Future Office West: 6 Things to Noodle on

Our Strat Disco team here at HLW recently led a series of workshops and panel discussions at the Future Offices conference in LA. Corporate real estate leaders from different sectors and geographies convened for three days of peer-to-peer learning, discussions, and hands-on activities. Here are six big insights gleaned from the conference.


Big companies and small companies experience similar challenges and opportunities

Many of those who participated in the conference experienced the same opportunities and challenges with their workplace strategy. Creating a workspace that engages people, attracts and retains talent, expresses organizational brand and culture, and operates in a cost effective way are common drivers that need to be managed.  Smaller companies - younger versions of larger, more established ones - are simply further behind on the business evolution curve, which means that the bigger need is providing the right mix of spaces and amenities to accommodate maturing business processes. As companies grow into larger and more mature businesses, the focus shifts to scaling the workplace strategy to a larger portfolio and across multiple locations and geographies.



Managing the workplace experience is a multi-stakeholder endeavor

Creating and sustaining a successful workplace is a multi-stakeholder process. Many of the conference participants spoke of their efforts working with partners within their organizations from HR IT, and business leadership groups. But they also spoke of external partnerships with architects and technology providers, as well as real estate firms. The importance of third party project management – particularly as a communications resource throughout design and construction projects – was underscored as an integral part of the process. It was evident that workplace transformations involve a complex web of interdependent teams and efforts, which require mutual awareness and shared understanding.

But perhaps the most critical stakeholder is the end user themselves. By its definition, workplace change disrupts routines and business practices. While the intent is long-term gains in productivity and satisfaction, short-term anxieties naturally arise. We heard many discussions about the importance of engaging with end users in participative change management efforts that smooth the transition.



Data drives workplace planning decisions

Taking a look beyond the workplace conversation and into broader business dialogue, “big data” is increasingly surfacing in the forefront of conversations. The term made its way into Future Offices discussions, as real estate leaders are increasingly wrestling with what this means for them. During our presentations, we differentiated between “little data” and “big data” and why each is important to the development of the workplace experience. Collecting little data could be as simple as end user surveys, spot interviews, visioning sessions, and focus groups. These participative methods keep end users engaged in the design and change management processes.

Big data from across multiple sources, and can help RE professions to guide decision-making, design, and operations.  Big data methods vary, and can uncover patterns and trends that guide such diverse areas as building energy conservation, real estate location scouting and procurement, talent recruitment, and employee engagement coaching. Ultimately, data collection and data mining can play a role before, during, and after workplace design transformations.



Integration of technology during the design process

One aspect of workplace strategy that evolves very quickly is technology. Throughout these conference discussions, the theme of technology was raised because it can have such a big impact on collaboration, employee mobility, productivity, and information security.

A major point of consensus is the importance of approaching technology as an integral part of the design process rather than as an afterthought. Technology decisions are being made early in workplace design projects because so much of what technology can do affects the end user experience. Everyone wants technology to be resilient – that is, to be able to evolve with user needs and be adaptable as it becomes more advanced. They also want technology to offer seamless ease of use. But to achieve this resiliency and seamlessness, the development of tech solutions requires the kind of multi-stakeholder engagement as described above. More importantly, it is not enough to allocate the responsibility for all things technological to a single stakeholder but rather it becomes the responsibility of different experts whose skills and efforts need to be integrated.



Mobility offers a major, if undefined, opportunity for many companies

Mobility is often seen as an opportunity for companies looking to better support employee work styles while also offering a means toward more efficient use of space.  Workplace mobility has multiple meanings. On the one hand, there is internal mobility, which refers to the range of spaces and tools that people have for working wherever from within the physical office. Things like desk sharing and hoteling programs can be part of a mobility program when they are supplemented with other spaces and tools that support people from working within an office. Beyond the four walls of the workplace, there is external mobility, which refers to the range of spaces and places beyond the office itself. Things like remote working policies and virtual collaboration tools can support external mobility and decrease the demand on company real estate by enabling people to work from places outside of the office. 

Future Office participants represented a range of experiences in supporting mobility. While some companies have robust mobility programs that support both internal and external mobility, others are just beginning to pilot internal mobility programs. With respect to these pilots, there was consensus around the value of piloting new ways of working and the importance of investing in rigorous studies that measure the impact and ROI of the initiatives.



Beyond the workplace

Related to the discussion of mobility, there were discussions around the implication of mobility on space planning and design. Traditional space requirements can be re-imagined to look beyond traditional categorizations of space (office vs. meeting space vs. amenity space) and to consider more activity-based programming that categorizes space based on work styles.

HLW presented our Collaboration and Quiet Index as well as a new survey tool that helps people imagine new ways of organizing space along the work style spectrum. The HLW team also introduced the concept of ‘Experience Programming’ which we define as the mix of settings beyond the office (i.e. home, city settings, third places, public places, etc.) that companies can lean on to support their teams. We pushed people to think beyond the idea of workplaces and to consider ‘work-enabled places’ – or places beyond the office that are amenable to different styles of working.

The conference ended as it began, with an interactive activity for the entire group aimed at finding commonalities among the participants. Despite the different companies, industries, and professional backgrounds represented at Future Offices, participants learned from one another just how much their experiences and aspirations align.