With an aspiration to build a new coliving product or open a new location, architects, designers and other stakeholders face a challenging task – to create a functional space that will be relevant in two, three and hopefully ten years from now on; ideally, a space that can surpass an anticipated lifetime.
With an aspiration to build a new coliving product or open a new location, architects, designers and other stakeholders face a challenging task – to create a functional space that will be relevant in two, three and hopefully ten years from now on; ideally, a space that can surpass an anticipated lifetime. Building something sustainable requires diligence and the right approach to set up the spaces in order to turn them into purpose-driven and meaningful places that will thrive and serve ever-growing users’ needs. This approach should not be bound to physical parameters only: in this article Digital Estate and Sowebuild explore the possibilities of turning a space into asocial and spatial fabric that can adapt and scale while capitalising on the most flexible coliving technology solutions, starting at the very beginning of its development stage.
BETTER TOO EARLY THAN TOO LATE
If we think about coliving in terms of architectural building requirements, the first associations that come to mind are usually the floor layout, the building function, the ratio between private and communal spaces, the construction time and the scale. Thinking about technology often comes in too late; sometimes even after the building has been completed and residents are about to or already have started living there. At that stage operators, marketing and community managers choose technology as a problem-solver to streamline operational efficiency or increase the overall experience of the tenant.
In fact, user-centric design, including planning data points, should be triggered already at the concept development phase, to keep the future users and their multi-layered environment in mind. This means understanding the end users (desired tenants) inside out – their needs, pains, gains, dreams and habits – and implementing appropriate solutions in their journey right from the beginning. It is crucial to ensure that the building will fulfill the needs of its occupants, providing a user-friendly living space that is well experienced and happily perceived.
EMPATHISING WITH THE END-USER – WHO DO YOU DESIGN FOR?
When looking at current and future generations, we see Millennials, Generation Z and Digital Nomads at the center of the digital era. Whether it is about being active on social media, or looking for influencers, brands and multi-cultural identities to relate to, starting new movements, growing their own audience or finding their soulmates, those groups are always ‘live’ and always ‘on’. They are extremely knowledgeable and are constantly looking for the most recent opinions, status updates and trending topics. Real estate technologies have the potential to respond to this demand by providing a comprehensive experience that bridges the space, the user and operational teams, whether via social media channels, community apps, websites, ads, smart devices or local commerce. To truly add value to the community and the building, the design phase should be led by people who can empathise with the target audience.
To put themselves in the shoes of the users, design teams can utilise the exercise of journey mapping, which is deeply rooted in the design thinking process. It is especially important for programming intentional shared spaces so that all the different types of users can grasp their full potential. For example, where, how and when residents enter the building, common spaces and private rooms. What information is available for them to absorb or share? How can the spaces interact with users and translate these into metrics and new outputs? Where is the start and the end of the journey? Where are the data gathering points that will provide you valuable insights to meet the user’s expectations?
To allow technology to empower your product and experience, rather than becoming an ‘add-on’, aim to strategise the user journey before the construction of your building. Know what you want to measure, observe and interact by offering a clear roadmap for integrating sensors, IoT and systems in the building that can be incorporated into the design so that the tech is invisible and the experience is seamless. Sensors and cameras, for example, should be placed carefully and not interfere with interior design or walkways that disturb their function to measure. Monitors, digital information and input screens for user flow alignment – like visitor registration, booking screens for meeting rooms, package delivery – should be visible to users and easy to interact with. Lockers and automated access should be carefully integrated with the design and the user journey. In general, every part of the building should be substantiated to serve the end-user.
Information streams can flow both ways: from building to user and from user to building. Mapping out the desired flows and different scenarios can help create a functional and memorable space that might become a point of differentiation in the competitive experience-driven market landscape.
DATA-DRIVEN DESIGN AND DECISION MAKING
In the KPMG Global PropTech Survey 2018, 49% of participants thought that artificial intelligence, big data and data analysis software were the technologies likely to have the biggest impact on the real estate industry in the long term. A year later, their follow-up survey disclosed that only 10% of respondents have data-led decision making embedded across the organisation supported by an integrated infrastructure for data visualisation. There is a huge gap between being aware of tangible benefits and taking action to achieve them, and the pandemic has only accelerated the need for digital transformations in real estate, especially in the way we work and live.
Data-driven design offers numerous advantages, such as increasing the reliability of received information; ability of forecasting trends, behaviours and choices; making it easier to better serve the end user; as well as automating workflows and processes to cut costs while providing the same or even better experience.
With data science on the rise, collecting information from various physical and digital sources (e.g. space density, API integrations, reviews, social media posts, etc.), analysing and visualising it and making it usable has been proven to define improvements, demonstrate the results to stakeholders and, as the end result, improve business goals.
Data science combined with artificial intelligence (AI) has opened the door to even more possibilities such as being able to analyse behaviour, interests and preferences in order to propose the ideal room type, enhance roommate matching and provide additional services in the building for each user. Feeding AI requires diverse sources of data – from building data (IoT) to user data (e.g. a community app). Having various sources of data can provide a fuller picture and increase accuracy of results and suggestions.That is why planning the data collection points early in the development process is crucial for long-term success.
Although there are not that many commercial applications of AI on the market yet that are specifically designed for real estate, we are rapidly advancing every day. We currently observe a big potential in the following innovations: image and face recognition, speech and text recognition, smart assistance and bookings and social media monitoring.
DESTINATION: AN EVER-CONNECTED INNER AND OUTER WORLD
With all the technological trends and developments paving the way into our daily lives and the pace of technology adoption by new generations, it is more than probable that sooner or later we will have to make ourselves comfortable with the smart devices being an integral part of our surroundings.
Automated experiences are already being implemented all over the world to redefine the new normal. For example, fully automated supermarkets – made possible by IoT and mobile technology – are already redefining how we make groceries by combining e-commerce and robotics to provide an on-site autonomous experience.
WHAT ABOUT FULLY AUTOMATED COLIVING BUILDINGS AND EXPERIENCES?
Before starting to utilise the space, there is a decision-making process preceding the spatial experience. This process determines whether a stranger becomes a space user or not. This consideration stage – searching for, selecting, viewing, comparing, viewing, etc. – is the first touchpoint and thus the first experience on a user journey. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies can significantly enhance and adapt this experience to the digital world. As a result of the pandemic, both of those technologies will be widely used both for selling and renting properties. The number of use cases is dynamically increasing, ranging from virtual tours, designing the space with furniture, virtual collaboration, more precise planning, construction and fault detection.
VR and AR can also help in building automation and improving overall satisfaction of the tenants.Imagine if during lockdowns coliving spaces had a VR room, where tenants could be brought to are mote destination using a VR headset – this could potentially lead to better mental health and increased retention rates.
An automated user journey would also require a self-guided experience. Similarly as in airports, where now you can do self-check-ins, go through gates and reach the destination with little human intervention, coliving buildings could also benefit from similar onboarding and off boarding procedures. Eventually, that would lead to an autonomous community that could be self-organised and self-maintained.
A technology that could help in that transformation is blockchain, which is offering a variety of solutions for digitising real estate. Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs), for example, is an organisation on the blockchain, represented by rules that are encoded as a transparent computer program, controlled by its members and not influenced by a central government. These rules are automated and encoded by smart contracts, no managers are needed and thus many bureaucracy or hierarchy hurdles are removed. Imagine the potential benefits in operational costs, transparency and engagement thanks to a coliving community that is fully independent, decentralised and tokenised.
Here are few other examples of how other technologies can help in creating a seamless coliving experience:
- Local commerce / sharing economy: empower local businesses to connect to your spaces, so that your buildings can become beacons to serve a community that is bigger than your own;
- Matchmaking: match the residents or tenants to enable social connections based on interest, location or other requirements;
- Integrations: automise your properties even more by connecting CRM, ERPs and PMS systems with APIs for improving customer, resource and supply chain management.
In reality, the process of turning conventional buildings into smart buildings that can become an inevitable part of smart city ecosystems is not that easy. As with self-driving vehicles, in order for real estate investors, developers and operators to create futuristic buildings, a change in how things are done is required. Innovation involves risk, time and resources, which, in a world that communicates through spreadsheets, might be perceived as obstacles.
IN REAL ESTATE, YOU MUST LIVE IN THE FUTURE
The future is digital and real estate cannot fall behind. The buildings that are under construction now must answer the needs that will be relevant in upcoming years – not now – and those needs are constantly shifting. Being upfront about developments and understanding the target is conducive to ensuring your competitive advantage. Beyond staying relevant, it is equally important to know how the community, building and surrounding stakeholders can create a united ecosystem and impact the environment. Smart buildings. that are equipped with future-proof technology also have a higher chance to get recognition from investors as they constantly learn and adapt to the needs of the users, being able to excel in efficiency and (S)ROI.
It would be naive to state blindly that more technology is a remedy to all or most of societal and planetary challenges. Major social media platforms have already shown the implications of connecting the world with technology and information. Data and privacy leaks, social media addictions, persuasion and social exclusion, mental exhaustion and various other negative outcomes have influenced our society in anon-desirable manner before and continue to do so.
In a world that gets ever more connected, driven by a hybrid phygital (physical-digital) layer of experiences, we have to keep asking ourselves whether certain measurements, data points, actions or interventions are adding value to our quality of life and general happiness. Because in the end, that should be exactly the outcome: a better and more meaningful life, together with our coresidents and coworkers.
There is no doubt that the digital and physical world are becoming more and more intertwined. With the aim to prepare for an ever more connected world, we are on a journey to help real estate evolve and quickly adapt to the new reality, while placing people in the center. This article is the result of a collaboration of two companies investigating current technologies and speculating the future of real estate – Sowebuild and Digital Estate. Do you have any thoughts on how we will live in the future?