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Firms That Downsized Need To Rethink Before Rebuilding

Employers should avoid post-pandemic hiring that just re-creates the organization pre-pandemic.

As increased vaccination rates and reopening plans replace some of the uncertainty hanging over the economy, companies are accelerating plans to reopen, and in many cases, restaff and rehire. Commercial real estate is no different, especially as firms prepare for what they hope will be a renewed need for office space. But just like other industries, CRE shouldn’t try and re-create the past when it comes to hiring and jobs.

Companies need to consider the new normal when rehiring, and “skate to where the puck is” when it comes to personnel decisions, Jonathan Byrnes and John Wass write in Harvard Business Review. Byrnes is a senior lecturer at MIT and president of Jonathan Byrnes & Co., a consulting company, and Wass is CEO of Profit Isle and former senior vice president of Staples

Byrnes and Wass specifically talk about adapting organizations and building specialized capabilities to serve “higher-service sectors of the market.” While the examples they give focus on providing goods and services to medical clients, the lessons can be applied toward those customers seeking office space.

This is a time, when companies and HR departments aren’t sure about the future of workplaces, for CRE firms to assemble teams with the “savvy, experience, and capability to go far beyond the customer’s articulated needs.” In other words, teams able to explain the operational transitions other firms may experience to help them tailor their real estate portfolio. It’s especially important as questions of real estate footprints are discussed in boardrooms and C-suites, for real estate firms to hire workplace experts and offer more flexible models of service.

That may mean companies need to decentralize planning and management and create multi-capability teams. Those may include staff with technical know-how and data analysis skills, to help customers understand the value of usability of office space in a new light, or those with better understanding of the changing culture of offices in the post-pandemic period. 

Byrnes and Wass caution against a "one-size-fits-all" approach, and argue that broad market solutions should be tossed aside in favor of more agile, responsive customer service teams. This might require rightsizing teams, or adding those with specialized knowledge, but it definitely doesn’t mean returning to the same organizational structure.