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Predicting Toronto's Workplace Of The Future

Predicting the future is a bit of a crapshoot. Technology zigs. Attitudes zag. Reality sets in. Remember when the office was on the way out as we moved toward total connectivity? What happened to that?

Globe and Mail WiredScore
The Toronto skyline

“Well, according to 'Back To The Future II,' we were supposed to have flying cars as well,” WiredScore North American Director of Business Development Phil Kanfer said. “Not everything goes according to plan. At the end of the day, most people actually do like working among humans. I know people who’ve hated their jobs, but stayed on because they like their team so much.”

Kanfer said even the current move toward communal co-working and open plan office space might be in need of tweaking in the future. No cubicles, no assigned desks and people of many skills sharing space and ideas in a collaborative atmosphere sounds great. And with 40% of the workforce expected to be freelancers, temps and independent contractors by 2020, it makes a lot of sense. But that may only work in theory.

“One of the biggest surprises we’re going to see in the way offices change is the way we start to unwind the openness,” Kanfer said. “Some employees don’t even have a set desk when they step into work. They wake up stressed and rushing to get to the office so they get the ‘right' seat. Doesn’t sound like the way I want to start my day. I don’t think we’re going back to the traditional office or cube layout, but I think we’ve yet to find that perfect fit.”

WiredScore, which recently launched in Toronto, was founded in 2013 on the idea that connectivity was becoming so crucial that landlords would want to have their office building’s connectivity certified as a basic amenity for attracting tenants. To date, WiredScore has certified over 1,000 buildings representing 4 million tenants. 

A panel of real estate experts discuss the office market at WiredScore’s recent Toronto launch: WiredScore's William Newton, Avison Young's Amy Erixon, Uber's Elizabeth Callahan, Ivanhoe Cambridge's Charlie Musgrave, Cadillac Fairview's David Hoffman and WiredScore's Phil Kanfer
A panel of real estate experts discuss the office market at WiredScore’s recent Toronto launch: WiredScore's William Newton, Avison Young's Amy Erixon, Uber's Elizabeth Callahan, Ivanhoé Cambridge's Charlie Musgrave, Cadillac Fairview's David Hoffman and WiredScore's Phil Kanfer

“There is no doubt that buildings that offer more than just space to the market lease faster and get a higher rental rate. Today, space and buildings are a part of a tenant’s employee recruitment tool,” Crown Realty Partners Managing Partner Les Miller said.

Even though Toronto’s downtown office vacancy rate is experiencing record lows, Miller said it is important for today’s office building owner to offer more than a desk and chair. But what they offer often depends on the tenant’s needs.

“Building services have to be carefully tailored to what is required,” Miller said. “For example, a downtown building with a gym may not be as important as bike storage. And in the suburbs, a building gym is more important than bike storage. Successful landlords identify what is required and then put in place the amenity.”

CIBC Square, the mammoth two-tower project being built downtown, is being designed with the tenant in mind. It will have high ceilings, wider stairways, a gym, high-tech security, complete connectivity and plenty of collaborative space. And the much-talked-about one-acre elevated park. 

“It is good business to be a steward for amenities,” Ivanhoé Cambridge Senior Director of Office Leasing Charlie Musgrave said during the recent WiredScore launch. 

CIBC Square Ivanhoe Cambridge
A rendering of the proposed CIBC Square, currently under construction.

Musgrave said, when designing office space, developers have to factor in the future, allowing for the ability to reinvent the space as changing technology and design dictates.

“We put in the base infrastructure and as change comes, we can be nimble,” he said.

So maybe there will not be flying cars any time soon. But driverless cars and delivery trucks are on the master plan radar of Sidewalk Toronto, a recently announced tech hub community on Toronto’s waterfront. The proposed high-tech project, which could eventually extend to more than 800 acres, is entering a yearlong discussion phase in which the public and private sector will be able to weigh in on Sidewalk’s plans for the future. 

As for the office of the future, what form it takes may have a lot to do with those directly affected.

“Keeping up with rapid change isn’t easy,” Kanfer said. “At the end of the day, your employees drive the success of your business. If we listen to our employees and keep a pulse on what drives their happiness and success, I’m confident that the ones driving the office decisions will be just fine.”

To learn more about what is driving office in Toronto, join us at Bisnow’s Toronto Workplace of the Future event Nov. 14 at the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel.