23.11.20

The Propcast: The Evolution of Office Space Technologies

In this episode The Propcast speaks to Charlie Hobey and Mikki Ward from EQ Office about the evolution of office space technologies.

 

Click here to listen to Episode 6

The Propcast by Louisa Dickins, Co-Founder of LMRE the leading Global PropTech recruiter brought to you in partnership with UK PropTech Association, The UK PropTech Association is a membership organisation to drive the digital transformation of the property industry. This show will focus on connecting the Proptechs, real estate funds and VC’s globally…and get everyone talking about innovation of the build to rent environment.

23.11.20

About Our Host

Louisa Dickins

https://www.linkedin.com/in/louisa-dickins-ab065392/?originalSubdomain=uk

Louisa started her career in property working at a well-known estate agency in London. Realising her people skills, she moved over to Lloyd May to pursue a career in recruitment. She now is a Director at LMRE, who are a specialist recruitment firm driven by PropTech and recruitment professionals, and Louisa oversees their 5 core areas. Louisa co-founded LMRE and provides a constructive recruitment platform to the new disruptors in real estate. Louisa is also on the board of Directors at UK PropTech Association (UKPA).

About LMRE

LMRE believe there is a better way to recruit. LMRE focus on a more comprehensive, client led focus delivering exceptional talent to the right place at the right time. They are passionate about the industry and passionate about people's careers. LMRE spend time with each client to become and an extension of the business, and their transparency and core values help them grow with the sector. LMRE simplify recruitment and innovate with our clients and evolve the people driven, PropTech community.

 

About Our Guests

Charlie Hobey

https://www.linkedin.com/in/charlie-hobey-6a63381/

Charlie is the managing director of production operations for EQ Office. He is a real estate executive with over 25 years of experience, who is responsible for all facets of property management, engineering, construction, and product development for 50 office properties comprising approximately 23 million square feet of office space across the US today supervisors about 100 product design operations professionals. Charlie has over 25 years of experience in real estate, strategic consulting, and various operational fields. He also holds an MBA from MIT, and a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from Northwestern University.

  

Mikki Ward

https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikki-ward/

Mikki is responsible for developing and advancing EQ Office's use of AI, automation and data analytics across the portfolio with a focus on customer and tenant services, automating for the future of work, security/access control, data acquisition and monetization, multimedia and experience design and more. Mikki is a member of EQ senior leadership team where her focus is on customer and tenant services. She's currently involved in automating for the future work security and access control data acquisition and monetization, multimedia, multimedia and experience design.

 

Resources mentioned

LMRE website www.lmre.co.uk

UKPA website www.ukpa.com

EQ Office website www.eqoffice.com 

 

Insights From This Episode

 

  • EQ are “co-creating spaces for greatness”, providing flexibility for humans to do their do their best workCharlie Hobey
  • It's really about listening to our customers, but also observing how they work and what tools and technologies they need to succeedCharlie Hobey
  • When we have people approach us, the things that are most important to me are just a company that's very realMikki Ward
  • We've accelerated our outdoor workspaces, which ties back to optionality but also health and wellness, the ability to get outsideCharlie Hobey
  • I think with COVID, I think that will accelerate and people will be willing to give up a little more of what they perceive as losing some of their privacy in order to have that secure touchless option – Mikki Ward
  • How you design a space and layout of space, and program a space, we think is going to evolve – Charlie Hobey
  • What I look for is a company that genuinely has a good technology behind them, even if they're small they have the ability to grow and listen to us, and partner with us to find the right technology that suits us – Mikki Ward

 

Episode transcript

 

Louisa

Hi everyone. And welcome to the Propcast, my name is Louisa Dickens, co-founder of LMRE and board director of the UKPA, and I shall be your weekly host. Each week for 30 minutes, we will be connecting the VC, PropTech startups and real estate professionals globally, and assist in bridging that famous communication gap we all love talking about. So, sit back, relax and enjoy the show. Hi, everyone, and welcome back to the podcast. Today we'll be looking into the evolution of office space technologies, and we will be interviewing the ultimate power team, Charlie Hobey, and Mikki Ward from EQ Office. So welcome to the show, Charlie and Mikki.

 

Mikki

Thanks for having us.

 

Charlie

Great to be here, thanks for having me.

 

Louisa  

And now for those who are listening, let me give you a bit of background to EQ and our special guests. So, EQ focuses on the experience of its 29 million square feet, how space feels, activates and performs to amplify the human experience. EQ Office works hand in hand with over 1500 customers of all sizes, from Fortune 100 companies to emerging startups, to bring humanity back to the workplace. Their diverse team of over 200 plus professionals are responsible for creating inspired office environments in major cities from Chicago, New York, LA San Fran, the list goes on. As a US office portfolio company wholly owned by Blackstone's real estate funds, they have the resources to lead the changes happening in the workspace. To introduce our guests let’s start with Charlie, who serves as the Managing Director of production operations for EQ office. He is a seasoned real estate executive who is responsible for all facets of property management, engineering, construction, and product development for 50 office properties comprising approximately 23 million square feet of office space across the US. Charlie supervises about 100 product design operations professionals. Charlie has over 25 years of experience in real estate, strategic consulting, and various operational fields, and prior to joining EQ Office in 2004, Charlie was manager at Bain & Company. He also impressively holds an MBA from MIT, and a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from Northwestern University.

 

And now it's time that we introduced Mikki as well. So Mikki serves as Vice President of real estate technology for EQ Office, and equally has an impressive amount of experience with 20 years experience as a seasoned industry executive. Responsible for developing and advancing EQs use of AI automation and data analytics across the whole portfolio we mentioned earlier, Mikki is a member of EQ senior leadership team where her focus is on customer and tenant services. She's currently involved in automating for the future, work, security and access control, data acquisition and monetisation, multimedia and experience design. Prior to joining EQ, Mikki came from outside the real estate industry, which we'll go into a little bit later about her journey. In 2019, Vicki served as Vice President of Information Technology at Northwest Hardwoods, where she built an executed strategy to deliver business wide infrastructure, application enhancement and support. She also spent more than 10 years leading technology efforts including acquisition and disposition efforts of way Weyerhaeuser, a premier timber land and forest products company. Mikki holds a BA in business management information systems and services from Washington State University College of Business and Economics. And so welcome to the show Charlie and Mikki, so let's get started. And why don't we start off Charlie, tell us a little bit more about how EQ Office has evolved since you joined many years ago.

 

Charlie

Yes thanks, Lu. I've been with EQ for almost 20 years and a couple years ago, we changed our name from Equity Office to EQ and EQ was a little bit of a play on our roots as equity. But it's also a combination of emotional quotient and that ties us to our vision of you're bringing humanity to the workplace. And we do that and in several ways. First, through our commitment to health and wellness, which obviously these days is more important than ever. Second in our environmental social governance activities, ESG so as humans are limiting our impact on the environment and also providing for diversity, inclusion and transparency. And then third is what we call co-creating spaces for greatness are providing flexibility for humans to do their do their best work. And so technology obviously plays a role in underpinning all of those things. And that's a little bit about who we are.

 

Louisa

You’ve obviously been involved in a huge amount of the product journey, we can look at one in 2018, you launched a new identity focused on customer success called EQ Office SM. From my understanding this provides a range of new products, services and experiences, focusing on addressing the evolving organisational needs in workplace culture and flexibility, with the ultimate goal of helping companies to attract, retain and inspire talent. Now, why did you launch this product? And what other products have you been developing since then?

 

Charlie

Yes, we call it a co creating, so it's really about listening to our customers, but also observing how they work, and what tools and technologies they need to succeed. And we've developed a number of products coming out of that process, and we're continuing to evolve and iterate. One example is we have partnerships with Industrious for delivering shorter term space for smaller groups. Historically as Equity Office and as EQ, our attritional product was a term lease for five or ten years, and not all companies or work group needs are suited for that type of arrangement. And so, with our partnership with Industrious and other operators, we’re able to provide shorter term co-working space or kind of more agile, flexible space products for customers at different stages of their lifestyle or for different uses of their workgroups.

 

Louisa

Yeah, I'm sure what a customer is looking for is ever changing and people in your buildings completely vary. Are there any other technologies you've been implementing or trialing which been really successful in the past since your time in EQ, Charlie?

 

Charlie

Well yes, between Mikki and our teams, we have evaluated hundreds of different technologies, and I would say that the vast majority of them, the ones that we've moved forward with have made improvements in different elements of delivering our vision of bringing humanity to the workplace. So for example in wellness, we have building technologies that have all learned a lot more with COVID, as far as technologies for including improving air quality and indoor air quality, and monitoring air quality and filtration, the importance of fresh air in our spaces. I mean, the one kind of common theme that we hear and talking to folks in the industry in our customers is, COVID has accelerated a number of trends that were already going on. I mean, we knew and most folks knew that humans don't like to be told to work in one place all the time. And so we like to have different options for the working, whether it's in a Starbucks or on a couch or in my office or at home, and so another thing that we've accelerated is our outdoor workspaces too, which kind of ties back to optionality but also health and wellness, the ability to get outside and depending on where you are in the world and when but get outside and have secure Wi Fi and be able to collaborate and change your frame of reference, and again experience the most fresh air you can get as is outside obviously.

 

Louisa

Yes, definitely. And it seems to be, and Mikki I'd love to get your thoughts on this, biometric access control seems to becoming an ever more popular topic or a technology that buildings are implementing. Can you give us a little bit more insight into it and how you see it changing office life when people start getting back to the office? And hopefully sooner or later since the update on the vaccine!

 

Mikki

EQ actually pre COVID already had implemented biometric access at one of our locations Willis Tower in Chicago, and a company called MorphoWave. Biometric access is an incredibly secure form of access, and also touchless, which I think post COVID is even more important. I think one of the challenges with biometric is a lot of people are unsure about giving up that information, like your biometric information, actually giving up some piece of yourself to unlock a door. But I think with COVID, I think that will accelerate and people will be willing to give up a little more of what they perceive as losing some of their privacy in order to have that secure touchless option. And so I think we will continue to explore biometrics, we're actually just starting to work with the company CLEAR as well in New York, to try out some of their options for office as well.

 

Louisa

Interesting. And I think we’ll slowly see a movement towards technologies like that. And Charlie mentioned air quality being more at the forefront of people's minds, what would you say are the main things or changes you've seen and what your customers are looking for when they're in one of your buildings?

 

Charlie

Yes, I can start. So it's obviously a very hot topic for everyone and has moved up their list of questions, and they want to know the good things that are that recommended by our CDC and other health agencies is first of all the filtration. So a minimum of a Merv 13 filter, which we've installed, and frankly had already installed in most of our locations. And then   the best thing you can do is filtration, and then outside air. And so everyone wants to know, the mix of how much outside air, fresh air you're bringing into a space. And then there's other things that we are we're experimenting with, and we have piloted in some locations, things like occupancy sensors, density sensors can let where you may be having too many people in a space relative to the physical distance thing requirements, or again depending on how folks are feeling about some of the privacy things we talked about with biometrics, literally down to where people are sitting in a space. I should say, also back on the biometric, we are GDPR compliant and I think Europe has some of the most stringent regulations on that. And so Illinois actually follows that as well so in Chicago, we're definitely compliant with that. But if you have the kind of anonymised, like not who you are individual information, but just know, there's, there's a person there. we think that that's something that's going to be interesting for people to understand. Not only from a health and safety standpoint, but also just from a space utilisation and function standpoint as well, as people start to come back and work from home, we don't think it’s going away. And so how you design a space and layout of space and program a space, we think is going to evolve. And so having that that information we think will be important.

 

Louisa

Definitely. And Mikki, do you have anything you'd like to add to that?

 

Mikki

Just to tag on to that. We are piloting a few different AI technologies for software that overlays your current security cameras that help us understand how people are flowing into a building, maybe can help us understand wait times at elevators as we're trying to bring people back to work. And also just to Charlie's point, help us understand how people are utilising space to see if there's a way we need to change that space.

 

Louisa

Awesome. And in the last 10 minutes, we've touched upon various and technology you are trialing or have used, It's fair to say that collectively, you must have tested thousands of different proptechnologies over the years, and no doubt some great, maybe some not so great or need further development. If for startups listening in, any insight or tips you could give them for when they approach a business like EQ, Mikki?

 

Mikki

Sure, yeah, I mean, I think we have the opportunity to evaluate tons of new technology. This is a really busy space, commercial real estate I had assumed had great technology in place but it turns out, it's all very new and evolving every day. And so I think when we have people approach us, the things that are most important to me, are just a company that's very real, right? It's not just a big PowerPoint sales slide show that they're selling you a product they don't already have. And so I think that what I look for is a company that genuinely has a good technology behind them, even if they're small they have the ability to grow and listen to us and partner with us to find the right technology that suits us. And I think that that's where we see a lot of challenges today is there are a lot of companies with big sales pitch, and more vaporware instead of an actual product.

 

Louisa

Yes, Charlie what about you? What do you look for when you're meeting founders or looking at products in the market?

 

Charlie

So just to build on that a little bit. My advice to them is, don't come with BS because Mikki's smart, and she'll understand your tech better than I do. And so, that's one. And then second, once we get comfortable with the technology our role is also to understand the value proposition, the why and it needs to be something that we can explain to our customers and our investors. And so that would be my advice. There's a lot of great things you can do with technology and not all of it has a business purpose. So you see that quite a bit, there's just so much money piling into PropTech, and the vast majority of them are good business concepts, but occasionally you see a couple that are that are not. And then my third piece of advice is, Mikki said be real on the on the technology, be real on the business, too. Our process is to pilot a product, and so we want to kick the tyres on it on property or two, and then be able to scale. And so be legit in your ability to scale with us and grow across our portfolio. It definitely falls on both sides, but we've run into a handful of partners where just the growing pains of trying to scale across our portfolio were something that we both looked back on with regret. So finding that company that's really deliver on the technology, has a product that we can pilot, and then the clear value proposition and be able to scale across our platform. If you can hit all those notes, and then you’d be a great partner for us.

 

Louisa

So if anyone listening to this ticks those boxes, reach out. And then Mikki, you mentioned earlier about your movement into real estate and being slightly maybe shocked at the amount of technology going on. What was it like entering this space when you did? And tell us a little bit more about your role, because there's not too many people doing your role within the business like EQ.

 

Mikki

I would say I kind of fell into this role and I was very fortunate for it. And I came out of a different industry completely. So wood products is where I spent the majority of my career, and it's a totally different type of technology, totally different type of business. So coming into commercial real estate, it was a little bit overwhelming at first, not only not understanding the business, but then just being flooded with tons of different PropTech and trying to understand what would you use this for, and getting my head around different tenants needs. I was really fortunate to get into this role and then also to work for Charlie and the product team to very quickly try to get up to speed on commercial real estate and our tenants, and basically what EQ stands for.

 

Louisa

What I would also like to discuss with you, I'm hosting a webinar in about an hour and a half with CREtech, and we're talking about best practices for tech adoption in real estate, whether or not there is a best practice, I don't think we quite have it completely all knuckled down. Charlie maybe this is a good one for you, how have you found integrating and trialing technology in your offices? What would you say is the biggest obstacle? Any advice for any of these real estate audience listening in for when they're trying to integrate an adopter. It's quite a big question, but I'd love to get your thoughts on that.

 

Charlie

Super broad question, but I would go back to the basics. Just because the technology exists, doesn't mean that should be implemented in your organisation, right? It's the classic “automating a bad process is a bad idea”. And so what you really need to think about is what's your vision, who do you want to be, business strategy. And this is something that again, with our transition to EQ, I think we've done a good job of. Then think about, okay, what's the role of technology, and what I want to deliver on that vision. And so our vision relates to our customers and creating great spaces, we think about technology as a tool to accomplish that goal. I think a lot of folks make the mistake of implementing technology for technology's sake, because it's really cool and it's something that you can do and its neat. But just I would say, just go back to that basics of what's your vision, what you're trying to accomplish for your customer, and then what tools do I need to accomplish that. Is technology the best way? Maybe sometimes it’s a manual process.

 

Louisa

And the big question, we're coming at the end of our podcast, any big plans or things EQ Office is looking at for 2021? Charlie or Mikki, go ahead.

 

Charlie

I'll just say what I alluded to before, we think that there's a lot of uncertainty as far as how folks come back, especially in the US, come back to the office. Early days, but we have some early thinking on how we can work with our customers to leverage technology and physical spaces, to help provide the best tool for the type of work that needs to get done. And I'll give you an example. So maybe it turns out that work from home is the best technology for focus work. And we all believe that the office is the best technology for collaborative work. And we think that there will be tools developed that help companies optimise the mix between those two uses, and also how the spaces look, the physical spaces in their offices. early days but we are starting to start to think that way. And we don’t think that work from home, we call it work from anywhere, is going away post COVID or post vaccine, and we all are cheering the good news on the vaccines.

 

Louisa

Well, looking forward to hearing more about what happens next for EQ. And but coming to the end of the show Charlie and Mikki sadly, but is there any bit of information like to share with the audience or the best way to connect with you, or EQ office. Mikki why don’t you start?

 

Mikki

Sure you can find me on LinkedIn, I'm always open to conversations around technology.

 

Louisa

Awesome, thanks for that. And Charlie?

 

 

Charlie

Yes, same I'm on LinkedIn or my emails on our website www.eqoffice.com please reach out I’m happy to hear. And we're both super curious about technology and how we can evolve our real estate product so I’m grateful being here.

 

Louisa

Awesome, thank you both for coming on the Propcast, I will share the audience the link to EQ Office and ways to connect to with you and we'll catch up after the show.

 

Charlie and Mikki

Thanks again.

 

Louisa

Thank you for joining us this week on the podcast and a big thanks to our special guests. Make sure you visit our website www.lmre.co.uk where you can subscribe to our show, or you'll find us on iTunes and Spotify. We're all good content is found. While you’re at it, if you found value in the show, we'd appreciate if you could rate and review us on iTunes. Or if you simply just spread the word. See you next Tuesday and I'll catch you later.

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