As we sit between infection and injection, the world of the office has never had more profile than it has now. Seemingly, everyone is talking about the future of why, how and where we work. All of which has seismic implications for Real Estate, the workplace, the workforce and beyond.
CEO’s everywhere are grappling with these subjects, craving data-backed insights and seeking advice internally and externally on the ‘new normal’; how can they evolve their organisations to ensure they remain relevant, competitive and attractive to the workforce now and in the future? Our survey of more than 100 senior CRE professionals over the past year shows that more than ¾ of them believe that their role is going to significantly change in the near future.
The risks of inertia and the potential opportunities associated with first-mover advantage are not lost on any business leader, but the pathway ahead is still not clear. As the pressure to commit and move forward grows, so does the risk of choosing the wrong path.
What most will agree on, however, is that the new normal will require changes to how employers enable productive, healthy and sustainable work in a blended physical and digital world where it’s no longer all about the office – the workforce has more choice in terms of where, when and how they work than ever before. New operating models will be needed, with talent at their heart, that provide mutual value and competitive advantage.
Those individuals and businesses that position themselves well to play a leading role in delivering that change will be set up for success in the future. In light of this, what are some of the developing skills and experiences that CRE leaders, their teams and their advisers are going to have to evidence to remain at the forefront of our industry over the coming months and years? Our research that the worlds of HR, IT And CRE are becoming increasingly aligned; having the knowledge and skills to unite these disciplines will give workplace professionals a significant head start.
Digital innovation & enablement:
We live in a world where workforces are demanding more choice and greater flexibility in all elements of work and work-related engagements. Leading employers want to ensure productivity optimisation balanced with employee wellbeing, talent attraction & retention.
To achieve this, organisations are increasingly having to invest in the development of digitally enabled, human-centric workplaces. Keeping pace with the latest innovations, understanding what to focus on and where to invest and with whom; in a typically cost-sensitive environment, it is far from straight forward. This knowledge and critical insight will be a vital component of a successful CRE team going forward. Seamless, integrated user journeys are no longer a nice-to-have.
What is particularly exciting is the opportunity to merge the erstwhile separate disciplines of digital, physical and human into one. CRE leaders will have to expand their language and skills beyond the physical or risk becoming irrelevant. One example is the adoption of digital twins for the workplace, allowing employees to work seamlessly from anywhere with colleagues in the office.
Brand experience & delivery:
Pre-pandemic, most organisations took it for granted that the bulk of the workforce would come into the office most of the time – bricks and mortar were at the centre of the CRE universe. In a world where the workforce has a greater choice about when, where and how to work, our thinking can no longer start with physical space as a fixed constraint. Organisations now have to focus on brand values and culture, then building down into curating and delivering aligned colleague experiences, where space assets and services (digital & physical) are enablers of performance.
CRE teams are increasingly turning to design, marketing and experience agencies to help them develop their thinking and hiring colleague/ customer experience experts to deliver the same. The best experiences we all know from retail, hospitality and digital will soon be coming to a workplace near you!
Flex and Futureproofing
The pace of business, political, legislative and environmental change necessitates an ‘asset-in-use’ strategy that is flexible and agile. To create this, leaders need to leverage the benefits of a blended portfolio – traditional, managed, flex and distributed working models – that has the ability to continuously respond to changing needs. Real-time data, foresight and partnerships with best-in-class providers will be the difference between corporates with a tail of vacancy and those that shape their portfolios actively. In addition, a clear grasp of the sustainability impacts of real estate at the corporate level will be a minimum requirement.
Internal visibility/ Marketing
Even the most sophisticated and capable CRE teams in the world’s leading organisations still struggle to get their internal stakeholders to truly understand the impacts of what they deliver beyond the tactical, fundamental services. With business leaders now arguably more focused on the workplace and the future of work than ever before, there comes the heightened challenge of communicating with a significantly more dispersed workforce. Our survey of CRE professionals as part of our Agile CRE ThinkTank also flags the fact that they feel there is more board-level scrutiny of the costs and performance of the workspace than at any time before. This represents a challenge and an opportunity for our sector – they have the ear of the CEO, but how will they shape the message?
CRE leaders need to become more sophisticated in terms of their internal communications and stakeholder engagement strategies to ensure they highlight & quantify the key outcomes they deliver. As the need for communication goes up, so must the clarity, accuracy and tone of messaging.
Prior to the pandemic momentum had been building exponentially behind the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) agenda, with an acceleration to the top 3 focus areas for CEOs. This has not slowed, with the focus on ESG swaying investment decisions and sustainability becoming integral to recovery plans.
The CRE community has a critical role to play in shaping the ESG agenda within a business. The physical space and transparency of performance enable employees, stakeholder and shareholders to interact. The major change comes with an environmental impact extending far beyond the historic 4 walls of the office, into agile working solutions and the homes of employees. The opportunities for CRE to make a real difference in the challenge of climate change has never been so real.
Thinking well beyond the CRE universe/ Collaboration:
As our research suggests, it is increasingly apparent that those organisations where the HR, IT and CRE functions act collaboratively, working in partnership to share data and deliver the opportunity, will evolve more quickly and successfully than those that don’t. CRE has not always had a comfortable role in this group, often seen as tactical or less relevant. However, the last 12 months have helped to change this perception and it is those leaders who can leverage this opportunity to build trust and respect rather than political one-upmanship with these critical groups that will thrive in the future. Those who can truly treat staff as the customer and build a consistently excellent, frictionless experience around them will win – and win big.
In summary, CRE continues to evolve at a pace. Expect to see tactical delivery of commodity services being increasingly outsourced as the demand for ever-stronger, strategic insights grow. The leaders of tomorrow will be those who deftly navigate the post COVID landscape and grab the challenges being thrown before them as the traditional model of working is ripped up. This includes the strategic evolution of the workspace to become a tool to grow and develop the business, rather than simply a cost or a hindrance to a more agile approach. CRE professionals need to elevate the conversation with senior management to ensure that they are delivering solutions that solve business problems and are not relegated to the tactical execution of the corporate plan.