In this Tech Talks Daily Podcast, Neil C. Hughes and Dinesh Malkani discuss the current workplace trends, the Hybrid Workplace, and how to increase employee engagement.
Neil C. Hughes: Welcome back to the Tech Talks Daily Podcast now if you live in a big city such as New York or London you might look around and think will these big city skyscrapers and big office buildings ever be full of life again and as we explore hybrid working the reality is many businesses won't need as much office space as they had before and how will that affect our city I think every business is going to need to be much smarter with the office space that they use so today I've invited Dinesh Malkani, founder and CEO of Smarten Spaces, and his company provides an AI-based technology platform and solution to help businesses transition back to the workplace and a safe and secure manner and smarten spaces is working with Fortune 500 companies across eight cities globally so today I want to talk about all this the hybrid workplace back to work technology the future of the workplace making officers safe again and so much more so buckle up and hold on tight as I beam your ears all the way to Singapore went in ashes waiting to speak with us so a massive warm welcome to the show Dinesh can you tell the listeners a little about who you are and what you do.
Dinesh Malkani Thank you very much. I run Smarten Spaces and founded the company about four years ago that was after having spent 25 years working in the corporate world so this clearly seems very different. I've worked for companies like Cisco and AT&T and others throughout my career and now Smarter Spaces over the last four years has become kind of a world leader in the digital and hybrid workplace technology space so I'm pretty excited about that.
Neil C. Hughes: It really feels that you got in the right place at the right time right now because smarten spaces does provide tax solutions for the digital and hybrid workplace and there's this whole add movement towards hybrid working at the moment I think we've all sampled remote working at scale and will start to realize that something in between is the way forward but can you set this scene and tell me more about the kind of problems that you're solving for businesses with your technology.
Dinesh Malkani There are different issues that are at play right now for different companies. I think with some companies they just felt that because Hybrid Working is so real they want to not have such a huge real estate footprint, right? Cutting down on real estate costs and space is a big priority for many. For many, it's about productivity so you know over the last 12 months we've seen productivity being flat or may have actually improved a little bit. Now how do you know hybrid working continues to maintain that productivity right so that's a huge issue to be solved. And the third is largely around the employee experience. It was hard enough and you had fixed desks and you had fixed timings, now you have flexible working hours, you have flexible days in which you can come in, you have social distancing. From an employee perspective, if you don't give them that seamless experience, they just want to stay at home. These are the many other problems that we're finding that we're trying to solve using technology.
Neil C. Hughes: We will have business leaders listening all over the world. Everybody's been through the same thing over the last twelve months and we're starting to look now at how we transition back to the workplace. So on that side of things, can you tell me more about your AI-based technology platform solutions and how they're helping employees transition back to the workplace safely and securely.
Dinesh Malkani Safety can never be compromised. Whether you have 1% employees coming back or 50% or 100%, right? At the end of the day no stones are left unturned. Basically what we did with our technology was we plotted out everything from the time an employee wakes up. The first decision is... do I go to work today? Am I expected to be there? Our technology, working with the back end of the company, will essentially tell you that. Or you make a choice. I want to go in. Do your health assessment. Come into work. Check-in. We know who are the people that have come in. Look for a desk. Because right now, with social distancing, all the desks have been rearranged. Look for the best desk if you want to. Find if your team or your colleagues are also in the office at that time because as human beings right when we're at home one of the big challenges we tend to get a little lonely. And imagine if you go back to work and you still are lonely because you don't know anybody or nobody from your team shows up. You'll be sitting in a Zoom room maybe all day and just doing Zoom calls. It kind of loses the whole objective. And then you want to book a room because there are two or three of you and you want to have a collaboration discussion. We plotted this entire journey of an employee and look you can't do any of this manually right so we digitized everything and that's what companies are starting to use. We've done deployments now in about 19 countries. I think one common theme is it doesn't matter which country it is. Of course, there are different regulations but most people want to follow this flow because it's tested. It's proven. It helps employees get back safely. Even things like sanitization. Every time if you know an employee is going to come in and the employees book the desk, well you gotta make sure that the test is clean. Or if there's a meeting room that has been booked and the meetings over, how do you automate that process of somebody knowing yes the meeting is over... please send in somebody that can clean it up so the next set of people can come in. You have visitors that are coming into your locations now. How do you make sure that the visitors that you know who's come in, and if for some reason, they report maybe a couple of weeks down the road that they have a situation and they tested essentially positive you could go back and say OK the visitor came who did they meet and inform the people within the organization. We've thought of all of this and put it onto one single platform making it very easy for companies to deploy. We're hoping that you know this can help minimize any incidents that companies may be having.
Neil C. Hughes: I should also highlight that Smarten Spaces is actually working with Fortune 500 companies across 50 plus cities around the world and I understand you I know you probably can't name too many of your clients especially by name, but can you offer any use cases that will just help listeners understand how your tech could but possibly work in their world too.
Dinesh Malkani I look at countries like for example Australia. Australia opened up about five or six months ago and Hybrid was the way to go. Many of the large companies there, many of them are Fortune 500, hey decided to deploy the technology. Firstly, making sure that you know people came back in teams that knew each other so that as they worked their productivity went up. Our AI-based software looks at how those teams can be brought back together. Who's on the team. Which days can they come back? Space gets allocated for them. Neighborhoods get created. Those are the things that I find a whole bunch of customers in Australia use. In, for example, the US, we are working with Mondelez and they have factories and offices. How do you make sure that as workers are coming back, as employees are coming back, they have the ability to do health declarations? Make sure the temperature has been checked and ensure that they keep account so they don't exceed or overcrowd the place. We have deployments we've done in Europe, as an example, that follow very similar patterns. Different countries have different reasons for why they have deployed it but it boils down to safety and absolutely saving real estate space. We're working with a very large bank...one of the top banks in Asia... and they clearly called out that they're shifting to hybrid, not just for today, but this is going to be the new normal for them for many years to come. They want to cut out their real estate footprint. How much they'll be able to achieve? Our estimate is anywhere from between m 30 to 35% Once you're working Hybrid, you really need that kind of space. A lot of the Fortune 500 companies, in particular, have huge real estate footprints. Before the pandemic, I think 100% of the space was only used 55 to 60% of the time. Many times you walked into these offices that space was lying pretty empty. People were traveling.... but now post-pandemic, I think a lot of companies are saying, "I'm going to deploy tech. I'm going to move Hybrid. Even if I reduce my space down to 70% of what it was, I want to use it 100% of the time because that's just a great resource. An asset the company has right so these are some of the reasons why a lot of these large companies have deployed our solution. I have been telling that one of the growing trends is even in the SMBs [Small-Midsize Businesses]. For them, it averages the cost of about $21k a year for one desk. You look in real estate space in New York, for example, or in London or Sydney, and do the math. You know you'll find that it's about $21k a desk if somebody's got 500 employees and they reduce their footprint only have 400 or 300 desks, they could end up saving tons of money. Then, employees want flexibility. They want to work in a Hybrid manner. It makes sure that you have essentially best to both worlds you know matched up.
Neil C. Hughes: I'm curious how are you seeing businesses prepare for this Hybrid Workplace and do you think that eventually, we'll see office space shrinking in big cities like New York. It could completely change the landscape, couldn't it?
Dinesh Malkani You’re right. One trend and pattern you're seeing with other companies we work with right now is they hired from all kinds of places. Over the last 12 months, the hiring from non-city locations has gone up and that's because you don't care about it anymore....whether the person has to be living in that area. That means your workforce has spread out. A lot of people moved out into suburban areas to get bigger homes because they wanted to save costs but also have a room where they could work peacefully. If you look at all these trends, I completely agree with you. My sense is that there is definitely densification of spaces that have happened and will continue to take place now. If you look at it. will space be given up? Yeah. Surely you know there will be enterprises, large ones, that will give up space assembly but then that space is getting re-utilized. When I talk to the real estate companies, who are also our customers, they're taking a percentage of the space and converting them into amenities. They're offering flexible space all within their buildings because it's a great monetization opportunity for them. They're putting in processes to make their buildings more efficient. I think it eventually matches up. It won't be that space will just empty. It will just get reutilized. I think technology has a huge role to play in this whole transformation and transition on how space is going to look moving forward. One thing is for sure, at least with the clients I've talked to, they have looked at reports from Gartner and Mercer and everybody else, I don't think people are going to go back to how they were basically in the past. This is the new normal. Companies embrace it. They get more competitive they had more cost-efficient. I think it's damn good for the employees.
Neil C. Hughes: If we go back 12 months ago, the big challenge was Digital Transformation and remote working at scale. For a lot of businesses that weren't prepared for it, they've now overcome that obstacle. Now we've got a different set of challenges so how important do you think the Back-to-Work technology is going to be over the next 12 months.
Dinesh Malkani Well it's hugely important, right? I mean at the end of the day if you didn't have the technology, even fundamental decisions on who comes back to work, what days do they come back to work, just matching that up. So while we have digital workplace technology, we've got workforce technology that helps them be able to do that right. I think the whole ability to try to have 500 people fitted into 300 seats, you need the ability to give people the ability to choose to make sure there's a desk for them and they want to come back to the office and book it. If I'm coming, I need a parking lot. I need a locker. After all, I want to keep my things over there because I might need them tomorrow. I need to plan what the next one month is going to look like. I want to bring in a customer. Do I have a room? How do I invite them properly so they go through a process and procedure? All of these different things are going to be supercritical. That's why I believe that you know before the pandemic lot of digital transformation was happening. But in the workplace, it was still quite minimal. Now our estimate is at least 60 to 70% of companies around the world will digitize, automate and deploy digital workplace technologies to make it safer and give the right employee experience... and save tons of money.
Neil C. Hughes: If we also look back at the events over the last year, any businesses will have recruited and onboarded employees without actually physically meeting them in person. How can technology, do you think, ensure employees continue to be engaged and feel an important part of a company.
Dinesh Malkani It's interesting, we have this app called Jumpree. What we found was that the clients we had, they were telling us that only 5-10% employee was back, but the utilization of the app was significantly higher. That's because even though when people were at home, they were getting information on what is happening in the workplace. They were getting the news on basically how their companies taking care of safety. They were actually a lot of virtual events that were organized. There's a post. There's a bulletin board. All the information was getting put up. They felt part of the organization. They participated in a lot of virtual activities that were going on. I actually enter simple things. I'm at home. Oh...I need an HDMI cable because I do these video calls and so how do I raise that request? On Jumpree, we created the ability to do a Service Request so somebody requests that to the organization. Or, I may just need a Zoom or a Webex license. The engagement so the employee feeling connected to the workplace, the employee feeling that things are happening, the employee getting information, was hugely important and it continues to be utilized. Of course, at the same time, our belief is that with our workforce management software, HR will know who said word who's at home which teams are getting together. They need to plan engagement activities around it. At the end of the day, in this new world the role of the HR person, the workplace person, and the technology person is supercritical. The three of them have to work together. We've got clients that have the HR look at OK who's coming on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday versus Tuesday and then they try and plan things that can be done. Of course, they don't want big groups of people congregating together but they want to create more small engagement activities when people are back to work. For the ones that are a home, you figure out ways how to get them in virtually so they don't miss out. Imagine having a pizza party and everybody's having pizza but you were just watching pictures. I'm feeling like, "damn I wish I could be there." We'll get the one delivered at home because now you know what the teams are doing. Visibility and planning are things that become supercritical.
Neil C. Hughes: If I was to ask you to gaze into a virtual crystal ball and look at the future what does the future of the workplace look like to you and what role do you see Smarten Spaces playing in that future?
Dinesh Malkani For us, it's a lot about AI. I think we have done extensive work in shifting the models to be highly recommendation-based. Recommending to employees the best times for them to come back to the workplace. Recommending to them the areas of spaces they should be trying to sit in because their colleagues around it's the kind of people that they are usually working too so they feel connected. Making recommendations to space planners on how much space do they need what will happen scenario planning. What would happen if they gave up two floors? Or, what will happen if they let's say give up one section in the office. We’re starting to see that the whole employee experience needs to be highly recommendation-based. It needs to be highly tailored to that individual employee and two companies again as they do their planning and other things but that's the future. I mean that's the direction that is headed in now we connect to all kinds of sensors and Wi-Fi devices and everything else because we're getting a lot of data from there also. So that you know the utilization patterns. Just energy. We just opened a Living Lab here. We're monitoring energy there I can tell you that every time the carbon dioxide level goes beyond 1000 PPM, I feel a little you know. It's not the same as the energy level in the room. We like to keep it at about 80. We do monitor the air quality. We're pumping air and just connect with the BMS systems. That's really what the future is ... I feel that the workplace is such an important part of the culture of an organization but the experience has to change. Productivities gotta go up and costs have got to go down.
Neil C. Hughes: I completely agree with you there. I love chatting with you today but before I let you go a question I always like to ask my guests is if there is a particular song or piece of music that has inspired them in their career or help some get their head in the zone before going on stage or a big meeting. What would your song be and why?
Dinesh Malkani Eye of the Tiger in the movie Rocky. That's my absolute favorite, right? So I'm going to a really big meeting and I'm a little nervous, trust me I listen to that song and I feel pretty good about it. I do well. . Neil C. Hughes: I'm a big No Easy Way Out man from Rocky 4 soundtrack too.
Finally, for anyone listening who would like to find out more information about the work you are doing there and how you could help them, what's the best way of finding you online and contacting your team if they've got any questions?
Dinesh Malkani Cool. I'm on LinkedIn. Im Dinesh Malkani. Just do a search on me. SmarterSpaces.com. You can go in just fill out a form and somebody get in touch with you almost instantly because we're global. We're now deployed actually we just deployed about 75 cities around the world were 19 countries so very happy for anybody that reaches out.
Neil C. Hughes: Love that so much. I've lived by chatting with you today about preparing for the Hybrid Workplace Back-to-Work technology the role that that's going to play and that what the future of the workplace will look like. So much gold in there but more than anything just thank you for taking the time to sit down and share that with me today thank you, Neil, I enjoyed this conversation much appreciated.
Dinesh Malkani Thank you, Neil, I enjoyed this conversation much appreciated.
Neil C. Hughes: How are you and your business thinking about office space differently and what is your opinions on the Hybrid Workplace Back-to-Work technology to keep's office space safe and how do you see the future of the workplace? Over to you. Please email me techblogwriteroutlook.com LinkedIn Twitter Instagram is just at Neil C Hughes and my website is tech blogwriter.co.uk where you'll find over 1600 interviews we've completed now on this podcast. Please keep those messages coming in. We've got a huge huge guest coming up in the next week or so I can't reveal too much yet but keep your ears peeled for that one. But I'm going to go now on that big teaser so a big thank you for listening and, until next time, don't be a stranger thank you for listening to the Tech Talks Daily podcast with Neil C Hughes remember technology works best when it brings people together.