Innovation in reuse of existing built spaces


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 Innovation in space usage is driven not only by use case demands, but availability.  And we can see that availability is increasing.  The general increase in space offered for sublease amid the pandemic is to be expected as companies needed less room with workers being home-based. So we are talking about the reuse of existing built spaces.

Reuse of vacant office space could also give a new lease on life to the neighourhood while supporting the local economy, and enable people to stay close to their choice of living space—all the while helping preserve the social and cultural heritage of a region. We are seeing a mix of health, education, entertainment, leisure, arts and crafts and green spaces. Some old shops could become housing in a mixed use environment.

One of the more interesting leisure examples I have seen recently is an active entertainment area, including an indoor go karting centre, in a former South West London shopping centre in Wandsworth.

Startups that repurpose unused space have seen a surge in usership. Innovative startup companies look to make use of empty offices while employees continue to work elsewhere, including working from home during the ongoing pandemic. The pandemic-oriented trend, driven by businesses downsizing and relocating, is expected to push vacancy rates up in cities, and with incentives also on the rise, this will ultimately put pressure on values. 

Some high street retailers are trying to divest some of the retail space as online shopping causes less footfall. Up to 45 percent of of John Lewis’s flagship store on London’s Oxford Street had gotten permisssion in October 2020 from the local council for reuse as office space as the company tries to stem its coronavirus losses and return to profit. Timing on that might not have been so terrific….  But according to a recent BBC article,  the UK has lost 83% of its main department stores in the five years since the collapse of the BHS chain. The figure highlights the extent of the upheaval in the High Street as the Covid pandemic sped up changes in shopping habits.

So how can this value be realized in an alternative way?  After all, The Refinery, a luxury hotel in NYC, used to be a Garment District millinery and the Tate Modern in London was once the Bankside Power Station…  This is not a new concept, but new use cases.

So let’s focus on new use cases.  Some new innovation examples come out of our need to exercise and to store, all limitations of our home spaces:

  • Silofit was stared two years ago to repurpose small office spaces by turning them into “micro-gyms” that can be rented by the hour. 
  • US  peer-to-peer storage marketplace Neighbor lets individuals and businesses rent out their unused space for storage purposes—something like the “Airbnb for storage.”

Pandemic oriented use cases come from a need to get closer to the customer for fulfillment.  Ghost kitchens and other food companies using unused commercial space as distribution centers, so produce can be closer to its final destination.

We are also seeing folks creating communities and cohorts to get closer to each other (within social distancing and reason) when larger resources are not available.  For example, New York-based edtech startup SchoolHouse uses commercial space for some of its “microschools.”

Community building as a use case is also on the rise.  Beside education, health care and wellness have led some interesting use cases. This is a good article on reuse and healthcare, albeit from a US perspective.

So what CAN’T we do at home that requires a physical location that can absorb the available office spaces?   Creative labs and maker studios come to mind, especially combined with distance learning.

What is the commonality of these new use cases?   And how will this concept grow?


Creating workplace process orchestration


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As we go back to the office, the process of not only being there but being productive there needs to change.  In order to engage the employee, the supplier or the customer to come into the corporate or region office, they have to be able to successfully do their business when and how they are comfortable with doing it.

Taking a holistic approach to building the tech stack, smart orchestration should be a core component of the digital infrastructure that underpins the built environment, as a means to utilise a richer data set around space and building usage that allows us to work smarter and more comfortably.

Some already call a portion of this workplace experience management.   But in order to manage the experience, there has to be an orchestration of workflows that go with that experience set. How the different experience management tools harmonise together to create the necessary processes for productive work.

When we come to an office, we want to know:

  • Availability of people and resources.  This involves open scheduling, collaborative tools and change management resources.
  • Status of physical areas and their hygiene.  This includes digital signage, capacity data being communicated, and personal preferences to heat, light and air quality.
  • Capacity of environments in terms of usage.  Can I come in?  Can others still join?
  • Procedures and protocols for visitors, suppliers, procurement of goods and services, etc.
  • Changing regulations about how we engage with the environment, including cyber security protocols.

Role of sensors and edge computing in orchestration

The underlying aspect of knowledge is data, and we have to be able to gather the necessary data to create the knowledge and communicate it to the right stakeholders in a timely fashion. The tech stack on which decision making sits is made of both internet of things (IoT) and operational (enterprise quality) technology.

Both for IoT and operational technology (OT), the common characteristics of these technologies is that they are based on decentralized architectures and they use edge computing. There is an explosion of sensors, devices and compute at the edge, and that is bringing in new types of artificial intelligence (AI) usages at the edge for real-time analytics that enable decision making.


Orchestration is harmonized with other key factors in workplace design as visibility, light penetration and communication potential; we should examine workplace tools, data analytics, sensor technology, and smart algorithms will impact how we design and what we design, to help shape the workplaces of tomorrow.

Shining a light on Industry 4.0 – Looking for a Lighthouse


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In 2018, the World Economic Forum (WEF), in collaboration with McKinsey, initiated the Global Lighthouse Network project. This network continues to aim to identify companies across sectors and geographies that have been able to scale up Industry 4.0 solutions to achieve both financial and operational performance growth, as well as environmental sustainability.  From the nine initial members in 2018, there are now 69 members of the Global Lighthouse Network.

Why is the Global Lighthouse Network an important concept?

These manufacturers are showing others how they have made traction and progress scaling Industry 4.0 technologies within the manufacturing plant environment.  Earlier research before 2018 by the WEF found over 70% of businesses investing in technologies such as big data analytics, artificial intelligence or 3D printing were not able to take the projects beyond pilot phase.

Out of the 69 lighthouses identified, 64 percent have been able to drive growth by adopting Industry 4.0 solutions. For example, while all Lighthouses have successfully transformed at the site level, a select number of  organizations have extended their Industry 4.0 journeys through the end-to-end (E2E) value chain, using technology to drive value for the enterprise connecting the organization from suppliers to customers.

Why this is valuable – it’s about people transforming with tech

McKinsey reports that a common thread across all the different lighthouses is that they put people at the centre of the transformation. And that is what helps unlock the full potential of the technology that has been deployed. This community can shine a light on ways using people to the best effect can transform factories, value chains and business models for compelling financial and operational returns.  Creating organisational maturity beyond the pilot phase has been a real block for many organizations.

What can others learn from Lighthouses?

This community of manufacturers is a built community ; in other words they have been brought together with commonalities to show leadership in using Industry 4.0 technologies.  In coming together under the project, it allows them to benefit in a joint learning journey, partnering on collaborative projects, developing insights and incubating new potential partnerships.   How others can benefit from their activities here is by seeing the possibilities that exist and applying it to their own situation.

Can other industries do the same?

Certainly, and that is the point of this blog post.  Building communities and sharing best practices has been driven traditionally from the supply side – e.g. the user communities of software vendors or the industry forums of major industry sectors like automotive, linked together by suppliers.   It is time that the users themselves drove the conversation and brought the best practices together from the demand side of the equation.   

Networking with networks – our virtual organisations and ambiguity


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Navigating virtual organisations – building a virtual network roadmap

I have worked for three organisations that were mainly remote with a small HQ.  And one of the first things you have to do remotely is get the lay of the land.   Who is the glue that keeps the place moving?   Who knows the internal mapping of who gets what done?    What person becomes a dead-end in your quest to get something published?  I really feel for someone who started a new job in the last year who does not have that organisational capital investment behind them in making their way through an organisational network.

I have seen the same in graduate school groupwork, both successes and failures in communication and reaching common goals.

Networks are relationships, based on equity and mutual trust, that enable dialogues to prosper and bear fruit.  These are the links within teams or departments that are built on patterns of interaction. One of the challenges in the last year is using previously built organisational capital to get things done.   So how do we do that?

Creating white space for creativity

Organisations actually create ambiguity on how things are done so that members of the team can create their own pathway by experimenting and improvising.   The kinds of characteristics that can be found in a networked organisation that allows this kind of creative white space are:

Common goals and objectives:   There is a common pull in the team towards an acknowledged activity.  When you see this being not as clear (like in a pandemic), then some of that white space for creativity disappears as well.

Shared knowledge:  Synergies are created where team thinking can be applied by several members of the group together.   Ideas are seen as complementary and challenging for the organisation to achieve.  That shared knowledge can rejuvenate the organisation when things get stagnate.

Shared work and building of trust:  As I saw personally yesterday, a networked organisation encourages shared work.  And giving that white space for growth between participants in the network allows a building of trust and cooperation.   And that grows the opportunities for even more creative expression.

Shared decision making:  If culturally the organisation allows its members to have a say in decisions, then the networked organisation knows who to call on when a shared decision needs to be made.  That networked trust between virtual participants means that there is an understanding of intellectual wealth in the network and how to leverage that wealth in the decision making process.

Dealing with ambiguity

When ambiguity is excessively high, people are confused and anxious, because they lack a frame of reference to interpret their work and actions within the organisational network. However when ambiguity is suppressed, people become complacent and unwilling to experience or change as they are shielded from the need to have to adapt.

One way to deal with ambiguity is not through explicit instructions, but shared rewards.  If a virtual team is pulling to the same finish line with the same shared priorities and shared timing, then a structure is formed that enables the virtual team to have those necessary reference frames to reduce anxiety and conflict.


Dynamic relationships are key to networked organisations, and our new normal in organisational development is how to enable those networks to be built and supported within a framework that is neither physical or experiential.

Role of technology in hybrid work forms


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What is work?

Work as a concept has changed.  It is no longer about the physical space.  Nor is it about the choice of platform, as a varied of tools are used for connectivity.   So how do you create an organisational culture without physical or platform reference points?

A company at this point has three components: an organisational memory, a shared reference language and a set of communication channels (both tools and platforms).  Defining the company parameters will involve access to what data and what portion of a particular stream of revenues goes to what competencies are being shown.

So in a competency-based company, dialogue is the new unit of work. How do space planners and employers enable that kind of work to occur?

Employers, space planners and building owners will look to technology to perfect a hybrid model.   This needs to include the communication channels that the company uses.  Most of us are tired of hopping from platform to platform  (Teams to Zoom to WebEx to Slack to…..). I should not have to coordinate a person with a platform.   It is already hard enough to keep track of which family member uses what app to communicate.

The use of space

The trick in creating these dialogues is to make space management more seamless and accessible. Property management teams need to deliver greater flexibility and improve the in-building experience for their tenants, with an operational focus for facilities management on cost controls and workflow processes.

Making space manageable enables employees to schedule communication exchanges with the ability to reserve space, to interact and to engage in these dialogues. Property and facility managers will want to create a hygiene friendly touchless experience in this space, applying touchless technology to doors, lockers, desks, meeting rooms and access to employee resources such as changing rooms and communal spaces.

Tech enabling space

More advanced and empowered technology can enhance not only occupancy planning but also the overall work experience. We all gain in hybrid working models with reduced costs, improved  employee performance, staff retention and the environmental benefits of reduced travel. Employees get shorter commuting times and scheduled collaboration time.

Traditional models will no longer accommodate the workplace and workers of the future. The new standard of hybrid work promotes efficiency and connectivity, and technology is a big part of that.

Age is more than a number

We can see that different age groups have different ways of working and collaborating.  Besides gathering data on usage, if that data can be cross tabulated against age group and working role and style, then we can create work environments that allow the individual to create at their level of working comfort.

Data as the fuel for dialogue – how can AI help?

We need to recognise that data is the fuel for these dialogues that are creating organisational and personal value.  People want to work with each other when they can create value, and data supports that activity.  Value is what attracts employees to a work environment, value are magnetic and brings people together for collaboration and creation.

Can AI help us here?   What about better understanding HOW we use spaces to help us make better decisions where (and when) to meet?   In digitising existing manual physical processes, this allows for gathering usage data and using artificial intelligence to optimize data and space and to ensure connectivity.  For example, GoSpace’s platform is designed to help occupancy planners oversee the hybrid workplace.  In a recent collaboration between property management firm JLL and GoSpace, using GoSpace’s AI engine, JLL collects data to manage space consistently based on usage patterns, while ensuring connectivity and driving collaboration.


Building and maintaining working premises used to be about a complex Design/Build project (core & shell, interiors and relocation).  Now both property managers and facilities management need to think about data use, human dialogue and value creation for employee engagement as part of the metrics of space management.

Trust and Privacy: Return to the office environment

Many opinions exist on how automation and machine learning will help our return to the office environment. Removing physical touchpoints and leveraging machine learning on tracing employee behaviour can help with the transition back into the workplace.  But will people trust the office’s automated suggestions on where to work in the building, or help themselves to alternative workspaces?  

Trust, Good Faith and the Engagement Process

Disney and Amazon both understand what kinds of processes and trust it takes to engage people. These organizations took their time to create a vision of the contactless trusted experience before developing an implementation plan.  The RFID wristbands at Disney that open hotel doors and get you on to rides involves many elements of trust and privacy.  The automated order and delivery tracking of Amazon, along with suggestions and buying patterns, require the person to opt-in and share information to make happen.

So for your own company, once I re-enter the workplace, how does our company create those processes, that level of trust and faith, that would allow my movements and my health status to be tracked by office automation?    For example, how often should I be overtly be aware of my temperature being scanned?

Abilities of buildings to manage

Facilities management is trending towards intelligent building management systems (iBMS) which know about room occupancy, room hygiene and tracking who has been where and with whom. Elevators will limit occupancy and direct users to the correct lift going to the correct location.  I have already seen this in our city hospital as it will direct you to the correct lift once you have entered information on your destination.  This combines user interface devices such as touchless pads, system hardware, and access control management software.

The building can also possibly direct you via a building app to request a place to work. You could swipe your personnel card and then be shown several options based on your personal profile and job role, including private quiet rooms, communal areas, and outside meeting tables.  Previous occupants can be noted to share hygiene tracing if necessary.

Intelligent buildings already offer direct support to the employees who interact with them for HVAC, lighting control and occupation sensor.  They have the ability to reduce user friction, while raising workplace experience metrics to create a measured environment.

Users’ trust and participation

Users should be willing to participate to get access.  To create that trust that is required for the willingness to be given, companies need to share policies and demonstrate stewardship of the data accessed.  Who is holding my locational data, for how long and for what purpose?

Trust facilitates successful data sharing, which in turn reinforces trust. Trust is built when the purpose of data sharing is made clear, and when those involved in the process know each other, understand each other’s expectations, and carry out their commitments as agreed. Trust increases the likelihood of further collaboration and improves core surveillance capacity  by supporting surveillance networks.


Will we put our trust in buildings and facilities management on our return to the office? If communication and clear policy is articulated, then building can play a role to engage users to return to some standards of in-office participation.  But if communication is muddy and policy not made clear, people will make their own way to safety – potentially impacting the environment of others.

Christmas Eve and Dreaming Big

The end of this not so lovely year of 2020 is next week, and not soon enough for most of us. Life in the “Now Normal” has seemed like an endless array of March days, except each day is different, yet the same.

So many people are pinning hopes on 2021, and if you understand that the pandemic of 1918 was followed by the roaring ’20s, you can also see that many people are overestimating what comes next.

We have a tendency to dream when we look at a new year, or a new decade. We overestimate how quickly changes will occur. So much of our lives are already reminiscent of the Jetsons cartoon, with voice and motion controlled rooms, personal transport pods, and robotics. Me, I was just looking at the prices of private islands and personal media studios. 😉

What will 2021 look like? You can see some of my tech predictions here on the Ecosystm website where I work as a Principal Analyst on a contact to cover Infrastructure and Cloud Enablement. On a personal level, I plan to scale up and out from my current situation. This means downsizing a reliance on physical stuff and rightsizing me.

I know for certain that this next year will bring great change, but much of that will be internal in how I view and live in my world. And the same for many people I know who are recreating what they read, listen to, find factual and want to engage with. I wish you a peaceful holiday season and a value-driven new year.


So what does ‘the After’ look like?


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A good friend from high school calls the period after we stop lockdown “the After”. As I teach university as well as run a think-tank, the discussion comes up about business models in ‘the After’. How will airlines operate with enhanced social distancing? What happens with restaurants, can they change seating plans to have a “corona immune” section? Will the emphasis be on local business sustainability, to the determinant of Amazon? Are we moving from the experience economy to the cooperative economy?

I have a couple of immediate predictions:

Countries that now rebuild tech infrastructure (5G, IoT, contactless payment, etc) will get further ahead in bulletproofing their economies. WFH will be a reality for many years, and the platforms to do so need to be better scaled.

Governments that re-skill the population to 21st century work forms will survive more fully in the long term. Automation is king, protection of poorly trained workers benefits no one.

Supply chain agility will continue to be a big thing, as companies who quickly and without prompting converted to face mask, PPE and surgical scrubs will be remembered as innovators and their brands will benefit. (CSR)

Personal privacy will take a hit in the near term, but to the benefit of society as long as there is oversight on how the data is used.

You can bailout whomever you like, but if the consumer does not feel that was a worthwhile action, it will impact consumption. Not only elephants never forget…

Supporting local industry will be a priority for many communities who will remember what it was like to have scarcity at a time of crisis.

Much more to come, business model process innovation is my favorite thing next to chocolate……

Zoom as a Platform (ZaaP) – Innovation for the current era


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In a week full of stress and uncertainty, one thing is certain. We require new infrastructures to support the heavy load of all online all the time. And one thing I have learned from this week is that most video concall platforms are not scaling very well. They all meant well in offering free trials for 90 days and so on to take advantage of the online need, but cracks are showing in most platforms in terms of peak periods and performance.

Except for Zoom, I understand. Where Skype, WebEx, Google Hangouts, MS Teams are occasionally overburdened, most folks using Zoom have not had the same experience. In fact, many are turning to Zoom as the platform of choice for real life experience in the age of social distancing. Education in the form of classes (academic and practical) are springing up all over the Web.

There is a great opportunity here, assuming Zoom continues to scale, to base business models on the Zoom as a Platform (ZaaP). Let’s call it being ZaaP’d. Will Zoom become the next Facebook as the must have app to reaching and communicating with customers?

How will COVID-19 test your organization’s resilience? Can a pandemic create new business models?


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I had a great concall this morning (yes, on a Sunday) about how organizations are approaching the possibility of the virus impacting their infrastructure. The tech giants are asking for home working, and the educational institutions are looking for virtual and remote learning.

But there are several business models here that are going to be damaged.

First is the model of insurance. As seen by SXSW this week, the organizers held off cancellation hoping that Austin would ask for it first. This is because the insurance company did not see the virus as an Act of God or natural disaster. As more and more companies will take financial hits going forward, how will insurers be pressured into adapting existing types of policies to cover (or not) pandemics?

The next is the model of conference calling. Many of the mainstream providers (Zoom, Cisco with WebEx, Google) have tried to take advantage to building the business with free 90 day trials during this period. But the uptake of Zoom recently has started to impact the quality and bandwidth provided for calls, as noticed by several users this week. Is there enough infrastructure for everyone to go virtual? I see an opportunity here for other models that exist (virtual universities, virutal events in the form of an electronic open day) to take hold.

The third model is the sick leave model, focusing on the amount of time off that a contracted employee can take. I know I had to take sick days for a family member being ill last week, and have already used up my days for the six month allocation period. Hourly workers, and those who work on freelance contracts, will be badly hit. Will people change what they do for work based on a pandemic? Certain industries will be short of workers if this is the case.

The final model I want to discuss is the retail high street. If we have social distancing, how we shop and how we eat out will change completely. E-commerce models still need fulfillment, and if workers cannot work in warehouses or shipping, we have a fulfillment problem. Will 3D printers be the answer that you can make your own? Will be there be fixed locations to pick up your goods with quarantine information available as to its preparers?

Will we have virtual dinner parties, or be exchanging recipes for self quarantine kitchens? Or will you book a restaurant based on distance from other diners and with a health certificate from the kitchen staff? (Note: already happening with delivered food in China, comes with temperature reading from kitchen preparer as well as delivery person.)

Having stocked up on canned goods and toilet paper, I am not as ready as I would like, but already thinking past this season until next Fall…… Can we turn this into an innovation moment?