Smart Building Trends

With Global real estate being the largest asset value in the world (valued at a staggering $228 trillion) it’s no surprise that proptech is booming and investment in the sector rising year on year. In 2019, there was a notable surge in proptech investment with $10 billion in the US alone. It’s therefore critical to those working and investing in real estate to understand the upcoming trends in smart buildings and proptech.

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We will see adoption of both green initiatives and smart building apps being implemented in coworking facilities, but the underlying trend in smart coworking buildings is user-centricity.

The number of coworking spaces rose a staggering 208% between 2014 and 2018, so with customers no longer tied into long leases and no lack of other options, coworking providers must be user-focused and experience-led to reduce member churn. Therefore, smart initiatives in coworking buildings will look at reducing friction to the user and providing an experience that they choose to stay in. Furthermore, technology can provide a premium experience allowing for premium pricing. This feeds back into the implementation of a white-labelled app. Coworking providers are working with technology partners to provide a user-centric community app that can reduce churn, add asset value and give insights that help to understand the user better.

What is a smart building?

Before we delve into smart building trends, let’s start first at the beginning. What is a smart building actually defined as?

A smart building is connected by technology, sharing information across systems in order to optimise performance. The information is then used to automate a variety of processes within the building from heating to security. With this intelligence applied, not only is it a more efficient building for the users within it, but it also benefits from significant cost-savings and energy efficiency.

It’s important to note that a smart building is more than just an automated building. An automated building may give tenants the ability to control lighting and heating from their smartphone, and answer the door remotely, giving the tenant visibility to who’s at their front door even if they’re the other side of the globe. But this doesn’t make a building smart as it requires decision making by a human to trigger the actions.

What makes a building go from an automated one to a smart one is when these decisions are made by technology, without the need for human interaction. For example; occupancy sensors indicate that the building is always empty between the hours of 8 pm and 7 am the next day. Therefore the building automatically switches off lighting, heating, air conditioning and so on between these hours. A smart building programmes itself based on the environment and predicts future behaviours.

An additional thought piece on what defines a smart building is by asking yourself; “Does the technology implemented within the building affect the people using it in a positive way?” In the past, buildings have been kitted out with tech left, right and centre, but building owners failed to understand the reason we all adopt and use technology, and therefore the technology has not been well utilised. Ultimately, it should be to make our lives easier and more efficient. Would you prefer to click 10 times within an app to switch the light off, or just once using the light switch? Technology becomes intelligent when it removes friction in people’s day-to-day. Can some of the building manager’s time be freed up by the automation of some of their laborious tasks? Can the tenants book, cancel and pay for meeting rooms through an app, saving them time queuing at the reception? Solving the user’s pain points is what truly makes a building smart.

Smart building features

Now we’ve identified exactly what a smart building is, let’s take a look at the defining features.

Smart building sensors

Sensors and meters are placed around the building so that information can be monitored and shared in real-time. The sensors collect raw data, which alone cannot make decisions and command actions. The data is shared via a communication network, with intelligent software. This is often referred to as the Internet of things (IoT). Types of sensors include; occupancy monitoring, temperature monitoring, energy monitoring and building monitoring. Disruptive Tech offers smart building sensors that can trigger actions based on touch, temperature, proximity (objects nearby), humidity levels, water levels and so on.

A modern high-rise smart building photographed from the outside with rows of apartments and balconies.


Software with machine learning and decision-making capabilities are required to create an action from the raw data shared from the building sensors. Schneider Electric and Seimens are some of the leading companies offering building management software.


A wireless connection is a defining part of any smart building. Without the network, your sophisticated sensors and software can’t speak to each other.

It should come as no surprise that internet connectivity is imperative in any commercial building. According to Wiredscore “Internet is among the top three most important factors for tenants who are searching for office space”. Wiredscore offers a certification allowing building owners to promote their buildings’ digital infrastructure. Today, large commercial real estate providers and investment firms including JP Morgan, Blackstone and Hines are certified.

Let’s have a look in a little more detail some of the solutions that smart buildings typically provide, and some of the trends to look out for.

Smart building solutions

Intelligent HVAC systems

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems can be optimised through smart building sensors. Occupancy monitoring and smart thermostats blended with learning algorithms can adjust and predict HVAC settings within the building, reducing overall energy consumption and providing a more comfortable environment for the building’s users.

Smart security and access

Building access and security can now be possible through smart building solutions. Smart building access for specific people can be possible through an app, such as District Technologies, a tenant experience mobile-first software that integrates with third-party access control solutions to offer access at users fingertips.

Some examples of the types of third-party providers in smart security and access are:

HID are leading providers in smart building access. They offer physical and logical access, citizen identification, financial instant issuance, and chip technology that can be integrated with identity solutions.

Doordeck offers mobile access control that can be applied to existing door tech allowing users to gain access at their fingertips. Time-limited passes can also be generated for visitors.

Geze is an application allowing you to open windows to a desired position, and they can even be programmed to open and close depending on the temperature.

An app screenshot showing Access Control - a feature of smart buildings where entry is controlled via your phone.

Smart Lighting

Lighting can be automatically adjusted based on occupancy and the natural light levels in the room. A key theme once more is the increased efficiency this provides, and, with lighting being responsible for 19% of the world’s energy consumption, it’s no surprise that smart lighting is on the agenda. Phillips is a leading provider of smart lighting in both commercial and residential real estate. Phillip Hue, Phillips’ residential range, have created solutions that can be set up and used easily and instantly in homes with their convenient starter packs. Their commercial option offers data-driven insights and energy savings by up to 80%, whilst also offering improved workplace design and employee experience.

Energy and resource consumption

Building emissions from gas, electric, water, waste can all be tracked and reduced through smart building solutions. Bearing in mind that buildings account for 40% of all energy consumption and 70% of all electricity consumption, there’s a huge opportunity for not only significant cost-savings, but for the impact on the environment if adopted on a mass scale.

A smart building software solution called Measurabl has the technology to track all of these key components. Through the platform, you can measure sustainability and report findings for building portfolios. You can even set targets and track progress toward sustainability goals.

Smart Building Trends

Green buildings

Although environmental sustainability in buildings is not new, it has most definitely become front and centre of mind. Last year was dubbed the year the world woke up to climate change – and it’s no surprise with the influx of natural disasters, storms, bush fires and record-breaking heat the world endured. Paired with the staggering statistics on increasing global emissions – of which the built environment is responsible for a huge chunk – it’s no surprise that trends in smart buildings are dominated by green initiatives.

There is a notable investment opportunity in green buildings. A report discussing M&G Real Estate showed that the company’s green assets achieved a higher rental income (+53bps), and although operational costs were higher due to the implementation of smart technology (+31bps), the overall distributable income to investors was 19bps higher, showing the financial benefit of owning certified green buildings compared to non-certified buildings.

The investment opportunity alongside the growing climate change concerns bears no surprise that the green building sector is set to double in 2020.

Wellbeing and community

Wellbeing and community considerations continue to reign, so much so, we don’t consider this to be so much a trend any more but rather the new normal. Nonetheless, we felt we couldn’t go without mentioning this key component to smart buildings.

The rise in flexible workspace has grown significantly over the past few years, with the global market value of flexible workspace estimated at $26 billion. Now most companies are splitting their fixed lease liabilities into flexible arrangements to support their long term leases and to reflect the changing nature of business. It also means that tenants are increasing their standards. They can move offices easier than ever before if they are no longer content with the service they are receiving. Especially as new full service, community-focused campuses and office towers are being developed to match the modern workforce expectations. Older buildings need to be updated and new buildings are setting the standard of smart building tech combined with community and wellbeing.

WELL offers certification for buildings and communities that provide a premium in health and well-being. Today, wellbeing in buildings can be used as a marketable tool to attract new tenants/employees or other building users, and with commercial real estate now an on-demand service, providers will need to consider their wellbeing programmes to compete.

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Smart building app trends

A rising trend in smart building solutions are tenant experience apps. A tenant experience app connects smart building solutions and other third-party software together. It can also connect the building’s amenities and services, allow users to book and pay for things, and a place to build a community through engaging content and events. With an increasing amount of digital natives joining the workforce, a one-stop-shop for users at their very fingertips is not only a smart solution that can set commercial real estate providers from their competitors but in many cases may be an expectation by tenants or employees in years to come.

A phone showing a User Guide to a smart building which gives information about the facilities available to tenants.

Coworking building trends

Big data buildings

More and more buildings are becoming ‘smart’ via their own internal Internet of Things (IoT), collecting vast amounts of data. A huge opportunity lies here for buildings to share and compare data. This will be the next generation in what we understand smart buildings to be.

Through this collaborative use of data, buildings will be compared like-for-like with one another. Sub-par buildings can iterate processes by the adoption of standards from other high-performing buildings.

Smart buildings the new norm

It’s no surprise that leading providers are now incorporating technology through the use of smart building software and tenant experience software to ensure they can offer a premium experience and utilise their building more efficiently.

Smart building trends will continue to see a rise in the use of technology balanced with a thoughtful offline experience. Smart buildings will become the new norm, much like smartphones and smart TVs already are today. As digital natives become an increasing percentage of the workforce, smartphone-enabled features and amenities will become an intrinsic part of smart building infrastructure.

Buildings will be intuitive, such as lifts predicting the floor it’s needed to be on based on past behaviours, and energy management that adapts to the occupancy of the building. In an article by Raconteur, WeWork’s Andy Heath discusses data optimised workplaces: “Offices will become far more customisable based on people’s data,” he says. “An office will track my location and adjust preferences to suit me. After lunch, the temperature where I am sat might drop by a degree and the blinds may go up slightly to wake me up, creating my optimum work environment.”

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