The New Normal

Secure wired solutions for outside devices and open-floor plans

Secure Wired Solutions for Outside Devices, Open-Floor Plans


By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

It’s the dawn of a new era in office space. The open floor plan, unusual only a decade ago—even five years ago—seems poised to become the new normal. Private offices probably will not vanish, but they are being de-emphasized in new designs and retrofits. Some space, such as the Co/Lab/Orate in West Palm Beach, stretches the definition of office space pretty far, offering open workstations, cubicles, individual desks, semi-private work studios or private office suites, based on what the tenant wants and leased on a monthly basis.

What does the new normal mean for office-space technology? Buildings will need to offer more power to their tenants—or at least be able to power their tenants more efficiently. Wiring will need to undergo significant changes (see “Rewiring the Open Office”). And building owners and tenants will need to collaborate on new BYOD (bring your own device) policies.

“Workers have more efficient devices than ever before, but they’re using more devices than ever before,” said Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. managing director J.J. Shephard. And more people are being housed in fewer square feet as companies densify their operations. Except for the most energy-efficient structures, that means buildings will need the infrastructure to support these proliferating power-hungry devices and HVAC systems that can manage heat loads more efficiently than before. Also, buildings will have to be able to bring in more fresh air than before.

New space can be built to accommodate these requirements, and to some extent can be “future proofed” by estimating how much further these trends can go (after all, office densification has some natural limit). But, says Shephard, many older buildings are going to have a tough time retrofitting into an open-space floor plan while meeting contemporary (and future) energy and HVAC standards.

Still, with a bit of creative engineering—and enough money—older buildings can be redesigned to fit modern open-space standards while overcoming the various technical hurdles. Last month, for instance, RFR unveiled plans for the redevelopment of 285 Madison Ave., a 530,000-square-foot pre-war office building in Midtown Manhattan. The capital improvement budget for the structure is $65 million, and for that amount RFR is going to create flexible floor plans with large windows, but also high-efficiency HVAC equipment and lighting, as well as fiber-optic Internet service that includes backup generators for servers.

New Connections
The days when companies had Internet connections in a few places around the office—a lingering setup from the 1990s, when a lot of managers believed the Internet was nothing but a time-waster for employees—are effectively over. In the office of the future (and of the present in a fair number of places), employees will expect to move around, carrying their devices with them, and be connected. Thus, tenants are going to expect buildings to be fully wired or they will look for space elsewhere.

According to a recent Kiplinger Letter, by 2016 nearly half of U.S. businesses—about 40 percent—will no longer bother to issue portable devices to their employees. Instead, employees will be expected to bring their own devices to the workplace. Even company-owned desktop computers seem likely to go the way of the mimeograph machine before too long.

The movement to BYOD might save a tenant on office equipment overhead, but making sure the technology infrastructure of the office is up to snuff will represent a new expense for either tenants or landlords, depending mainly on who gets to pay for what after tenant improvement negotiations are worked out. BYOD also creates concerns about security when it comes to employees bringing their own devices into a workplace, but that too seems to be inspiring the software developers of the world to come up with solutions.
Rick Gilman, executive director of insurance industry association Personal Lines Growth Alliance, proposes that BYOD policies be formalized so tenants and landlords know what to expect. There are certain technical aspects to that process. One of them, Gilman writes, is “developing a basic configuration that allows Internet connectivity at work in a secure Wi-Fi environment. The basic set-up should include a separate email, contacts and calendar functionality that is apart from the personal data and configured so that remote wiping of data doesn’t impact personal information.”

Staying Secure
Landlords and tenants need to collaborate closely to create a secure Wi-Fi environment in their building. Having an office completely wired for connectivity and open to every kind of device that employees might bring in is certainly convenient for fully wired employees. But it also poses some security concerns. It’s all very well for employees to connect to the network, but what about visitors? Not every visitor has the best interests of their host at heart.

An entire subsector of the cybersecurity industry is emerging to deal with this problem. AirPatrol Corp., for instance, develops mobile device identification and location systems. It makes security platforms for wireless and cellular networks that can detect, monitor and manage the behavior of smartphones, tablets, laptops and other mobile devices based on location. For example, such products can sense and turn off smartphone cameras in certain areas in which a camera might be used to snap images of sensitive corporate information.

Security threats go deeper than mere cameraphones, however. AirPatrol, collaborating with MetaIntell, has integrated their respective products to locate individual apps that come within the devices that enter corporate space under a BYOD policy and assess the risks they pose. “All successful mobile providers are integrating location into their capabilities,” said AirPatrol chief technology officer Guy Levy-Yurista. “We’re able to offer individual devices’ app usage to be approved in some zones but not others, with the added benefit of avoiding unsafe apps.”

This article appeared in the December 2013 issue of Commercial Property Executive magazine.