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Breaking real estate's habit of pointless screens and irrelevant content

Author: AshbyCapital |

Screens can and should be the primary means of informing, engaging and entertaining occupiers and visitors – displaying vibrant content that directly supports a property’s operational, community and ESG objectives.

After all, they are highly visible and don’t demand any effort or action by the user, such as logging into an intranet or building app. Yet these expensive pieces of hardware are all too often failing to live up to their potential, as too much thought and investment goes into the screens themselves, with very little going into the platform and content.

To start with, decision-makers are often seduced by the biggest screen they can find and the thought process and budget stops not long after installation. After all, most screens are bought from vendors who don’t create content, instead simply doing the easy part of supplying and installing screens and then providing a licence to one of countless digital signage systems, listing potential capabilities that are unlikely to ever be realised – and then leaving clients to their own devices.

The result is something we see all the time: display hardware that simply plays a few images, day in, day out, either through a lack of ambition, insufficient creativity, no ownership in terms of making content updates, or underestimation of the technical challenges involved.

Build it and they will watch

As an industry, we can do so much better. Almost anyone can source and install a screen, but the value comes from what you put on it. For example, we have installed and are managing digital screens across five buildings in AshbyCapital’s portfolio, including The Kensington Building in London and The Future Works in Slough. Rather than a bland “screensaver”, we are instead displaying a varied carousel of occupier-centric content – much of which is data-driven, meaning it’s self-curating and self-updating, so operators need only build it once and then let the content take care of itself.

One of these displays is an air-quality visualisation in real time, an example of what data-driven digital signage can and should be doing to make buildings better. Through dedicated sustainability screens displaying real-time air quality from sensors in the buildings, we can help raise awareness of environmental factors and encourage tenants into more sustainable behaviours.

As great as the air-quality visualisation looks, what isn’t seen is the robust hardware, software and cloud-based infrastructure working in the background to ensure this information is on screen and accurate, all day, every day. Data from smart sensors is used to compile and calculate an air-quality dashboard which displays live data on everything from CO2 levels to PM2.5, humidity, temperature and VOCs as well as an overall air quality score. All of this is displayed through attractive, on-brand and contextualised visuals designed to be digested by building occupiers.

Keeping score

It’s not just sustainability and air-quality data that can be meaningful content though, as screens can also help build workplace communities and communicate company values.

By displaying engaging and vibrant content that brings people together, such as a digital screen takeover for Pride, or at Wimbledon, where we brought the magic of the SW19 fortnight into the workplace with live scores and updates from the tournament, technology is enabling landlords and asset managers to communicate with tenants like never before.

The only limit to what screens can display in office buildings is imagination, client vision and technical capability, and they have a crucial part to play in encouraging workers back to the office and helping them to feel engaged while they are there.

As real estate seeks to put itself at the forefront of the sustainability movement and start treating occupiers as customers, utilising the potential of digital screens to communicate with meaningful and relevant content would be a great place to start.