Didhiti Bhoumik is Chief Administrative Officer at BLG, Canada’s Law Firm, where innovation is more than just a concept.
This time last year, I wrote about current and future workspace considerations for leaders. A year has gone by, and we have seen the trends, conducted surveys and researched our options in corporate real estate (CRE), and I strongly believe we are heading in the right direction. The recipe for success is smart digital technology with an abundance of human interaction.
Companies that are able to advance technology and incorporate collaboration using data and analytics to elevate mentorship, innovation and mental wellness will be the winners for years to come. At BLG, we are looking forward to the introduction of our digital office and working diligently with our talent and change management team to make it successful.
Here are three ways to embrace the future of corporate real estate and ensure your success:
1. Space is personal.
Leaders in the CRE space will look for opportunities to right-size the real estate portfolio. It’s easy to say but not easy to do, as most leases are long-term and not all have surrender options. The sublease market is not great, as everybody is looking to downsize. But it’s a good time to introduce new concepts in the space to test their long-term viability. One of the easiest ways to reduce the real estate footprint is by sharing. Sharing space or hotelling is not new to the industry. There are plenty of booking tools that give you the option to book your space for when you’d like to go to the office.
The problem is, space is very personal to people, and most of us want to feel welcomed when we step into the office. There is a sense of pride when you belong somewhere, and office space is an important part of that.
Enter the digital or smart office. When you show up the day you want to be in the office, your name will be on the door. Your artwork, family photos and certificates will be on the wall exactly the way you like (digitally, of course). And, when needed, you will be able to use those screens for presentations, instantly turning your office into a meeting room.
The technology is smart enough to know who you are and who you generally work with and can ensure you are in the same neighborhood as your team. You can even get notifications when colleagues are going to the office so you can plan your day accordingly.
You can book space for yourself and your team for one day or longer based on your needs. And when you are done, a notification goes to the cleaning team to prepare the space for the next person. Amazing, isn’t it? And it’s real.
2. Data is a given, analytics is the answer.
One of the most critical things leaders need to focus on is gathering people for the best interaction, which sparks innovation. You need to foster collaboration, mentorship and knowledge sharing. It will be harder going forward, as people will have more flexibility and choice when it comes to when and where to work.
The digital office can give you the data you need — who is coming in, when, for how long and with what purpose. Your analytics team can tell you the current story and trend. And based on that, you need to design the office space, events and policies to write the story that will work for you and build your future. But without data and analytics, you will not be able to create the path you need.
3. It’s a balancing act.
Your real estate strategy is intermingled with your new agile/flexible working policy. We all had to reset after the pandemic; it’s time to reset your flexible/agile working policy as well. Put your firm, culture and client needs before people’s personal choices. While it’s the talent’s market and you need to provide a lot of flexibility, don’t do so at the expense of your culture and community. Corporate real estate, talent/HR and technology leaders need to work hand in hand to create the best possible future for your firm.
This is an art, and the companies that are able to take this to a semi-perfect stage will win. But it will always be a work in progress.
In the end, you always need to provide a place for people who wish to work at the office. Not everyone’s home can function as a home office. And there is also personal desire. Many of us want to be on Wall Street, not looking at the dining room wall. Many of us want to create as part of a community, not alone while sitting on a couch.
My son is 12 years old. Ten years ago, I showed him a photo on my Blackberry. With his little finger, he swiped left for the next photo. But the photo did not move, and he threw the Blackberry. He did not know any better, but at that very early age, before he could even speak properly, he knew another photo was supposed to appear if he swiped left. And if not, he had no use of this gadget.
The future needs to be smart and intuitive. If not, it will be thrown away.