OMERS Ventures
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OMERS Ventures

What next for the office in a post-COVID world?

Photo by Bench Accounting on Unsplash

Why open the office at all?

It’s a natural question. With the forced move to remote working, virtually overnight, the received wisdom that the office plays a pivotal role in successful business life has been challenged. A lot of businesses seem to be making it work, so why go back at all? Based on companies surveyed, the most common primary reason to re-open the office is for collaboration.

Office barriers

There are many challenges that must be overcome to open offices, some of which are out of companies and landlords’ control. These include:

  • Public transit — for employees who have to take the train, bus or subway to work, the commute is more of a risk than the office environment;
  • Common spaces — landlords must manage common spaces in buildings including lobbies elevators and washrooms;
  • Inability to socially distance within the office — many offices are set up in a way where the spacing between work stations and common areas do not meet social distancing guidelines; and
  • Childcare — as schools are closed right now, parents must manage childcare at home which, depending on their situation could prevent them from being out of the house.

So now what?

There are two critical stages for both tenants and landlords. The short-term focus is (literally) about survival, which means meeting critical health standards. Getting this wrong would have consequences far worse than not opening.

Urgent and important (the left hand side of our matrix)

In the short-term, companies and landlords are hyper focused on making an office re-opening possible but the timeframe continues to get pushed out. According to Steffen Kammerer, Managing Director of commercial real estate broker JLL, “as companies start the process of preparing to re-open, there are so many more layers to investigate and many are hesitant to be the front-runner for reentry.”

Innovation or obsolescence (the right hand side of our matrix)

However important, these immediate procedural updates are not long-term solutions. This gives rise to an opportunity for technology to play a role in building the workplace of the future.

  • Tenant engagement software that enables owners to communicate more effectively with people in the office. Companies in this space include HqO and Lane;
  • Thermal detection technology at entrances to manage access to buildings depending on peoples’ temperatures such as Kogniz;
  • Sensors for space utilization to manage proximity of people;
  • UV light sanitizer technology which was focused on hospitals can now also be applicable for corporate environments (check out CleanSlate UV); and
  • Air quality technology through new air filter systems.

Health care and real estate come together

All of this suggests we are seeing a new intersection between proptech and healthtech as companies traditionally focused on health care customers are expanding their base to include real estate buyers, or companies taking a greater responsibility for employee health. Even if companies and landlords are able to make offices safe from a physical health perspective, the psychological impacts of the new office are still to be determined, so a focus on holistic health care is critical.



OMERS Ventures is a global early stage venture capital firm.

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OMERS Ventures

OMERS Ventures is a multi-stage VC investor in growth-oriented, disruptive tech companies across North America and Europe.