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March 23, 2022

How CRE Has Changed: An Interview with Simon Davis from Impec Group

Corporate real estate has forever changed as a result of the pandemic and all eyes are on workplace and real estate teams.

At the top of many business leaders' minds is their real estate portfolio. 

How can we draw people back in (and should we)? How much space do we actually need? Are our offices healthy and safe environments? Never before have these questions been so critical to a business’ ability to operate effectively and attract and retain talent. 

As the pandemic’s residual effects still present a slew of workplace strategy and design challenges, it’s important to understand just how the past few years have changed corporate real estate (CRE) as a whole. 

To help provide context on the fundamental changes to the world of CRE, meet Simon Davis, Senior Vice President of Future of Work Practice at Impec Group--an industry leader in providing human-centric workplace solutions to businesses. 

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How has CRE as an industry changed over the past five years or so?

Simon Davis: I think what's changed indelibly in the industry is that employees--,i.e. the consumers of the workplace--finally have a say in how the workplace should function going forward.

Flexibility and autonomy are the core values of employees and they will leave companies who try to apply rigid, pre-pandemic workplace policies, procedures, and understandings to the hybrid environment. 

The pandemic has revolutionized people's views on having a physical office space because we were shown that in general, people can successfully work from anywhere. People who for years were told they couldn’t work from home have stayed productive, remotely, for two years. 

There is a large demographic of people who desire office space--only about 12% of the workforce wants to stay totally remote--but not at the expense of flexibility. 

The workplaces of tomorrow must be spaces where people can work where they best thrive--both as individuals and as teammates. 

What have been some of the most intense pain points for workplace and real estate teams? What aspects of the industry have been slow to adapt to change?

The biggest point has been the rapid demand for hybrid-enabling workspaces. 

Barely two years ago, leaders weren’t thinking about hybrid spaces and now they find themselves lost in how to execute such a space. And if they don’t figure it out quickly, they run the risk of losing talent amidst a job-seekers market. 

How we understand what makes a productive workplace has fundamentally changed--leaders can no longer rely on pre-pandemic workplace assumptions to inform workplace decisions because the data itself is now irrelevant to the current times. 

This makes informing workplace strategy and design decisions a huge pain point for many companies. 

Do we have too much space? Or not enough space? Answering these “simple” questions is hard because the playbook has changed and companies are staying awake at night wondering what the "post-pandemic" office will look like. 

Understanding when people are coming into space is a new muscle because up until now, many companies have never really looked into it. There’s a big fear of, “If we keep our two million square feet office, what happens if nobody comes back?” 

Modern workplace understandings are just the beginning as well--hybrid spaces must be seamlessly “pyhgital” for distributed workforces which demands robust digital infrastructures and tech stacks. 

simon davis blog post digital solutions matter

Has the industry embraced or resisted new technologies? 

Real estate technology, for a lot of companies, has long been seen as an “extra” cost and in some respects, an “unnecessary” cost. 

It’s how Covid caught many leaders off guard. They used to be able to build offices and people came in by default. Buying technology specifically for workplace strategy and design wasn’t even a consideration. Leaders thought, “If people are coming in, why spend money on another tech solution?” 

In general, CRE can be a slow moving industry. I started in this industry in 2000 and it was only until about 2015 that companies really started investing (in a small way) in workplace tech stacks. 

Why do digital solutions matter for CRE?

Data--understanding what's really happening and how space is and isn’t being used.

It's also the ability to get that information in a faster time period to inform space planning. Never before have workplace and real estate teams had such a big focus from the C-suite. 

The CFO wants a real estate portfolio that’s optimized and not wasting space, all while the CEO wants to see office usage and engagement. CHRO’s are asking, “Is it safe and clean? Do we have the right procedures in place to ensure the office is a healthy environment? Are we able to retain our talent and attract new talent?”

Workplace and real estate teams are getting big questions from the main players in corporations--making real estate portfolios and facilities management a high-priority piece of the business. 

There are so many variables that can make or break office utilization. And to satisfy the C-suites desire to make decisions quickly, being able to answer, “How much space do we actually need?” and “What types of spaces will draw our people back to the office?” can’t be done without a robust workplace tech strategy.

simona davis blog post hybrid is here to stay

At a base level, what should the “right” CRE and workplace technologies help workplace and real estate teams do?

Simply put, the right technologies should help workplace and real estate teams provide a frictionless workplace experience for employees. 

If an employee comes back into the office and it wasn't a good experience--or that it didn’t add value to their work--they will be even more hesitant to come back and keep trying the office. This is a core consideration for space planning and innovative CRE technologies will capture this feedback--along with all data that captures employee behavior.

I also think these solutions should make it easier for workplace and real estate teams to iterate and play test different office scenarios. Companies won’t solve their space problems overnight and the future-of-workplace is going to require a lot of experimentation. 

Fifty-six percent of jobs in the US can be done partially remotely which indicates to me that most companies will embrace some sort of a hybrid model--more than half of respondents in a recent survey state that hybrid environments are preferred among workers. 

Yes, there will be people who want to stay totally remote and others who want to be in the office every day of the week but from a macro perspective, the middle [hybrid] ground is going to be where most people fall.

Hypothesizing what that hybrid office looks like for your specific workforce, requires a technology that allows users to run different scenarios. This way, workplace and real estate teams can reconfigure their physical space to fit the actual needs of employees, over time. 

What are you most excited about when it comes to the evolving CRE landscape? 

That a lot of people across the globe are experiencing the flexibility we all have always wanted, which I believe is going to be great for us as a society. 

Personally, I went from traveling pretty much every week to being able to spend more time with my family. Hybrid working allows people to manage their time better and has kicked the idea that “good” work only happens at an office, between specific hours. 

How “good” work gets done has been revolutionized and I think it’s for the betterment of everyone. 

Good work happens when people feel fulfilled and the successful hybrid working environments of tomorrow will perpetuate a working culture that’s focused on people. To me, that’s really exciting and long overdue.

Designing engaging offices people will love

Executing workspaces worth going to, takes a variety of data points, and the capture, collection, and analysis of these points are crucial for making informed space planning decisions. 

To learn how to leverage data to inform spaces people will love--as well as get the best ROI on office space--click the image below for our on-demand webinar, Informing Space: The Intersection of People and Data. 

Informing Space: The Intersection of People and Data

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