The RefineRE team recently sat down with a panel of industry experts to discuss how leaders in corporate real estate are making the transition from passive to active post- covid 19 pandemic hybrid work environments. What we learned was somewhat expected, enlightening, and most certainly engaging. In our Back to Anywhere series, we’re going to be exploring the topics that were discussed with our panelists as well as related trends and events with the employee experience.
This isn’t your standard-issue in-office vs remote/hybrid workplace debate. These discussions are about active transitions that are happening now, what to look for moving forward with the hybrid workplace model, and how to execute in a completely new work environment. As we optimistically see an end to the COVID-19 pandemic in sight, what changes are already happening? And which ones are going to permanently change corporate real estate, and especially employees? Our first topic hits on the start of the post-pandemic transition to the now common hybrid work model by answering these questions.
As we begin to establish a “new normal” for the workplace, major changes are already happening. Corporate occupiers, brokers, CRE portfolio managers, and investors have started to adjust tactics and find themselves doing things they never did before the pandemic as remote workers.
The wide-scale permanent change that’s going to have one of the greatest impacts is that many managers and executives now have first-hand experience solely working remotely. They fully understand the dynamics that are involved in the modern workplace that they hadn’t understood before simply because they didn’t have the experience as a remote employee.
The pandemic forced nearly the entire corporate world to work from home for an extended period. The experience changed everything in the workplace strategy from the top down. Leadership that once had difficulty getting into the remote work mindset in order to better manage the out-of-office worker, especially concerning productivity, can now look at it from the employee perspective. It’s similar to having proprietary data that gives you new insights that you wouldn’t otherwise have in the physical office. But the first-hand experience has done much more than informing how to manage a remote/hybrid workforce. It’s gotten companies to completely reexamine their approach to the workplace and their technology strategy moving forward.
It was hard to get into that mental mindset because I was an in-office person, and that was what the majority of the company was very much the old fashioned, everyone was expected to come into an office. . . The pandemic has forced me fully into it. I completely understand now. I think it has helped propel us forward in really embracing what remote working means for us as a company.Shannon McLendon, The Motley Fool
There will likely be a huge upside for the general workforce now that the employer, as well as decision-makers, have a better understanding of the challenges faced by remote workers. There is a newfound interest in ensuring a suitable employee experience for all workers no matter where the workplace is. The idea of a “workplace experience” has been permanently altered to now encompass remote offices that can be anywhere.
As fewer people plan to return to the workplace, companies are reevaluating if a remote worker has the support, tools, and organization they need. And as this transition takes place, companies have to make sure in-office workers are still supported in a smaller work environment with fewer people. From onboarding to sending an employee off to retirement, the experience for an employee is never going to be the same as it was pre-pandemic.
Companies are going to have to figure out how to balance in-office, hybrid work, and remote workers. In addition to new workplace safety policies and procedures, this is going to inherently impact the physical spaces and reasonable accommodation that companies and their employees currently occupy.
Corporate real estate portfolios used to be managed predominantly through acquired knowledge and experience. The shift toward data-driven decision-making in commercial real estate has been very slow, however, the pandemic was such a disruption it’s now being seen as a necessity. The industry knowledge that people relied on is no longer a sure thing for some asset classes. Data is going to level the field even more now that there’s less certainty with office space.
Post-pandemic hiring highlights this change. We’re seeing more and more data specialists as hybrid employees being hired by CRE organizations. It’s a product of an increased need for data analysis in general and the expertise of someone who can manage the process. As a result, data management is quickly becoming a common job for remote workers in corporate real estate. And corporate occupiers aren’t going to just analyze transactional data. They’ll be using data to analyze the changing work environments and how to optimize the spaces they occupy in wake of the pandemic. More emphasis is going to be put on data that provides insights on tenant experience and utilization. More specifically, data will be used to determine the need for flex meeting space at many corporate properties.
As shutdowns began around the country, we all knew the pandemic was going to have a profound effect on corporate real estate. At the time we didn’t realize just how widespread it would be. Few people could have guessed that it would cause such swift and dramatic shifts in workplace environments and the employee experience. What was once thought to be a short-term inconvenience that we’d ride out, quickly evolved into an industry-changing event. Already we’re beginning to see many CRE companies, investors, and corporate occupiers take on a new post-pandemic work plan and very few people trying to maintain the status quo. It’s the clearest sign that the commercial real estate industry we knew before 2020 has undergone a permanent change in mindset.
The Back to Anywhere panel discussion took place in September 2021 with four CRE industry experts working in different verticals across the country. The hour-long conversation explored many of the biggest concerns and questions of corporate occupiers who are preparing themselves for post-pandemic workplaces.
Ben Wright @ SquareFoot
Head of Flexible Office Solutions
Ryan Turner @ RefineRE
Founder and CEO of RefineRE
Shannon McLendon @ The Motley Fool
Director of Office Services & Real Estate
Eric Nelson @ LiveRamp
Head of Global Workplace Experience