Bisnow Panel: What Will The Workplace Of The Future Look Like?
Office spaces are being redefined as firms evolve to meet the needs of a new generation—and more change is coming. What's in store for the office of the future? Bisnow assembled an expert panel to assess.
Here’s the gang at The Ritz-Carlton Tuesday morning: Deloitte Real Estate VP and workplace national leader Debbie Baxter; Crown Realty partner Scott Watson; CBRE managing director of workplace strategy Lisa Fulford-Roy, who moderated; Dream Office REIT SVP Kevin Hardy; and figure3 design research and strategy leader Tyler Gilchrist.
Speed of change is a challenge, Lisa told the panel. So how can office owners and landlords future-proof assets? Ten-year leases may soon be things of the past, Scott said. Business cycles change so rapidly, many firms don’t know where they’ll be a decade from now. “So three-year leases could be the new norm.”
Tech requirements have changed the capital investment equation, Scott said, adding that some of Crown’s tenants spend “double, if not triple” what they did five years ago on tech, "an investment in something that’ll move them into the future.” Future-proofing means designing for “new planned obsolescence," Tyler said, and office spaces must be flexible enough to adapt “no matter what the future will be.” Building walls “only where necessary” is a good approach, said Debbie, whose firm moved into open-concept digs at Bay Adelaide East (above).
Talent attraction and employee engagement are key to future-proofing. Kevin said Dream Office REIT’s new Scotia Plaza HQ (below) boasts a host of collaborative zones, including a central café—“spaces to be productive that aren’t your desk.” Hierarchy is “old school”—Dream CEO Jane Gavan sits at the same size desk as everyone else, and corner offices don't exist. Dream’s revamping other parts of Scotia Plaza, “creating modern, open, flex spaces that are attracting different users to a traditional office,” Kevin said. “The type of spaces that drive loyalty and engagement.”
What's the best way to avoid pitfalls when navigating workplace transformation? “Tone at the top is important,” Debbie said. Deloitte’s CEO doesn’t have a private office at Bay Adelaide East, home to 5,000 staffers. If execs were in private offices, “you wouldn’t get middle managers buying in to the process.” Shifting culture can be a challenge because “we haven’t taught people to work differently,” Scott said. “If I’m not at my desk, it doesn’t mean I’m not working.” One Crown tenant put in a 20-foot bar with six beers on tap, he told the panel. “No one uses it.” But they're super excited about a pub opening at the building's base.
LEED is the expectation for new buildings. But the WELL standard, a more human-centred approach to workplace design that focuses on fresh air exchange and natural light exposure, is the future. “It’s moving us in the right direction,” said Scott (above right). Lisa, whose firm is employing WELL at several new CBRE offices in its nationwide workplace transformation program, touted the program for increasing the quality of buildings so employees can do their best work and feel energized. "Caring for people you design spaces for” isn’t a trend," said Tyler. “Let's hope it’s something that just is from now on.”
Above, a shot of Tuesday’s first panel, which focused on adaptive reuse.
How will workplaces look a decade from now? Debbie floated a vision of self-driving cars, co-working spaces, and robotics and artificial intelligence-based offices—“all this will change the nature of work.” And tech will continue to be the primary driver of transformation. “It’s an evolution, not a quantum leap.” As far as collaborative spaces and open-concept go, Scott predicts the pendulum will swing back in the other direction. “We’ve taken things a bit too far,” he said. “So we’ll see private offices and workspaces come back into play."