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How Do You Spell Success? BTO!

HR + RE + Tech = BTO

Melissa Marsh

By Melissa Marsh

The following is a guest post written by Melissa Marsh, Senior Managing Director of Occupant Experience at Savills Studley, the leading commercial real estate services firm specializing in tenant representation. Melissa is also Founder and Executive Director of PLASTARC, a social research, workplace innovation, and real estate strategy firm dedicated to shifting workplace metrics from ‘square feet and inches’ to ‘occupant satisfaction and performance.’

The worlds of human resources, real estate, and technology are beginning to intersect in new and increasingly numerous ways. Their confluence is bringing about many changes for the modern workplace, including the creation of a whole new and very vital role: that of Building Technology Officer (BTO). What exactly does a BTO do, and why is it important? To answer that, we’ll start with some background.

Every day, buildings are getting smarter: they’re better and better able to anticipate occupants’ behavior, learn their preferences, save companies energy and money, and serve people’s mobility and sensory needs. At the same time, occupants are getting more and more demanding. They now live and breathe tech-enabled personal lives that allow them to book dinner reservations, hail rides, find movies they like, and adjust the thermostat—then rate their experience of each—all with a few taps. Now, understandably, they want to manage their work lives with that same convenience and efficiency.

These “smarter” and “more demanding” factors are coalescing to form a backdrop for the emergent digital workplace: what we at PLASTARC call the digital layer of occupant experience.

Smart, responsive buildings are a goldmine for companies who know how to leverage the social data they generate to make their space the best it can be. Such buildings are also becoming the expectation of high-performing ‘next gen’ occupants, who want the same convenience and tailored experiences at work that tech has been providing in the rest of their lives. Occupant satisfaction leads to talent retention, which leads to organizational success. Win-win-win.

Now that we’ve covered what digital UX (user experience) is in buildings and why it’s important, we can ask: Who within your company will be in charge of monitoring your smart building’s operations? Who will be on duty at the intersection of all these new tech features and the occupants who use them? Who will action the many opportunities for improvement that these increasing waves of social data are delivering to companies’ doorsteps?

That’s right: your BTO.

Those involved with design in real estate—architects, interior designers, facilities managers—have had reason to envy web interface designers, who have long been able to move that virtual shopping cart around in A/B tests until they discover where users are most likely to use it. Now, BTOs can help us move our shopping carts around, too! BTOs can…

  • Collect digital data about which rooms employees spend the most time in, determine the features that make those spaces so popular, and replicate them elsewhere;
  • See how much time occupants actually spend at their dedicated desks, and evaluate the benefits of hot desking or activity-based working instead;
  • More quickly and seamlessly address aspects of occupant comfort, from ambient temperature to preferred snacks, both by studying smart building record keeping, and by paying attention to what employees are saying on social media and in the proprietary apps smart businesses are now employing.

Of course, that short list is only the beginning. To sum it up in one sentence: BTOs harness modern building data to improve workplaces for their occupants. They use the information collected from buildings’ digital layer to make workspaces ideal environments for employee happiness and productivity. In turn, these great environments help organizations attract and retain today’s top talent: tech-savvy people who have come to expect such customization.

We at PLASTARC see the dawn of the digitally-enabled workplace as the beginning of a golden age in which technology allows building design to focus almost exclusively on serving and sustaining human experience. Since knowledge workers—not machines—are driving the modern economy, it makes sense to use every tool available to accommodate them. Think of your BTO as the one sporting the massive tool belt.