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Adapt Or Bust: Flexibility, Agility Drive Today’s Workplace

With the pace of business accelerating rapidly these days, employers are struggling to keep up with the demands of a changing workforce and the need for flexible workplace strategy.

For those wondering how to navigate and stay ahead of the latest office trends, CBRE has launched a new online resource. Agile Real Estate Knowledge Hub is centered on helping employees, tenants and property owners maximize flexibility, productivity and workplace needs. Chicago-based Agile Real Estate Practice Leader Beth Moore sat down with Bisnow to explain the advantages of agile real estate and the drivers behind today's workplace demands.

CBRE Agile Real Estate Practice Leader Beth Moore

Bisnow: What is agility in the workplace?

Moore: We’ll kind of start high-level: why agility, why now, what we’re doing about it and why we framed up our approach specifically around the term 'agility.'

It’s no surprise that the world is changing. We see our clients and business accelerating faster than ever before, and we don’t think things are going to slow down. Given the fact that the business is changing and more dynamic than ever, we also know that the employee expectations around coming into the workplace are different and changing and they really require a more nimble approach to how we’re actually getting work done during the day.

So long are the days where people are coming into work, they’re sitting at their individual desks, they do all their output and they go home. They’re very nimble and dynamic in how they’re coming together, solving a problem, collaborating, then going back to the individual work. We see our clients’ business specifically becoming more agile, and how we’re reacting to it is helping our clients align their business strategy to their real estate strategy.

There are lots of different levers that fall under the agility umbrella that we can help our clients [with]; whether they have a long-term lease in a campus location, or maybe they’re entering the market and looking for a shorter-term flexible solution. We’re helping our clients all over the board. 


Bisnow: How does agility in the workplace differ from a flexible workspace?

Moore: Agility is the objective. That’s what we’re trying to achieve, and we’re trying to help our clients become more agile. How we’re actually implementing it [involves] a few different flavors.

For example, within a workplace environment, there are clients that are still finding longer-term leases. By the way, we don't think the long-term lease is going away, especially for core functions, headquarters, campus[es]. They can still be agile, dynamic and nimble within that. We’re seeing the embrace of workplace strategy in helping design an environment that allows teams to ebb and flow, come together, utilize different spaces based on what they’re trying to do. So we see workplace strategy being a real key to those different assets.

We’re also seeing the chance — and a lot of buzzwords around coworking or flexible space — to partner with some of these third-party providers to allow our clients’ flexibility in lease length, specifically when they’re going into a new market or they have a business line that’s evolving and changing. We’re seeing our clients explore partnering with third-party firms such as WeWork, Industrious, Regus [and] Knotel to achieve agility in their actual lease lengths and their lease terms.

Last but not least is the building owner and the investor side. As investors and building owners [start to see an] increase in the dynamic landscape around coworking and flexible space operators out there, I think their minds are shifting toward their overall building staff. So while there will still be 10- to 15-year leases in buildings, we’re also seeing a lot of landlords and investors think differently about amenities, service, experience and lease lengths within their staff.

That’s why we’re setting agility as an objective. Owners and occupiers and individuals are embracing it in different ways.


Bisnow: That’s where the Knowledge Hub comes in, right?

Moore: Absolutely. We wanted to have a resource that a variety of different audiences could go to to get the latest and greatest information around this emerging space. How we’re really organizing it is in a few different ways. One way is articles: prospective information around what’s changing and why [it] is changing. We’re also putting in specific viewpoints on what specific clients are doing to embrace this. I always feel like the case studies and the stories, such as what IBM is doing with their strategy or what some of our other clients are doing, are going to be really important and impactful. 

Bisnow: Tell me a little bit about the drivers of change. You’ve mentioned the changing landscape; can you go into the details about that a little bit?

Moore: When we looked at the landscape itself, there are a few things to keep in mind. One is consumer mindset ... I think that this really has to do with having a different experience in which people are expecting to come into the environment. I feel like everything that we do these days is very consumer-minded, from changing the landscape with how we’re interacting with ride-share and Uber, how we’re thinking about omnichannel in this omnichannel world. What that means: I think consumer mindset is changing and people are expecting more from their work environments; that's No. 1. 

No. 2, I’ll just say change is impacting businesses. For example, we’re seeing companies change and evolve their services and their product much faster than ever before and obviously technology is a big driver on that. In the world we live in that’s highly competitive, you need to be able to be fluid and flexible, and we see [the] business landscape as being another key driver. 

The third key driver is really around technology and its impact [on] our work life. One of the things that we often think about is the fact we can do work anywhere and everywhere, so everyone has a laptop, they’ve got their phones, they’re interacting with each other. That also impacts when you’re making a decision on where you’re going to work. You’re choosing to come into a place because you’re able to connect with other people inside your community or outside your community, and you’re having a really great experience in doing so. 

Last but not least, I think the workforce is changing, so there [are] different expectations for a new generation coming into the workforce about what experience they’re going to have and how they’re actually going to be working. The other thing is the types of work and job categories are also changing, so we see more and more freelancers entering the market and entrepreneurs that are looking for choice and flexibility. How they interact with each other is a major shift [in] what’s changing.

All of this is basically saying: the real estate in the workplace needs to shift in order to adapt to these things. 


Bisnow: We touched a little bit on placemaking in the workplace. Is there anything else you can add to really drive home why this matters for our readers? 

Moore: When we use the term placemaking, what we’re really talking about is: How do we design and create a place that is very deliberate? 

Within the environment, I think there has been [a] more deliberate focus [on] design, to be thinking about not only what a great furniture setup looks like, what are the choices that are available to people, but how do we drive buzz and connectivity into core places so that serendipitous interactions happen? We’re seeing the model shift from a traditional receptionist to more of a hospitality experience. When you’re coming into the environment, whether you are a person that works there or a visitor to this site, the ability to have an experience where you’re greeted and it feels much more like a hotel service, you see that changing. That’s helping serve and make the environment as productive as possible. 

The other area that we’re seeing is [employers are] being very thoughtful [about] the amenities within this space.  For example, when we went through our own journey several years ago in defining a great place to work within our CBRE offices, we thought really hard about what would drive people together within the environment. One of the things that people need all day, every day is coffee. Something as simple as placing really great coffee in one location in the office — and sure, maybe in another location you can get the not-so-great coffee —  but by creating a place where people are going to want to go that are going to run into each other, natural conversations will happen. Lots of times in today’s world, people are working on their projects with their team. Creating areas outside of that for those interactions to happen serendipitously is really important.

People are being more deliberate about activation of services and amenities within the space. You have to be able to be productive when you come to the environment. When it doesn’t work or you’re not able to problem-solve [or] not able to find a meeting room that you need, that’s a barrier to productivity in the environment.

The other thing that we’re seeing is, How can we create an environment that’s flexible overall, both the physical space as well as the policies? ... Happy people are usually connected, they’re able to get access to everything they need to be productive and efficient and the environment is obviously the driver there.


Bisnow: So by something like putting a coffee station in one place, it’ll draw people together serendipitously, which will make them have more productive conversations?

Moore: Maybe not just a coffee, but I would say the best. We’ve also been seeing our clients experiment in their offices with things like local roasters and coffee tastings. The coffee might change out every week and it’s really good coffee.

I also think that events in the space are an important aspect of bringing people together. We’re seeing curated experiences in events. Maybe it’s a seminar on wellness and how people should be thinking about incorporating healthy lifestyles throughout the day. It might be an external event, where you host a panel of interesting thinkers outside of your industry in the environment to draw people together and get them thinking in a different way.

The whole shift toward more hospitality, event-planning, experience-making is really changing. I think people are really starting to get creative on ‘How can I create an exceptional experience that’s going to make people want to come to work, identify with the company as far as a brand, make it a delightful experience and make it easy to get work done?’

Bisnow: Is there anything else you would like to add? 

Moore: I think we’re at a really interesting time. How do we help our clients just navigate and stay in front of this? Because at the end of the day, I think we’re all successful when the real estate strategy is so closely aligned with what the business is trying to do that it naturally makes sense.

Where we’re seeing a lot of success happen is when we are able to have those conversations with our clients, not about a lease expiration, but [about] what they’re trying to achieve as a business, what they’re trying to achieve in their product strategy and their HR strategy and how all that aligns. Then we can be very thoughtful around which lever and agility we can help them activate to achieve that.