What’s in Your Company’s Real Estate Dictionary?

What’s in Your Company’s Real Estate Dictionary?

To thrive through the changing future of work, it’s time to change the way we define corporate real estate strategy

By Michael Jordan, Managing Director, People & Process consulting at JLL

Some corporate lexicons are more inspiring than others. The HR edition, for example, employs terms like “benefits package” and “talent management.” IT’s playbook wields slick ones like “optimization” and “DevOps.” Corporate real estate (CRE) by contrast is still mired in less-inspiring terminology: think “base rent,” “common area maintenance,” “operating expenses.” These focal areas are vital, of course…but do they actually motivate anyone outside the CRE team? Probably not.

Now, however, forward-looking companies are finding a whole new way of inspiring employees—by expanding the real estate playbook from a series of place-focused requirements, to a strategic collection of people-first concepts.

The time is right for this strategic makeover, considering a convergence of factors that is the Fourth Industrial Revolution, from demographic change, to head-spinning technology advances. The nature of work is changing radically as we speak, so it’s logical that the way we define workplace is too. To succeed in the Future of Work, companies need to look beyond the traditional scope of real estate.

Humans first, bricks-and-mortar last

As I mentioned in a recent podcast conversation with the inimitable Megan M. Biro, the concept of workplace is evolving from a ‘necessary evil’ into a complex system that can enable people to be their most productive.

Take site selection, for starters. In the old view, a cushy but relatively inexpensive suburban location might be the obvious choice compared with pricier urban options. But in today’s expanding lens, some companies are realizing hidden value in paying a premium rent for convenience and an atmosphere of innovation. After all, if the office is situated in a place where top-tier talent want to go, then the location can be seen as an employment perk—which in turn can support recruitment, retention and productivity.

What’s inside the office is another major game-changer. In a recent survey of more than 7,000 corporate employees from across 12 countries, JLL found that 60 percent wanted more engagement – while 47 percent wanted more space for concentration. These need not be incompatible values when you consider people of all ages crave a sense of purpose and power at work. By giving employees a choice of space to work, from casual collision zones to quiet heads-down space, we can empower their best work, on their preferred terms.

Looking at the human experience is a real value-driver. But to really deliver on the potential, companies should take a step further.

The power of alignment: HR, IT and CRE together for the win 

The traditional approach has been for CRE, HR, and IT to each do its own thing, and report up to the C-suite when questions or issues arise. By bringing these parties to the same table, leaders from each department can work together to address a shared strategic question: How can our services be combined to ensure employees have a good experience here?

This idea might surprise some of the HR experts out there. After all, prospective employees care most about questions that are squarely in HR’s court, such how much they get paid, who they work with, and what their job entails. But workplace offerings really can be a meaningful part of the talent toolkit, when you consider the value-add of an inspiring workplace culture.

IT also plays a key role in this triumvirate of the workplace experience. Millennials and Boomers alike want tech-enabled offices that not only spur engagement, but also support comfort, like temperature control. By aligning efforts, CRE and IT teams can together invest in technology strategy and tools to unite colleagues under an umbrella of engagement, whether they’re in the same video-conferencing room or working from home.

Commingling tech and CRE priorities also gives companies the chance to leverage data science in exciting new ways. For example, it used to take months to manually crunch the numbers it would take to make a major location decision like, say, move an office from Boston to Cambridge. With today’s sophisticated predictive analytics and visualization tools, it might take a few hours.

The focus of the CRE team has traditionally been about how to fit people into a workplace, but in the future of work, it should be the other way around. How can a workplace best fit the people who work there? Fortunately, it’s increasingly possible to flip the proverbial switch. By aligning teams around workplace strategies that cater to the human experience, companies can design work environments that inspire innovation and productivity. And those are coveted words in any corporate dictionary.

Photo Credit: honey ribs Flickr via Compfight cc