The Future of Real Estate Tech: 60 Leaders Weigh In

This past Wednesday, September 28, 2016, we hosted the world’s first Human Sensor Conference. 60 real estate leaders arrived from around the country to discuss the ways that occupant-facing technology will shake up building management. They were most interested in a mutualistic relationship- how can occupant-oriented technology not only improve the experience of every person in the building, but also provide insights that existing machines or Internet of Things (IoT) devices simply cannot cover?

CrowdComfort defines a Human Sensor as A Person + A Smartphone.

  • A Person, armed with a highly evolved set of sensing capabilities, and…
  • Their smartphone, the most advanced computing device we all use today.

This killer combination helps us advance the way buildings operate.

How can we leverage the interface between people and their smartphones to drive the next phase of productivity growth in America? We dove deeper into the McKinsey Global Institute Report  of 2012, The Social Economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies.  This report concludes that:

The most powerful applications of social technologies in the global economy are largely untapped. By using social technologies, companies can raise the productivity of knowledge workers by 20 to 25 percent.

It is clear that this statement remains true today 4 years after the report was released.


There are 3 ways that the traditional approach to facilities issues wastes valuable employee time:

  1. Email: Reading and answering e-mail
  2. Searching: Searching and gathering info
  3. Communicating: Communicating and collaborating internally. In total these tasks were consuming 61% of time average worker spends outside of their role-specific tasks.

Human sensing is meant to easily fit into employees’ daily activities, rather than ask them to explicitly take on a separate action. By just taking out their phone for 30 seconds, an employee can add an important data point for the facilities and real estate team.

During the conference we asked our speakers and participants to share their ideas about where this kind of Human Sensor approach might further drive productivity for US corporations. Here is what they saw in the future.

Energy Efficiency/Comfort - Led by James Newman @ EYP

The energy efficiency team observed that there was a lack of real-time data at a granular level. Sure, many buildings have a BMS system that can modify the internal temperature in real-time. But if that was all that was needed… why is discomfort in the workplace so widespread? Over 55% of employees report frequent discomfort on average. They still felt that we have a poor understanding of how indoor set points interact with outdoor temperatures and variations in the building envelope. Additionally, we have a poor idea of the level of noise that employees are experiencing. Where are the loud areas, and how do employees react to the noise?

In the future, they hypothesized that a Wi-Fi based system will be able to locate occupants in the building and automatically measure their reactions. Occupants will be able to easily report thermal, acoustic and lighting complaints. An operations team will constantly monitor and measure employee feedback and trends going on around the building. They will be be able to automatically pinpoint sources of discomfort through a combination of occupant feedback and IoT devices.

This will be accomplished through a few new technologies. Demand response will be able to interact with employee feedback. Smart lighting will automatically adjust to occupant reporting. Occupants will be notified on their watch or phone when changes occur around the building. It will be incredibly easy to submit comfort feedback.

Productivity - Led by Tom Zampini @ Beco

We have very little information when it comes to real-time location and behavior in buildings. Meetings are notoriously inefficient – when one person is late, the other attendees may sit idly while they wait. Multiply this by thousands of meetings around a building per year, and you end up with hundreds of wasted hours. Even finding a room can be difficult – if it’s your first time in a building, you’re usually the late one who everyone is waiting for! And finally, meetings often end early, leaving the room empty (and wasted) while the reservation runs its course. The way to leap over each of these hurdles is data, in real-time and long-term.

Light-powered, real-time location beacons will inform facilities planners on what types of spaces that employees prefer. They will allow these planners to create the ideal offices for their employee interests. This may be done without explicit surveying, unimaginable in today’s reality. Employees who take frequent meetings will be able to end the cycle of waiting for others to show up for meetings, or feeling guilty for being mysteriously late. They will know exactly how far way their colleagues are, and will be able to resume other activities in the meantime.

Workplace Experience/Employee Happiness - Led By Michael Gresty @ Rifiniti and Greg Meyer @ HYFN

There are very few data points that workplace strategists and facilities leaders can measure to cite their success. The dreaded annual survey is a major source of employee feedback, which may experience low participation rates and a fair amount of begging to ensure completion. In fact, facility managers frequently avoid employee feedback, since only the unhappy put in the effort tos speak up. Even these do a poor job of understanding all the micro-interactions that an employee experiences on a day to day basis. When and where are the unhappy moments exactly? How can workplace strategists understand this in real time?

Mobile and even watch-based feedback will play a big part of solving this in the future. Workplace and facilities teams will capture micro-events, like completion of a work order or the occurrence of a widely reported issue, and use it to get a pulse on employee happiness. If the work order was not completed to satisfaction or nobody is addressing the issue, the teams will mobilize in real time. In today’s reality, they may learn about dissatisfaction weeks later. Employees will be able to offer detailed feedback, and building services will be able to constantly monitor their success through employee feedback.

Healthcare - Led by Stephan Herzberg @ Florida Hospital Innovation Lab

A high functioning hospital has thousands of constant moving parts, but there is no equally flexible communication tool to match. Nurses, doctors and other employees are required to use antiquated communication methods like phone, email or talking to a receptionist. This jeopardizes the fast pace and threatens patient experience. Up to 5 channels have little live accountability- drugs, inventory, assets, communication and facility services. Although there are strict protocols that generally keep everything in working order, the price of a missed order could be steep in terms of dollars and cents as well as patient well-being.

With a human sensor network, all employees will be perfectly in sync without phone calls or bothering receptionists. It will be perfectly clear where different assets are located, and what drugs are running low. Facilities teams will be able to instantly respond to urgent issues. Nurses and doctors will not need to interrupt their daily lives and waste precious cognitive resources on reporting issues with assets. Simple reports will mean precious resources are always in the right place at the right time.


Early versions of these solutions have already been commercialized in some cases. In other cases, researchers are actively working on developing them. One golden question remains: who will push the industry forwards? 60 people attend the HSN conference. Who will join them? These early adopters are the key to the success of any of the technologies listed above. Only these innovators will push the industry forwards.

We also wanted to extend thanks to EYP, Beco, HYFN and Rifiniti for sharing their space analytics technology and the Florida Hospital Innovation Lab for leading our healthcare group.

Join us next year!

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