The future of proptech in the UK – MIPIM roadshow London report

What’s the future of proptech in the UK? At the MIPIM Proptech Europe roadshow, that’s the question on the agenda. We’re at WeWork Waterloo to hear views on that subject from a panel of proptech companies and Simon Allison from the London Mayor’s office. And as long as we’re in a co-working space, it’s worth highlighting one of the soundbites from the evening which is that London leads the world by a mile on co-working, at least in terms of penetration.

The general consensus is that proptech has come of age. Next year, 2020, will be the year of adoption. It’s only three years ago when bright start-ups couldn’t get a look-in with the corporate purse holders but today the tech agenda is so prominent among corporates, they have senior people whose remit is not to say no to pitches from those bright young things. And there are more proptech/tech insiders in corporates now – a new generation with a different outlook.

What’s next?

So what’s next in proptech in the UK?

Simon Allison, representing the Mayor of London, says the capital’s commitment to tech won’t change even if and when there is a change of Mayor. Energy efficiency is a huge driver for proptech, he reckons. It makes sense.

He sees take-up happening now among corporates buying into the technology that may deliver smart buildings. There have been early adopters, of course, but after a slow start, Simon says almost everyone of a certain size in London is in the proptech game now.

Crunch time

The crunch for SMEs is to make things easier for corporates. Provide core value, and your technology will be adopted. You need to think like corporates think, rather than barging in and predicting you’re going to change the world.

The panel see London, Hong Kong and Shanghai on a par when it comes to proptech adoption and market opportunities, but when it comes to proptech companies, one city is (gold-paved) streets ahead. London has more of them than the next two contenders, New York and San Francisco, combined.

So back to the future. Long term, cities are thinking less about winning big bids like The Olympics and more about adapting to climate and demographic change. And there is something about changing attitudes. Most of us think of real estate in terms of buying and selling property rather than experiencing it. Yet the new generation is focused on experiences. So how do we turn real estate into a service? How can proptech enable wellbeing, physical and mental?


Think of buildings as platforms with the human at the centre. Why? Well, what do you provide to your customers if not your people?

As with many disruptive ideas, there are philosophical questions. If your technology lets people manage their environment, to what extent should you trust them to make the right decision? If you truly have their and your best interests at heart, is there a case for you overruling their input at some point?

Much of the talk in HR and management is of soft issues such as wellbeing. But turn that around for a moment. If you focus on optimising rent per square foot – really optimising it taking into account all the factors – you’ll get increased productivity and wellbeing as a side effect.

Not perfect yet

Nothing is perfect, though, and an audience member highlights the lack of innovation in property and FM contracts, something that routinely confounds the successful deployment of technology. This can be because of archaic contracts with outsourced FM companies who have neither the interest nor the desire to take on a tech product. Similar stresses on in-house real estate managers, struggling to manage their day-to-day responsibilities, make it likely that new initiatives will not necessarily be greeted with unbridled enthusiasm.

It’s a huge problem, one of our speakers confesses. It’s why tech companies are struggling to get their products into thousands of buildings. No two buildings are the same, even ones in the same portfolio, so each potential instance of a tech roll-out meets different attitudes and challenges. It’s crucial with joint in-house/outsourced operations that both sides are incentivised to embrace new opportunities.

All that said, 2020 is a different year for the proptech world, one where its ideas and technologies are better able than ever to make it onto the top of the corporate agenda and beyond into deployment.





Flexible working in the news

Flexible working, desk sensors and office utilisation monitoring in the media

What is flexible working? That’s a question we come across often here at Abintra. Most people think it’s about being able to work flexible hours, allowing employees to have a better work-life balance.

But there is more to it, as recent media articles demonstrate.

In the first, Legal Futures, a UK website for forward-thinking law firms, asks if flexible working can save the environment. Now that’s an idea!

Read it here

It points out that despite the rise in flexible working, the daily commute is still very much a key feature of the working day. The right to request flexible working was rolled out in 2014 but five years on, less than one in ten jobs paying more than £20k are advertised as flexible.

It says the main drivers for flexible working are cost cutting by reducing real estate costs and social benefits (family friendliness), but it says reduced impact on the environment should be another, as fewer commutes would cut pollution. It points to a report from the Carbon Trust claiming that homeworking could save around 3 million tons of carbon emissions in the UK.

In a second article, Workplace Insight, another UK online resource looks at the vogue theme of agile working.

Read it here

It’s a hot concept for progressive managers looking to break away from traditional working models in pursuit of more creativity and productivity. We should say here that in our experience, workplaces redesigned for agility are also popular with employees, and they go hand in hand with flexible working, of course.

Workplace Insight, whose readers include HR, IT and facilities managers, looks back to The Agile Manifesto, which way back in 2001 signalled a shift in approach to workplace design. One of a dozen principles in the manifesto is that you should build projects around motivated individuals and give them the environment they need to get the job done.

According to the piece, flexible working, activity-based working, remote working, and unassigned seating are all manifestations of this idea. Work is changing, and workplaces need to reflect this, it notes, listing three primary drivers behind the shift to agile working in the UK.
1. Reducing costs: Switching to flexible working reduces the need for expensive real estate.
2. Growth: Activity-based designs allow companies to flex as occupancy rates fluctuate.
3. Employee experience: Insight points out that organisations are fighting a “war for talent, so offices need to be appealing. Three out of four employees cite flexibility as one of their top two reasons to stay with an employer.

The third media piece comes from Open Access Government, an international forum on public policy, and it focuses on a subject close to our hearts, smart buildings. This piece says smart technologies can improve the sustainability of commercial buildings alongside other “soft” benefits such as health and wellbeing.

Read it here

It reckons firms’ sustainability strategies have been a major driver for the technology which gives facilities managers more efficient controls over energy usage with significant reductions in consumption.

Smart systems allow lighting, heating, air conditioning and ventilation to be monitored and adjusted according to a building’s usage and occupation, even down to an individual employee’s preferences when connected to individual desk sensors.

Moving on to the subject of wellbeing, the article says smart tech has an important role in health and wellbeing by creating an environment that helps people to stay alert and energised.

Abintra’s WiseNet sensors can monitor air quality, light, temperature and noise levels among other factors that affect employees’ concentration levels.

One of the main points we make to our customers is that offering employees the opportunity to work flexibly is – or should be – just one direction of a two-way street. In return, our experience is that employees are much better disposed to accepting desk sharing and new agile working systems.

This argument is even stronger when the environmental improvements are added in to the mix, with many employees concerned about wider environmental issues and reducing their own carbon footprint. The environmental theme is also especially compelling when employees are given the power to adapt their individual desk environment to their personal taste.

Seeing the Big Picture: Best Practice in Office Utilisation Episode One

In this first instalment of our new series on Best Practice in Office Utilisation, we highlight the importance of adopting a business-wide approach to unlock the new world of flexible working

If you work in a large corporation, the chances are your office real estate is your single biggest overhead after your staff. It’s also quite likely that you have one team responsible for your workforce and an entirely separate one for your building management. That is not ideal because, of course, people and places are closely intertwined. Corporations will never get the best out of their people nor make the most of their real estate assets if they don’t look at their organisations in the round. That is why when it comes to reviewing how you use your office real estate, the first step is to see the big picture. It’s number one on our list of best practice in office utilisation for a reason.

There are several reasons why a real estate review might come up. An organisation may be expanding and feel that it needs more space or vice versa. It might be opening in a new location or downsizing one. Perhaps someone has decided that the existing premises need a revamp, or gloomy economic predictions may have put real estate costs on the FD’s agenda. All of these are to a greater or lesser extent linked to the bottom line, and there is no getting away from the fact that Grade A offices are big ticket items. Our 2018 study ‘Wasted Space’ revealed that major organisations in the UK were collectively wasting £10 billion in under-utilised office real estate.

People first

Yet one of the biggest current drivers for corporations carrying out real estate reviews has less to do with money and everything to do with people. It is, of course, flexible working. The benefits of flexible, or agile, working have been the subject of thousands of column inches and broadcast hours in workplace and business media. More and more corporations seeing the potential to make space savings. Having worked with more than 100 organisations worldwide, we’ve seen that the scale of those savings can be quite astonishing: 30 per cent or even more is typical. As our report into the subject showed, those savings could be turned into monetary advantage.

However, many of our customers have done things differently and used the data we collect for them to reimagine their workspaces. That’s because the way we work is changing, and people want to work in places that are adapted to new ways of working. In order to recruit and retain the best people, corporations are realising they have to satisfy the demand of a new, agile generation of workers. We have seen customers switching to flexible working to move away from the one-person-one-desk-and-a-shared-meeting-room norm, giving room to introduce new breakout areas for informal team chats and even franchised coffee shops.

Mission critical

It seems fair to say that responding to the new world of work should be mission critical for any major corporation. After all, flexible or agile working are undoubtedly hot topics in business, and the related area of smart buildings is also hitting the headlines. These new approaches to office and people management offer bottom-line benefits in recruitment, retention, productivity and efficient use of space. Yet many organisations are failing to unlock the potential, and this is especially true for large, well-resourced corporations who stand to gain the most. Too often it seems that a big picture either isn’t in the frame or doesn’t have the drive from the top behind it to make it happen. We see it manifested in organisations failing to get to grips with flexible working or opting for low-cost real estate reviews that give unreliable data to managers with blinkered ideas. Why does this happen?

The challenge is that implementing this kind of cultural change takes a business-wide approach. Without it, corporations will fail to implement flexible working properly and will miss out on the advent of smart buildings.

That means senior management needs to champion a holistic approach to reorganising the workplace. It shouldn’t be just the preserve of the real estate or FM team. It needs to be communicated across the whole business. HR should be fully involved to help to create an improved environment. IT has a crucial role to play.

Driving change

So, management should be driving change. After all, the benefits are going to help you to deliver on corporate objectives, such as improved efficiency and better recruitment and retention. To make it happen will take more than delegating responsibility to a single team. We need to bring teams together on an enterprise-wide mission.

Advances in smart buildings add new emphasis to the need for a well-rounded approach to workplace design. We now have the technology, not only to enable flexible working but also to monitor and control the environment as never before, right down to the individual desk level. As smart buildings gain traction, it’s crucial that teams work together to reap the rewards, looking beyond energy savings and towards creating a better, more productive work environment, one that contributes to employees’ health and wellbeing.

By monitoring the office environment and how and when it is being used, we can create adaptable workplaces that address all users’ needs, from physical comfort and wellbeing to how the environment supports them to do their job effectively.


At Abintra, we are seeing an increasing number of enquiries from customers wanting to overhaul their working environments. That’s because employee wellbeing is rising up the corporate agenda.

Recruitment and retention are massive priorities for major corporations, and this is leading to more and more of them reviewing their working environments.

Unfortunately, many are making mistakes by failing to bring teams together to implement change. It’s also vitally important to involve the workforce in the process.

There is no doubt that corporations have space to play with. A recently-published Abintra report reveals that large office-based firms with 250 or more employees in England and Wales are together spending more than £10 billion on under-used Grade A office space.

Flexible working

Abintra pioneered workplace utilisation technology more than a decade ago and has since advised more than 100 corporations worldwide to monitor office usage and redesign workspaces. We know it can be done.

It all relates to organisations valuing their number one asset, their people, and leveraging their second biggest overhead, their workplace, to develop environments that address these key factors.

In London alone, the cost of office space being under-utilised is more than £4 billion annually, the report concludes, with large firms in other regions collectively squandering billions more.

Big employers with large office spaces are likely to benefit the most by addressing the issue and switching to flexible working strategies such as desk sharing. They can use Abintra’s workplace monitoring systems and our specialist consultancy expertise to typically find an extra 30 per cent or more of space.

However, we don’t expect the findings to stimulate a rush to smaller premises. Of course, it’s possible to take the data and decide to downsize and save money, but most businesses choose to use their newly-discovered space to enhance the workplace, for example by introducing new agile working areas, such as in-house coffee shops and informal meeting spaces. These have proven benefits for productivity as well as recruitment and retention, so being able to accommodate them without having to take on extra space is a huge advantage.

Real estate decisions

Clearly, information about the amount of space a business actually needs in a given location is critical for planning future real estate decisions. It can also be deployed by risk managers to ensure sufficient space is available to keep mission critical operations running if there is a disaster within a building or at another nearby company location.

The report reveals that large office-based firms with 250 or more employees in England and Wales are together spending £10,158 million on unnecessary total occupancy costs – that’s rent, rate and associated costs of running a workspace and related office functions.

What’s more, the issue is probably on an even bigger scale than the report’s conclusions, since our calculations are based on modest estimates of the amount of space saving possible and the number of people who work in offices.

Footnote: Businesses blow billions on wasted office space

Big businesses in England and Wales are squandering £10 billion a year by failing to get to grips with under-used office space, as our study shows.

The report ‘Wasted Space: The colossal cost of under-used office real estate’ draws together data from our work with more than 100 corporations worldwide with figures from government and the property industry to put hard numbers on the issue for the first time.

Download the report free

Accurate data about office use is key to flexible working

Abintra News Release

Firms are failing to implement flexible working because of poor data about how they use their office space, warns a leading workplace specialist.

Abintra, which pioneered the use of sensors to measure office use, says many managers still rely on gut feeling or flawed systems to make important real estate decisions.

The rising popularity of agile working has seen many firms reorganise their workplaces to attract and retain the best people. Flexible working can also save money by cutting the amount of expensive real estate that firms own or rent.

Abintra, which has helped hundreds of major corporations worldwide to introduce flexible working, warns that one of the reasons firms are falling at the first hurdle is that they are failing to understand how they currently use their office space. That leads to “flexible” solutions that don’t work because they don’t offer enough of the right kinds of spaces or because they inflate or deflate the amount of real estate that an organisation actually needs.

The company recently published a report on emerging trends in occupancy management in 2019 listing unreliable methods being used to assess usage statistics. These included manual “clipboard” studies and video tracking of people coming into or leaving an office space. The former doesn’t allow for detailed analysis of work patterns while the latter doesn’t deliver data on individual desk use.

Abintra favours the use of infrared sensors mounted to the underside of work surfaces to detect presence. It offers fast-track surveys using the technology to give managers in-depth data in four weeks.

Find out more about surveys

Tony Booty, a Director of the company, says: “Unlike sensors attached to individuals or systems that rely on using employees’ phones, it is a non-invasive solution, making it easier to win staff approval.”

The company provides number crunching software enabling managers to see how office space is being used via their web browser. The data can be interrogated to give an accurate view of office use over different time periods.

Once flexible working is implemented, the same technology can be used to generate a live floor plan. This allows staff to work flexibly by seeing where space to work is available and choosing different places to work within the office depending on what they are working on or just the mood that they are in.

With the launch of a new combined sensor, Abintra can also provide data on key environmental metrics as well as space utilisation, such as temperature and air quality. That allows facilities managers to deliver high levels of comfort for office users while helping to reduce energy waste. For example, by collecting data on the environmental conditions at each workstation, systems can be adjusted to provide improved levels of temperature and humidity control.

Time for businesses to future proof office real estate

News Release

Businesses should be investing in future-proofing their office real estate for smart building technology or pay the price down the line, warns a leading specialist.

Workspace flexibility specialist Abintra says it is seeing a drift among some corporations towards buying low-cost, basic sensors to monitor desk usage when they could be investing in technology with greater capabilities and future-proofing systems for advances in smart buildings and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Big businesses are increasingly using sensors to look at how their office real estate is being used and to make decisions about downsizing or moving, but Abintra warns that some inferior tech is not only not up to the job but will be unable to plug into the smart buildings of the future. The firm forecasts that corporations which don’t think about the big picture will be faced with a stark choice: Scrap their existing space management technology and reinvest with all the associated disruption to operations or lose out to competitors on the technological advantages in HR and facilities management, such as improved productivity and energy efficiency.

Tony Booty, a Director of Abintra, which has offices in London, UK, and Boston, USA, said: “We would like to see more businesses asking themselves: Where are we going with this investment? Our advice would be don’t just buy the cheapest sensor that you think can do the job. Look to future proof yourself for IoT and smart building technology.”

He explained: “For most office-based businesses, real estate is their second biggest overhead after their people, so naturally they are looking at space utilisation. When it comes to technology to monitor usage, management should be thinking about going one better. Advanced space utilisation monitors and the software behind them naturally lend themselves to connecting with the building’s environmental systems. Bringing together data and automated control of lighting, air quality and heating in one system joins up the information.”

Rather than mount a myriad of sensors and wiring throughout an office space, Abintra has developed a wireless sensor with multiple capabilities. It can be mounted in ceiling voids or flush with ceiling, and can even serve as a warning light outside a meeting room to show that it is occupied or not, based on information it gets from sensors inside the room.

“It is about using a component that has to be there and leveraging it,” said Mr Booty, who sees a future where desks, chairs and office components each have their own IP address and can identify themselves for digital building design and management, systems that will be increasingly powerful as buildings become ever smarter.

“There is an environmental benefit as well as a cost one,” said Mr Booty. “I think many facilities managers probably think there aren’t any further savings to be made in lighting after the introduction of LED, but there are, and although they are relatively small, taken together with all of the other environmental efficiencies that are possible, it is definitely worth investigating.”

Mr Booty is a passionate advocate for thinking beyond using the technology for cost savings, however: “Understanding how space is used and being able to monitor and respond to that in real-time creates a better working environment, not just in the traditional desk space, but by freeing up space to create new kinds of individual and collaborative areas, essential for flexible working and flexible environments. That creates a competitive advantage when it comes to recruitment and retention, and since people are an even larger overhead than real estate, it is an opportunity that businesses should be seizing.”