Chicago companies are opening the doors and letting more and more employees work at home. Telecommuting is growing faster than Mrs. O’Leary’s cow can kick a can over. And Internet speeds are moving faster than a speeding “L” train. Find out what successful apartment and condo managers are doing with tech to appeal to today’s telecommuters.
The workforce has changed drastically in the past decade. Yes, hundreds of thousands of people still work form 9 to 5 – and beyond – in Loop office towers, lofts in emerging neighborhoods like the West Loop and River North and suburban office corridors. But the iconic scenes from movies like “9 to 5” and “Office Space” – with employees punching time cards, strict office protocols and workers sitting in row after row of cubicles – are giving way to a workforce populated more and more by telecommuters, freelancers and independent contractors working from home offices, coffee shops and a host of other locations.
Internet connectivity, advanced applications and collaboration solutions are the forces making this evolution possible, and three major are behind it.
Employers are being more flexible
It used to be that white-collar workers sat behind their desks in front of computers and only needed internet and phone service to do their jobs. According to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, that’s changing – employees of Fortune 1000 companies are away from their desks 50 to 60 percent of the time. New technologies are allowing employers to rethink how and where employees work, and they’re revamping their office spaces as a result.
Email, online video and collaboration software are helping employees stay connected and productive regardless of their physical locations. However, a scattered workforce can create challenges, both for companies trying to provide technology services and to employees who now depend on their own network infrastructures for more than just surfing the web. Telecommuters need to interface with virtual private networks (VPN) to access work databases, conduct live video conferences with clients and exchange large amounts of data and information quickly. So it’s become crucial that residential multi-family developments offer high-performance internet connections.
Chicago’s condo and apartment developers are rising to this challenge by building networks that can scale up to gigabit speeds to make sure that telecommuters can be productive in their home offices.
Thirty-seven percent of workers responding to a 2015 Gallup survey said they telecommute, a huge increase from nine percent in 1995. The study also showed that telecommuting is increasingly common among white-collar workers and high earners.
Telecommuters are as productive as employees who work in offices every day, and technology makes this possible. A decade ago, employees needed to physically hardwire their computers into the internet to ensure a robust connection. Today, almost every coffee shop and public location offers wireless connectivity, allowing employees to remain tethered to the workplace even when they’re grabbing a cup of coffee. And with WiFi networks like Xfinity WiFi, customers can access the 1.6 million WiFi hotspots in the Chicago region and more than 17 million nationwide, making it easier to work virtually anywhere.
Condo and apartment developments are answering residents demand for high-speed internet service. The 2015 NMHC/Kingsley Apartment Resident Preferences Survey found that high-speed internet is the number-one amenity renters want. Understanding that residents need to be connected at all times, condo buildings and property managers are providing access to high-speed internet service in units, along with wireless capabilities throughout common areas so residents can remain connected at home, when they go the building’s gym and other common areas, and via Xfinity WiFi, when they’re on the go around town or around the country.
“Technology infrastructure was part of Catalyst’s building design process from day one, because we knew how important it would be to our residents,” said Jim Cunningham, chief operating officer for the Marquette Companies, which developed the Catalyst, a luxury high-rise residential building in Chicago’s West Loop. “A large number of our tenants work at home, so we wanted to be sure they had the speed – and reliability – so they could do their jobs from home, as well as access the internet when they’re working in other locations.”
Home technology advances
The days of slow residential internet connections are quickly coming to an end. Condo buildings and apartment complexes are adding high-capacity networks as a top amenity in their buildings. In a recent survey, “Networking with Residents: Technology Drives the Multifamily Industry,” 87 percent of property managers said technology is essential to keeping their residents satisfied – and for attracting new owners and renters.
Not only are many residents telecommuting, they’re also demanding high-speed networks to support video streaming, web surfing and a host of other activities, including home automation — the control of security systems and cameras, lights, heating and air conditioning via smart thermostats, and, with the rise of the “Internet of Things,” even appliances, ranging from washers and dryers to ovens and refrigerators.
A property with a lot of remote workers c afford to have consistently slow connections or outages without facing a mutiny from frustrated residents or high turn-over rates. That’s why condo buildings and property managers are thinking more strategically about network infrastructure. In fact, the “Networking with Residents” survey found that property owners, developers and managers are making technology investments for residents who work from home. To make it easier for developers to offer high-speed internet service, Comcast offers 1 gigabit-per-second (Gbps) residential speeds over its existing lines to residences and businesses in the Chicago region and elsewhere.
Fiber-to-the-building and fiber-to-the-unit are becoming more common and can help buildings attract new residents, including white-collar workers and millennials who are increasingly working from home. In fact, Realtor.com noted that some multifamily buildings in Chicago have even added shared office spaces with technology and communications equipment for telecommuters.
Regardless of whether or not remote employees work full-time from or just occasionally from home, the demand for high-speed internet is growing exponentially. Property managers need to take action now in order to attract and satisfy tenants and buyers.
By Chris Smith, Comcast’s Regional Vice President of Marketing and Sales