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Extending Human Enablement Beyond Collaboration

Blog December 2, 2021

In the first installment of this three-part blog series, I referenced the foundations of innovation and regional entrepreneurialism that make GPA’s collaborative economy-based business model so powerful. In this article, as promised I’ll share a tangible example of this – a product of GPA’s recent CEO Summit as we explored the rapidly evolving and highly relevant topic of “Smart Workplace.”

COVID has changed workplace strategy forever, and as such we have never had such little understanding of how to design and enable office buildings to support and attract their occupants as today. We’ve also never had a war on talent like we have today – one in which employers struggle daily to attract and retain employees. COVID has empowered employees to request and demand work/life balance and flexibility from employers.

Equally however, with the evolution of technology premises like artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, Big Data, Digital Twins, and Cloud, we’ve never had the ability to leverage technology to understand, adapt to, and support employee wants, needs, and behaviors. Without question, organizations must reinvent the office and create a post-COVID hybrid workplace, and much of that effort is likely to revolve around adopting Intelligent Building Technologies into a cohesive enterprise workplace strategy.

The Evolution of the Smart Workplace

In addition to more than 25 regional CEOs and a select group of corporate and real estate customers, our CEO Summit included world renown smart workplace consultant and strategist Erik Ubels. Ubels served as CIO and executive sponsor of Deloitte’s Dutch Headquarters building known as “The Edge” -- the greenest, most intelligent building in the world.

As we talked, it quickly became clear how far the construct of a smart workplace proposition has come in recent years. While the concept of building automation is decades old, it was the green building movement that drove the evolution of “Intelligent Buildings” – a reactive proposition centered primarily on building efficiency. The next evolution became “Smart Buildings,” designed to deliver more adaptive systems offering broader integration to support building occupants.

It’s the path ahead around predictive “Thinking Buildings” however, that holds the most excitement. With almost every aspect of a building now digitized, a true smart workplace integration now has the capacity to interface with the entire building’s infrastructure and amenities. This capability helps organizations align best practices in design, sustainability, and technology to seamlessly cater to the health and wellbeing of a building’s occupants.

This shift towards human factors and outcomes is quickly explained by considering a cost concept articulated more than a decade ago by JLL. Known as the 3-30-300 rule, it defines a ratio between the Energy, Real Estate (rent), and Human Capital costs per square foot of a typical enterprise office. Intelligent buildings focused on energy savings; smart buildings extended this to optimize the entire physical real estate portfolio. And now, as we enter the thinking buildings phase, the focus is capitalizing on the real savings opportunity that comes with individualizing and optimizing the daily journey and experience of every individual within a workspace to be motivated to perform at their best.

Erik-Ubels“The Smart Building definition is rapidly evolving from sustainable, to healthy and modern digital workplace technologies towards hybrid working due to COVID-19 and ‘the war on talent.’”

- Erik Ubels, Consultant

What Lies Ahead

So, what predictions and consensus came from the business leaders and entrepreneurs of our CEO Summit? Here’s a short list of takeaways identified:

  • Organizations will ultimately view smart workplaces across their enterprise portfolio. Given the opportunity for ROI from a smart workplace initiative and investment is massive, one-off “marquee” Thinking Building projects will likely evolve quickly into corporate-wide initiatives.
  • Typical smart workplace customers will morph from building developers to the enterprise tenant. Leading enterprise organizations will seek a competitive market advantage in attracting and retaining staff by creating a comprehensive and consistent corporate wide “experience” for employees, aligning this experience to the unique culture of their organizations.
  • Low-cost hardware (ie: IoT sensors) combined with advanced software will rapidly enable the premise of OPEX-centric consumption and as-a-service business models. The UC environment is traditionally skewed heavily towards a high hardware-based cost structure and therefore CAPEX financial models. But given the realities of smart workplace and the wider market trend towards as-a-service, we expect OPEX paths to become prominent to mitigate early adoption risk and the perceived technical debt that follows.
  • GPA is uniquely qualified to lead in the development of smart workplaces. We are ideally placed to leverage our strength of understanding of the people, space, technology paradigm at the core of exceptional collaborative meeting experiences, and to apply it at global scale to the wider experiential focus of smart workplaces.

Brian Chesky, co-founder of AirBnB, suggests, “The distance between imagining something, designing it, manufacturing it, and selling it everywhere has never been shorter, faster, cheaper, and easier. Frankly, if it’s not happening, it’s because you’re not doing it.”

But being in an age of the possible doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to get to the actual. By leveraging the collaborative economy principles that AirBnB is synonymous with (and GPA built upon), we have a foundational advantage in pursuing the smart workplace opportunity. To scale faster, innovate and learn quicker, and deliver better by maximizing the Unfair Advantage our global business model supports.

Our GPA journey towards smart workplace has already progressed well past proof of concept. We’re scaling implementation with several multinational clients as we speak, and the outcomes are exciting for both our internal teams, those customers, and their end users! Like any important strategic initiative, it starts with engagement and discussion with key stakeholders, so we’re keen to hear your thoughts and to build our path forward with you.

Editor's Note: Byron Tarry is Managing Director and CEO of GPA. For more information visit:


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