take the parameters or the behaviors or the influences for granted; you have to seek them out and then put them together in a network, a spider’s web of factors that then allow you to do the analysis.”

That means understanding new changes to design parameters, new planning objectives, and the pitfalls that arise when designing for unprecedented times.

Design Parameters

As in any project, the first step in designing for social distancing is to define the relevant parameters that describe the environment. The building blocks of designing for social distancing are:

  • Level of social distance in place. Recommended social distance varies based on the type of infectious agent and the local jurisdiction.
  • Relative occupant density. The number of people allowed to occupy a particular space will vary based on how they occupy that space: standing, sitting, walking, or queuing.
  • Traffic-flow rate. The speed at which people are able to move in aggregate.
  • Traffic speed. How quickly people typically move. This varies based on activity, environment, and other factors.
  • Direction. The direction in which people typically move: one direction, two directions, or bidirectionally.

Factors that influence those parameters include:

  • Occupancy activity and behavior. The activities that occupants are performing and the way occupants behave have a significant impact on design parameters—and are, to some extent, unpredictable. For example, are people sitting quietly in an office; moving about a construction site; or standing, jumping, and yelling at a concert or sporting event?
  • Social distance threshold. Recommended social distance is defined by the local authority that has jurisdiction over the building. In the case of COVID-19, the general distance recommendation is 2 meters, or 6 feet, but different infectious agents with different transmission patterns and severities may require different thresholds.
  • Movement patterns. How quickly do people move? Do they move in groups, individually, or in a combination of patterns? What is the impact of conditions that may affect mobility, such as weather, cultural norms, and disability?
  • Spatial configuration. This can include attributes such as walkways, furniture, partitions, and so on.

Planning for a New Normal

Design goals depend on the type of building or public space under consideration. When designing for social distancing, the primary goal is to reduce the risk of virus exposure and transmission by minimizing the proximity, frequency, and duration of social interactions.

“The kind of assessment that we do looks at exactly how a site is used,” Hunt says. “This means collecting data on how people arrive, how they move around, and how they circulate and then trying to understand how we can increase the number of people in that system safely by running different simulations of what might happen in different scenarios.”

“Also, you need to take into account some of the social factors in order to understand how you can maintain that distancing,” Gwynne says. “For instance, do people move as individuals or in groups? What are people doing at a particular location, and how does that influence the space around them? What type of communication is required in a particular space? In a classroom, it might be that the teacher needs to speak to a room of people such that they can see them. In an office, it may mean that someone needs to walk around and communicate with someone else in a safe location. So you have to understand the social dynamics, both to design your system but also to have an objective to ensure that some degree of social interaction and communication is still possible.”

Following is a list of planning considerations. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2: Planning Considerations for Social Distancing

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Type of Use Description Considerations
Static Spaces where people are stationary, such as a conference room, railway terminal, schoolroom, restaurant, or office. Partitions in offices and other environments have become a key part of planning. Transparent or semiopaque partitions are best, as they provide protection against transmission while letting people see others and avoid collisions.
Dynamic Spaces where people are moving: ingress and egress points, stairs, aisles, hallways, doorways, and elevators. Stairs require clear line of sight, and some buildings may need to institute dedicated one-way passage in some stairwells to minimize exposure. If this isn’t possible, people must have enough space and time to yield to each other.Doorways require similar considerations; signage and control mechanisms can help manage flow, especially in high-traffic locations.

Elevators require considerable forethought to ensure safe spacing not only within the elevator but also in the queue. Planners should adjust elevator-control algorithms to prevent stopping at intermediate floors, frequently clean high-touch surfaces, and place markings on the floor to show people where to stand.

Queuing Standing in line at shops, sporting events, concerts, or government offices; a mix of waiting and moving. Social distancing means that queues have become much longer. Barriers may be required at stadiums, airports, and other large venues to minimize the risk of transmission in enclosed spaces.

Source: Movement Strategies and Autodesk

Common Pitfalls

Planning for social distancing means avoiding a number of common pitfalls:

  • Forgetting that bodies occupy space. When measuring for social distancing, designers often underestimate the total distance from person to person. What we call “social distance” is actually contact (edge-to-edge) distance, so when planners design grids or distance markers on the sidewalk, they need to account for the actual space taken up by people.
  • Disregarding the time factor. It’s important to consider potential exposure time as well as safe spacing, particularly if geometry dictates that the occasional, brief incursion of social distance is unavoidable.
  • Assuming traffic speeds are constant. Not everyone moves at the same speed; discrepancies have a big impact on maintaining compliance in lane-based movement.
  • Overlooking secondary impacts. The design of one building may affect social distancing in adjacent areas (on the street, at stations, and so forth). For example, a long line outside a shop may affect other lines at other shops.

And then there is the unpredictability of human behavior. What happens when people, either intentionally or unintentionally, don’t observe the new rules of movement and distance? “The general approach to design is to at least make sure that the building has the capacity to support the kind of movement that you want,” Thompson says. “It’s ultimately up to people if they follow the signs and observe the guidance. The primary approach is that you at least provide the capacity and the capability in the space available for people to do what they should be doing.”

Designing for social distancing needs to account for cultural norms and human behavior: understanding what people want to do and designing for the ways they use those spaces. “Now, there’s this extra dimension of social distancing, but a design still has to be fit for purpose,” Hunt says. “It still has to accommodate people’s needs, and that’s such a challenge because theoretically you can lay any area out in a modular way to make everyone safe. But the experience is really important. Without understanding behavior and the expectations for experience, it’s just throwing numbers in the air.”

The Digital Disruption for Post-COVID Construction

The Digital Disruption for Post-COVID Construction

“While sectors such as retail and manufacturing have reinvented themselves, construction seems stuck in a time warp,” states a 2018 report by McKinsey & Co. that echos the voice of the whole industry over the last few decades. “Construction lags significantly behind other sectors in its use of digital tools and is slow to adopt new materials, methods, and technology,” continues the pre-COVID report.

In fact, global labor-productivity growth in construction has averaged just 1% per year over the past 20-years, compared with 3.6% in the manufacturing sector and an average of 2.8% across the entire world economy. In certain markets, including the UK and Germany, construction productivity has actually declined compared to the 1990s, according to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data.

Like all industries, construction has been shaken by the COVID-19 pandemic and is now being forced to adapt in order to operate in a heightened health and safety environment focused on social distancing. This disruption is fundamentally impeding conventional construction approaches and forcing even the most traditional companies to look for modern solutions. Now, promising digital technologies that have been struggling to break established construction markets are emerging as saviors of post-COVID construction.

Last week, San Francisco-based remote construction solution provider OpenSpace raised an impressive $15.9 million in a Series B funding round led by Menlo Ventures. The firm offers a tool that captures, uploads, and organizes photos taken on a walkthrough of a construction site to create a 360-degree “street view style” digital experience. The tool allows remote specialists to “digitally walkthrough” the site, adding their expertise to support the construction process without ever having to visit the site in person.

“Similar to how telehealth will improve accessibility by bringing the doctor to the patient,” Openspace CEO Jeevan Kalanithi told Zdnet, “rather than the other way around, we believe that ‘tele-building’ will soon take off to scale the expertise of our superintendents, project managers, inspectors, and foremen. If your captures of the site are high-quality, you can reduce the amount of in-person visits needed, saving time and money, as well as improving knowledge transfer.”

Remote-expert digital site visits are just a stepping stone on the way to a range of cloud construction platforms that offer comprehensive digital collaboration from design and construction and on to the full lifecycle of the building. Cloud construction offers unprecedented mobility and information sharing as well as access to the best-in-class AI-enabled computing through leading cloud services. These sensor-rich construction sites also raise the bar for the health and safety of workers while reliably supporting new social distancing measures.

Last week, California based software giant Autodesk announced the acquisition of construction project management software company Pype, who leverage AI and ML to automatically analyze and extract critical construction data such as project plans and specifications to be used throughout the project lifecycle. The acquisition is designed specifically to strengthen Autodesk’s Construction Cloud platform, allowing general contractors, subs, and owners to automate tasks such as submittals and closeouts to increase productivity and mitigate project risk.

“Too many critical construction workflows are still performed manually by project teams, leading to inefficiencies and exposing companies to increased risk such as schedule delays and cost overruns,” said Jim Lynch, vice president and general manager of Autodesk Construction Solutions at Autodesk. “While risk is inherent in the construction business, leveraging artificial intelligence to automate tedious yet consequential data and processes significantly reduce project risk associated with human error,” added Karuna Ammireddy, CTO, and co-founder of Pype.

“Combining Autodesk’s construction management technology with Pype’s AI-powered project management capabilities will certainly accelerate the ongoing transformation of our industry,” suggested John Jacobs, Chief Information Officer of JE Dunn construction, a long-term Autodesk and Pype customer. While Andrew Anagnost, CEO of Autodesk, boldly stated, “I could not be more optimistic about the future of the building industry,” within the official announcement.

The pre-COVID construction site was busy on a daily basis and intersected with “events” like box walks or client walkthroughs where various stakeholders or interested parties can experience and influence the development of the building in-person. In order to maintain progress under strict social distancing rules, post-COVID construction sites must work with skeleton crews guided by remote teams and sophisticated collaborative tools. The maturity and adaptability of current emerging-technologies have been a blessing for a construction industry hard-pressed for alternatives.

“An architect 3,000 miles away can look at the clearance between two walls and confirm that we’ve built the room to the right size,” said Peter Hau, VP at construction services company Swinerton. “Normally, we’d have an immense number of people on-site for big events like a box walk, where during the framing stage, we review the location of every single outlet or light switch prior to closing up the walls. But the level of precision you can get with these 3D scans alleviates the need to fly out here in person. These reviews can be conducted right from a desktop.”

Hau and his colleagues at Swinerton have seen the light from these tools as viable and even superior to in-person experiences in many ways. They now see this digital construction disruption outlasting the pandemic to create a new digital normal in the construction industry. “I don’t see this going away for us. Of course, there will still be face-to-face meetings, but I see the digital communication and the virtual walk-throughs replacing a large number of those,” Swinerton Executive VP Don Adair added in a BisNow article.

The essence of the COVID-19 disruption is a necessary decrease of person-to-person contact, so where human collaboration is required digital tools have become the only viable alternative — and there is no waiting out this never-ending crisis in the hope of returning to old ways. The stubborn construction industry may finally be embarking on wholesale digital transformation, and all it took was a global pandemic that threatens the survival of any construction company that doesn’t adapt.

Dumb Buildings are the Real Losers in a post-COVID World

Dumb Buildings are the Real Losers in a post-COVID World

COVID-19 is one of the most disruptive events human society has experienced in the last 75 years. Beyond the struggles of 2020, this harsh reminder of the biological threats we face will go on to reshape the way we live for years to come. At the center of this debate is commercial real estate (CRE) — the indoor environments where people of different households gather — where 50% to 100% drops in occupancy levels have been common for months. CRE must now adapt to a post-COVID world that will create new winners and losers to reshape the buildings industry forever.

As lockdowns and stay-at-home orders began to set in across the world, the first challenge buildings faced was being empty. Designed to be full, these facilities quickly realized that they cannot just switch off power-consuming building systems. HVAC systems must circulate to avoid corrosion, security systems must surveil to protect assets, while emergency lighting is a legal requirement, even if another law now prevents public use of that building. The result is that the average commercial building is using over 80% of the power it would at full occupancy, contributing unnecessarily to operating costs and climate change.

“As the fear of second waves of the virus turns into a realization that the first wave is still going strong, we must begin to accept that we are moving into a [low-occupancy] COVID-era that may last quite a while, rather than using all its energy to fight this reality with in-building social distancing and hygiene policies or technologies, the industry should spare some effort to create a stand-by mode for buildings. That single button that can reduce energy consumption down to a minimum, whether for 50% occupancy or for zero.”

We will return to our buildings but only by being able to adapt them to the new post-COVID public health and safety environment. The traditional CRE cleaning market is a big winner with a much greater emphasis on hygiene required to ensure compliance and occupant comfort. Much more comprehensive cleaning contracts will be signed and in-house crews expanded, driving a market that had been largely stagnant for decades. The money flowing into cleaning will drive efficiency and innovation, like UV-light disinfection and the cobot-robot evolution, that were promising niche technologies at best, before the pandemic.

The voice control market was growing steadily in the residential and automotive sectors before COVID but is now expected to find its place in CRE as building operators strive for clean, contactless environments. In contrast, the market for CRE-focused touchscreen technologies could plummet. From long-standing building elements that had withstood the smart technology revolution, to the strongest trends that no one could have imagined losing, COVID-19 has disrupted indiscriminately.

Before COVID-19, modern office layouts were increasingly open-plan, with desks clustered for greater cooperation and cozy meet spaces where employees could gather to share ideas. The greatest minds in office design were focused on stimulating more ‘water-cooler moments’ where workers from across the facility could interact in this friendly and ad-hoc form that is proven to drive collaboration. None of this works in a post-COVID world that makes social distancing a bigger priority.

Occupancy analytics for space utilization sought to maximize the number of people in a space ensuring occupant health, wellbeing, and productivity. These technologies will now find themselves with exactly the same mission but re-configured for a post-COVID world. ‘Occupancy analytics for social distancing’ will be the holy grail for CRE trying to “maximize the number of people in a space” in this new health landscape, by offering the visibility to comply while driving profit. Forcing those buildings without the technology to play it safe with much lower densities than required to avoid the high cost of failure.

This disruption makes dumb buildings the real losers in a post-COVID world, lacking the sensory-intelligence to keep occupants safe and strive for growth in a shrinking market. The economic downturn will bring consolidation in CRE and those buildings with the ability to track movement and monitor occupant behavior to optimize for social distancing will take the lion’s share of the diminished market. This is where the COVID-19 disruption meets the long-running privacy debate, testing the determination of businesses, governments, and societies to uphold the rights of workers and the general public.

China’s relatively quick and painless recovery from its COVID-19 outbreak can be in part accredited to the unrivaled scale and sophistication of its surveillance technology, as well as its ability to enact strict control over citizen movement. European and North American governments attempted to replicate that success with ‘track and trace’ smartphone apps, but with limited success. As the pandemic continues with no end in sight, the economic consequences will force us to reconsider our stance towards privacy or innovate a way around it.

At the end of July, California-based Density closed a $51 million financing round that will help to address “unprecedented demand” for their infrared people-counting sensors, which have no way to determine the gender or ethnicity of occupants, nor perform invasive facial recognition or thermal monitoring. The growing demand makes the technology an example of privacy in a world that is being pressured to give up a lot for the sake of public health and struggling economics.

“Imagine you had perfect visibility into where all large groupings of humans were nationwide, outside of residential buildings and without invading privacy, for just one second. You just snap your fingers, you have access to that data, what would you do differently?” asked Density CEO, Andrew Farah, in an interview with Memoori in April.

“My guess is that you’d have all sorts of new things that you could do. If there are too many people you may close it down, but where there’s a lot of space you can move people in that direction. I think that we now have an opportunity to look at physical space and try to understand what’s missing.”