Contrary to what some attention-grabbing headlines claim, 2020 did not mark the death of the traditional workplace.
In a recent CBRE survey, two-thirds of respondents said they plan to grant their workforce access to the office by the middle of this year, and over 80% reported they expect at least half of their employees to be “office-based” following their return.
While a large percentage of the population continues to work remotely, it’s a great opportunity for corporate real estate (CRE) leaders to start preparing for the surge in space utilization and occupancy. Here are four corporate real estate priorities executives should focus on in Q1 and Q2.
4 corporate real estate priorities for 2021
Empathic, human-centered decision-making
In a recent episode of the Workplace Innovator podcast, host Mike Petrusky invited some of his previous guests to share their favorite quotes and discuss their vision for the future workplace.
Cristina Herrera, Workplace Strategic Transformation Director at JLL, chose a quote from Theodore Roosevelt to summarize her outlook on the new year:
“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Even before the pandemic, she said, she saw the progression toward “a more human-centered way of working.”
Now, as a result of the public discourse about justice and equity and the physical and emotional disruption caused by COVID-19, corporate real estate leaders are experiencing a stronger push to “rethink the way we’re doing things, rethink our norms, rethink these unspoken rules, and really lead with empathy,” Cristina said.
It’s clear the obligations of CRE executives to building occupants have evolved and expanded. Employees and tenants need more than just a feeling of physical safety; they need to feel emotionally and psychologically safe as well.
This year, corporate real estate professionals must prioritize empathic, human-centered decision-making that is driven by a more holistic view of occupants. They must take into consideration their occupants’ entire identities in order to create spaces that support the whole person.
That might mean adopting WELL building standards to improve elements like air quality and water quality or giving more consideration to office ergonomics. It may also mean implementing stricter protocols to manage building access and security, including a visitor management system.
A company’s ability to digitize key business processes is a strong indicator of its overall resiliency and future success, according to Deloitte’s 2021 commercial real estate outlook.
Unfortunately, many CRE directors believe their company’s real estate technology and digital transformation is more advanced than it actually is.
Over half of corporate real estate executives who participated in Deloitte’s survey said the pandemic uncovered critical deficiencies in their companies’ digital capabilities, and these shortcomings are affecting the progress of strategic initiatives.
The survey prompted many participants to reevaluate their operations and determine how to adjust investments to better support their digital transformation plans.
As technology becomes more intertwined into the daily functions of corporate real estate, the impact of digital maturity on operations will only grow.
And it’s much better to identify and address weaknesses sooner rather than later.
That’s why conducting a digital transformation SWOT analysis is an exercise every CRE leader should complete in the first part of this year.
Alignment with tenant/occupant priorities
With the shift in employee and tenant preferences spurred by the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to understand how occupants engage with buildings and make real estate decisions based on data.
As employers begin reopening offices, Deloitte reports most employees will still want the option to work remotely more often than before the pandemic. For many, that means some office buildings may never achieve pre-COVID-19 occupancy levels.
The way employees view the office has also changed. As Deloitte predicts:
“Increasingly, offices will be reserved for face-to-face interactions and team-based activities, and enhancing collaboration and innovation, while employees (will) continue to work remotely for more individualized tasks and assignments.”
That’s why one of the biggest corporate real estate priorities should be obtaining accurate data on space utilization and insight into how they can support a positive occupant experience. The most effective way to achieve this is to take advantage of proptech.
Property management technology, known as proptech, simplifies facilities management with artificial intelligence (AI), automation, big data, cloud platforms, and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors.
Not only does proptech empower CRE executives to offer a more personalized, engaging experience to employees and tenants, it also enables them to create safer spaces.
For instance, it can make it easier to redesign spaces for physical distancing or tenant preferences and adjust cleaning schedules based on sensor data.
Managing real estate costs
The best corporate real estate leaders are able to predict changes in the marketplace and adjust accordingly.
But last March 2020, even the most forward-thinking CRE professionals found themselves scrambling to come up with a plan for managing properties that were suddenly vacant or required intensive cleaning and sanitization.
Because no one’s crystal ball showed a deadly airborne virus, the past year was more reactive than proactive.
Now, with a return to the office finally on the horizon, corporate real estate leaders can get back to planning ahead again.
To do this successfully, they need to focus more of their efforts on managing factors within their control. For instance, they may not be able to control building occupancy, but they can monitor it closely and consolidate real estate where it makes sense.
They can take advantage of flexible office space and flexible seating strategies to make their real estate portfolio more profitable. And they can use data to determine whether it makes sense to repair or replace aging building assets, such as HVAC systems or ventilation systems.
Take control of your corporate real estate strategy this year
Corporate real estate executives need to plan their strategy with flexibility and agility in mind. If the past year taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected.
With powerful proptech solutions, they can gather the data they need to objectively evaluate their options and face the future with confidence.
For weekly insights on how to optimize your portfolio, tune in to the Workplace Innovator podcast.