From smart sensors to data scraping, Mirvac is trialling a host of new technologies and approaches to understand how people use space, says Paul Edwards.
Technology is radically reshaping the world of work, says Mirvac’s general manager of workplace experience.
“People, place and technology are intersecting to shift the way we think about space and experiences – and why people come to work in the first place.”
Millennials will make up 75 per cent of the workforce by 2030, while Generation Z – those born between 1997 and the early 2010s – are now starting to enter the workforce. The way that these digital natives interact and “problem solve” with technology is very different to previous generations, Edwards observes.
“Think of a building like an iPhone. Each new building may be the next generation iPhone, but ultimately it’s how you layer the apps that determines how you use the building.”
Edwards says Mirvac is getting “a lot more requests” from customers wanting to “understand how they utilise their buildings and if there are efficiencies they can make”.
His team has established a “living laboratory” at the EY Centre at Sydney’s 200 George Street to test a range of technologies. The idea is to understand not only the practical application of smart building technology, but the ethics, privacy and security implications too.
Edwards says Mirvac has been transparent about each project and employees can only be involved by opting in. “We want people to know what we are doing, because part of the insight is to understand what they think and why.”
One project involves the trial of a facial recognition access control system across two levels of Mirvac’s tenancy.
“We made the process of signing up deliberately clunky so people understood what we were doing,” he says. “People had to take a photo of their face and send it to us saying ‘I agree to take part in this experiment’. Seventy people have signed up so far, and “we are adding extra people constantly” – a testament to the ease and efficiency of the system.
In another experiment, Mirvac has partnered with Boston-based Humanyze to “scrape” data from email, Skype and calendars to better understand how reorganising space could enhance collaboration and productivity.
“We don’t read content – we are only interested in who is talking to who. We want to discover how teams are communicating and whether they should be co-located to improve collaboration. For example, meeting attendance has been unpacked to understand how space can be optimised.”
In August, Mirvac launched The Impact Accelerator with social start-up INCO, which supports more than 500 impact-focused start-ups in 35 countries each year. The accelerator aims to “turbo charge” businesses at the crossroads of green technology and social sustainability, Edwards says, by providing entrepreneurs with access to the Mirvac “ecosystem” as well as potential seed funding at the end of a nine-month program.
A sustainability champion long before most companies were considering it, Edwards was the sustainability project manager on Lendlease's iconic green project, 30 The Bond, in the early 2000s. His work on This Changes Everything led to Mirvac's global recognition for sustainability on several real estate indices. Today, he has a full plate: leading Mirvac's plan for the future of work and driving the Hoist flexible space offering.
Mirvac’s sustainability strategy sets some “tough goals”: net positive carbon and water, zero waste to landfill and $100 million invested in the social sector by 2030. These goals will only be met by “reimagining urban life”, Edwards says. “The Impact Accelerator will help us identify entrepreneurs who can help us achieve our strategy.”
Traversing the smart building road is rocky because “buildings are very complex organisms,” Edwards says.
“It’s not just a matter of installing a system. We have seen substantial increases in data generated from buildings today than from just five years ago – and it’s only going to get more complex.”
Creating “data for data’s sake” makes more problems than it solves, Edwards adds.
How do you manage that data and determine the best way to use it?
“We are very focused on our customer – so we are looking at what technology we need to put in place for our customers to be successful. If we get that right, we can simplify the experience in our buildings and create connected customers.”