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Trends affecting the corporate workplace

January 01, 2017

By Angie Lee

How Fortune 500 companies are embracing millennials, technology, and workplace culture in the corporate real estate strategy

At Future Offices 2016, end-users from Fortune 500 companies including Adobe, Capital One, GenTech, Credit Suisse, RedHat and Samsung, came together to find out what’s next in the corporate workplace. Today, a changing workforce, new technology and emerging office cultures are reshaping the corporate office. In the meantime, engagement is down, recruiting is competitive and a new emphasis on collaboration asks more of the modern workplace than ever. 

I was joined by Cedric Jones, Director of Real Estate and Facilities at Exelon in hosting a workshop for forty-plus attendees at Future Offices West 2016 in Los Angeles. We planned to cover five trending workplace-related topics in “Knowledge is Power: Understanding Trends to Realize Measurable Results,” but our lively discussions only left us time for three—and response was tremendous. Today, I’m sharing how our participants from corporate real estate responded to two questions we asked about each trend as well as my Aha Moments regarding design for the corporate workplace.

First up: PEOPLE. We’re coming up against a massive demographic shift. At 40% today, by 2025, millennials will make up 75% of the workforce. 

Trend 1: People – How has the growing number of millennials in the workforce affected your workplace strategy decisions?

Our participants said: 
In a very competitive marketplace for talent, space itself is a big differentiator. Workplace strategies embrace flexibility in where to work by adding community-based drop-in locations. Employers must provide a variety of spaces, hoteling, the latest technology, and less hierarchy in their workplace. Millennial workers expect a flatter organization. Because of the embrace of the open office, acoustics are a concern. Careful planning and execution is required to successfully deliver an open plan environment. Technology allows us to work anywhere but face-to-face interaction has emerged as a gold standard for teaming and collaboration.

Trend 1: People – Based on expected growth, in what ways have you factored this in upcoming CRE & Workplace Strategy decisions?

Our participants said: 
Physical space provides a sense of community. While our employees are encouraged to work where they choose, having a place to call ‘home base’ is still very important. The physical space itself, what it offers, as well as the energy of being around co-workers, will attract people to the office. While getting stuff done is key, social interaction is almost as important. A great office environment must support both the work itself and the social side of being a part of a team.

Rather than projecting linear growth, now we find creative solutions to manage population and density in the heads-to-seats ratio, with mobility programs providing employees with flexibility and choice regarding their work life. These are important factors for recruitment and retention of talent.

Aha Moment: A well planned and designed workplace is a great reason to come into the office.

Grant Thornton, Chicago, IL

Trend 2: Mobility & Technology – How has the increase in telecommuting and remote employees affected your workplace strategy?

Our research in advance of the workshop noted that job postings for remote positions have increased by between a quarter and a third.

Our participants said:
Technology is the ubiquitous backbone of the modern office. Technology drives mobility, allowing us to think more creatively about how and where work gets done. But, we should be cognizant of not generalizing about remote work, because certain types of work still require an on-site people-in-seats model. In certain industries, for example, regulatory compliance and security precludes remote access to technology, limiting mobility. The degree of mobility is always relative to role and task. Certain tasks or industries thrive on collaborative team environments and may have a harder time going 100% mobile.

Global companies are redefining what mobile work means. You may be working remotely, they say, when you’re collaborating with a coworker in London or Australia from the U.S.

Aha Moment: Remote work is not just about working from home or the airport. It is also about working with colleagues and customers from many geographic locations.

Trend 2: Mobility & Technology – How have you provided your employees the flexibility, tools, and resources they need, while enabling efficient and effective use of real estate, and promote an innovative and collaborative environment?

Our participants said:
Having a clear understanding of what and how technology is intended to be used in a mobile environment is crucial. Also, providing standards on how productivity is measured per individual tasks within an industry is a must.

A great office experience translates into a great culture which drives creativity for employees, promoting innovation.

Respondents in CRE said they’re looking for the right design concepts to reflect brand and organizational culture.

Aha Moment: An innovative environment has its fundamentals in organizational behavior, company vision, and messaging. Space and technologies play a crucial part in supporting this behavior.

Our group chose Culture and Engagement for the final trend. We set up the question by noting that studies show 87% of organizations say culture and engagement is important, yet, only 30% of workers are actively engaged.

Trend 3: Culture & Engagement – How has the growing focus on corporate culture and employee engagement impacted your CRE and Workplace Strategy?

Our participants said:
Leadership drives organizational behavior, and it must walk the talk because employees are watching. However, in many companies, large and small, we find ‘micro-cultures’ within the organization in which individual behavior is influenced by strong departmental leadership.

Organizational culture is a focal point for developing workplace strategy. Before pen meets paper, CRE and their teams must first be clear about where the company is headed from a business perspective and they must understand the organizational culture. For example, the mobile work environment is unlikely to be suitable for many traditional industries with more conservative cultures.

Aha Moment: Workplace strategy must align with business direction and that aligns with organizational culture.

Trend 3: Culture & Engagement – Have you implemented tools, technologies, or other elements to promote positive culture, boost employee morale and engagement? Have you measured?

Our participants said:
Manager readiness is important in aligning culture and engagement. First line managers must fully understand and embrace the organization’s culture, and be prepared to shepherd, champion and drive positive behavior in support of cultural alignment with the company. The organization needs people to lead the way.

Aha Moment: As inspiring as beautifully designed spaces can be, it is how a space is used which truly determines the success or failure of the workplace strategy.

Final Key take-away: Now, the CRE team has the perfect opportunity to connect their company’s business goals with workplace strategy, creating much added value to their enterprises.

  • Angie Lee

    For 30 years, Angie has led teams to deliver workplace strategy and headquarter design.

    Contact Angie
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