© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The skyline of downtown Manhattan is seen as people gather on the runway before the Saint Laurent Men’s Spring/Summer 2019 collection presentation in Liberty State Park in New Jersey, U.S., June 6, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo
By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Before COVID-19, Thru Shivakumar, co-founder and CEO of Cohesion, was already working on apps to convert office buildings into smart spaces, powered by technology that enables interaction with tenants through phones and computers.
Since the pandemic began, however, she is learning that the smart buildings of the future are going to look different from the ones she was planning prior to 2020.
Chicago-based Cohesion, which works with companies worldwide to create software for “intelligent” buildings, sees an increase in the number of people who would use a building smartphone app to track cleanliness, air quality and building security. Pre-pandemic, employees were more interested in amenities, such as restaurants and gyms.
Shivakumar, 39, talked to Reuters about the workplace of the future. Edited excerpts are below.
Q. How will offices change as they reopen?
A. After every crisis, the pendulum doesn’t swing too far from the center. I don’t think that offices are gone and remote work is here to stay for good, but people will want more flexibility, more communication and more transparency. A smart building app is no longer nice to have. It’s a must-have.
Q. What do employees want when they return to the office?
A. Our research shows that over 60% of people have said they want to come back full-time. When employees return, their new priorities are health, wellness and security. People want outdoor spaces to get fresh air.
We also know that people want to interact less with the office staff and have more ability to do their own thing – maybe they want to have an in-app key card, so you don’t have to take out a physical key card to enter.
They don’t want to touch elevator buttons. They would like touchless controls or an application-driven elevator that knows where you’re going.
Smart bathrooms where they can touch fewer things and surfaces are important, too. So is the ability to see what kind of air they are breathing.