Mobile Technology – Why having the Internet in your pocket changes how we use space.

We all know mobile is a huge trend this year, but I believe that we need to break it down further to really understand its reach. Earlier this month, I wrote about how mobile technology has changed how we perceive time. This week, I’m focused on how it changes our use of space.

In real estate, whether it’s residential or commercial, we are selling space and location and mobile technology has changed that forever.

You can now work anywhere. Companies like Sperry Van Ness International Corp. are storing their data and accessing software in the cloud. This means our employees and Advisors can work from wherever they want.  This change affects the traditional definition of “office space.” One example of the new era of office space is the Boston Innovation District (@IDBoston). This new district is a true testament to their “Live Play Work” slogan, with innovation centers where entrepreneurs can come together and smaller housing units with shared workspaces right in the building.  We’ve also recently seen the launch of Marriott’s workspace on demand program (powered by LiquidSpace) where a traditional hotelier is now providing short-term office space.

You can now live smaller. When you downsize your desktop computer to a laptop or tablet, do you really need a desk?  If you carry your books around on a Kindle, what would you do with a bookshelf? What if your iPad is your TV?  We used to need hundreds of square feet to hold all our stuff, but the next generation is able to fit all their possessions in the back of a Zipcar. And, who needs a parking space if you can share a car? This is why the Boston Innovation District is testing out micro-units with housing as small as 300 sf.

You can now share space across industries. While this has been a trend for dying industries, it may be a way to revive a few. In retail, with the ease of purchasing books, music and games on mobile devices, bookstores are trying to stay in business by adding cafés; and GameStop and others are pursuing kiosks, pop-ups and sub-leases within other stores. The Boston Globe, mired in another struggling industry, has even opened up it’s extra space to entrepreneurs. While some might see this as a depressing last ditch save, others might see the opportunity in the cross-pollination of ideas. What true entrepreneur would be able to resist telling their landlord how they might improve their service?

How do we address these changes in the commercial real estate industry? We can do the following:

  1. Help tenants and owners incorporate flexibility and adaptability into their space planning. Whether it’s for growth, remote workers, or in the worst case, downsizing, the more we can incorporate flexibility and adaptability into their space planning, the better service we are providing. It’s likely that tenant reps may end up doing a bit of space matchmaking in order to make a deal work.
  2. Update traditional space calculations. Does that law firm really need that many square feet per attorney when you cut out the library? Is one conference room enough? Or can you create more shared spaces? How we calculate and use space is changing. There is a need for more “we space” and less “my space.”
  3. Look for office opportunities within residential settings and vice versa. As the Boston Innovation District demonstrates, people want to blend where they work with where they live now that mobile technology allows them to do so. In urban planning, the key will be to prevent financial districts or under-developed areas from becoming ghost towns. Washington DC did this with a stadium.  In that case, they built it and the people, and businesses, did come.
  4. Analyze your own true space needs. Has your ability to access the web from anywhere changed how you work? Are there adjustments in your space needs or in how you use your space that could either lower operating expenses or increase productivity? You might be surprised to find how much your mobility has changed how you work and use your current space.

Has mobile technology changed how you operate your business? Please comment below, I’d like to know.

Diane K. Danielson is the Chief Platform Officer of Sperry Van Ness International Corp. Follow her on Twitter at @DianeDanielson.


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