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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

How to Use Virtual Reality to Engage Commercial Real Estate Tenants

By Rodney McDonald (Toronto)

Want to show your tenants what their future space will look like? Virtual Reality is an excellent tool to do just that.

For the past 35 years, designers have shared their ideas for space with our clients using two-dimensional computer renderings. For more than three decades, these renderings have been the best way to convey the design being considered. Working with a client recently, Avison Young took design to the next level by using Virtual Reality (VR).

For a tenant, Avison Young is also project managing the design, build-out and move into a new 175,000-square-foot office space. The new office space features lots of natural light, no private offices and low-height workstations, and will be LEED-certified -- the location is a modern departure from our client's current office space and a change for our client's employees.

During the design process and before the physical build-out we needed to convey the design to our client's executives. We also needed a tool to help our client's employees experience the new space and start becoming comfortable with the change prior to the move. Avison Young proposed using VR to meet both objectives, and as a way to engage the employees in voting on two options for design finishes in key spaces.

After our client endorsed the VR idea, to implement the innovation Avison Young took a number of simple steps using tools we all have -- a telephone and e-mail:
  1. We telephoned a rendering firm (Norm Li) for a VR quote. Norm Li asked us how many VR renderings we wanted, what spaces we wanted in VR and if we needed the hardware. (This was our first time using VR, so, yes, we needed the hardware, too).
  2. We received Norm Li’s quote by e-mail and forwarded it to our client for approval (Our client paid for the renderings and Avison Young paid for the hardware: two VR headsets and two mobile phones to attach to the headsets).
  3. Our client returned the signed quote by e-mail, which we forwarded to Norm Li.
  4. Once Norm Li was formally engaged, we connected Norm Li to the designer, so the designer could e-mail Norm Li the two-dimensional renderings of the new office space.
  5. Norm Li turned the two-dimensional renderings into VR and delivered the hardware, with the renderings loaded, to Avison Young’s office.
If you have not experienced VR, you must.

When the package arrived from Norm Li, I put the VR headset on immediately. I was transported inside the new office space and amazed. VR is a completely immersive experience and blocks out the physical world around you. It’s perfect for conveying an experience of commercial real estate that does not yet exist in our physical world.

First, we presented the VR experience to our client’s internal project team. They loved it! Next, we presented the VR to our client's two executive project-sponsors. Both executives put the goggles on simultaneously, and we provided verbal instructions to help them navigate through the various spaces. It was interesting and exciting for them to experience the proposed space. Lastly, we scheduled two days for our client's employees to experience their new office space in VR. These two days were one component of our overall change-management strategy and plan. We set up a room with a display of the two-dimensional renderings, samples of the finishes, and a VR station. Using a new technology tool created excitement about the future office space for employees. VR also helped with the voting process for different finishes. VR was a hit with the employees and generated a lot of discussion and excitement about the future office space.

This example shows how Virtual Reality can be an excellent tool to help your tenants experience what their future office space will look like. The future of commercial real estate is here!

(Rodney McDonald is a Principal of Avison Young and Practice Leader of Consulting and Project Management Services in Ontario.)

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