• Building Innovations
  • COVID-19
  • Building Systems
  • Commercial Real Estate

Musings on the Future of Buildings

Mar 18, 2021


We are in the middle of the great rethink about how we use buildings. We can thank or curse COVID-19 for this global review of the indoor spaces we occupy. The rethink has been going on for about a year now. It comes up in just about every conversation I’ve had in that time among clients, market stakeholders, and colleagues at Guidehouse Insights. When lockdowns took hold and WFH became a common acronym, these musings zoomed to the top of our minds.

This rethink was brought home again in a recent piece from the architectural perspective. In this piece, Hans Neubert, digital experience design leader at Gensler, notes how the firm is increasingly designing spaces that focus on human experiences. Neubert writes, 

In the new world, when a remote worker visits the corporate office, the meeting invitation on his computer tablet is the clearing pass for security, the elevator key, and the map to the conference room. That may not sound revolutionary to a digital native, but it is for an analog industry like real estate. In a way, we moved ahead 7 to 10 years in just 6 months.

Indeed, the industry’s accepted wisdom is fading. A revolution of sorts is here, and we might not fully appreciate the moment nor how much the pandemic has disrupted our thinking. For instance, occupancy tracking and related technologies are getting a fresh look, as noted in a recent Guidehouse Insights report

Flexibility and Sustainability Are Key

Moreover, flexible workspace has developed into an industry catchphrase that has staying power. Flexibility enables people to dynamically interact with the spaces in which they work on their terms, providing comfort, efficiency, and safety beyond the constraints of the standard 8-hour day, 5-days-a-week routine. Another way of describing this change is the hybrid workplace, which holds promise for the foreseeable future, particularly in light of studies such as one sponsored by Slack in which only 12% of respondents said they want to go back to the office on a full-time basis. Most respondents said they want a blend of office and other places in which to work.

Industry stakeholders are not only considering these newer ideas—some are taking action and making investments. For example, CBRE recently announced that it has acquired a 35% stake in Industrious ahead of the flexible workspace provider’s potential initial public offering. CBRE managers are big believers in the flexible workspace concept, and they see a big opportunity here, according to the release.

Sustainability for buildings has gotten a boost as part of the rethink as well. The idea of more sustainable spaces was alive and well before the pandemic hit. Now, with all aspects of building use on the table, sustainability is at the forefront and dovetails with broader environmental, social, and governance trends

The rethink has spawned numerous questions about the built environment, including:

  • What is best for people and their buildings?
  • What is best for the environment as we create new structures or retrofit existing ones?
  • How do we best move forward from this rethink, and what next steps should be taken?

I don’t have easy answers. But as we wrestle with these rethink questions, we will likely arrive at better solutions. We can thank the pandemic in a backhanded way for this pondering process.