Let’s Get Real Episode 15: Culture Attracts Talent – Does It Retain Talent?

Discussions on the Workplace and Corporate Real Estate Podcast

Written by Sandra Panara, Director of Workspace Insights

Some of the highlights of the show include:

  • Has COVID-19 permanently changed business strategy?
  • Employees have the right to be listened to without redress
  • Linking the attitudes of the employees to the performance of a company
  • What happens to real estate flows from talking to and listening to employees
  • The culture of a company and how it affects finances
  • Companies need to be agile – and that leads to technology
  • Agility is a company’s top cultural value
  • The Great Resignation
  • Can a larger enterprise really be agile?
  • If the return to office doesn’t happen, how will that impact the industry?
  • Design should be part of business strategy
  • How does the furniture industry adapt?
  • The design industry as a leader for change
  • What happens to commercial spaces that are left empty?
  • Work/life balance, post-pandemic
  • Culture attracts talent – does it really retain talent?
  • Companies that prioritize agility perform better financially
  • Does the employer or the employee determine the rules about when/where to work?
  • Focus on how to optimise people performance over building or space performance
  • How do we boost culture and not drag people into the office so we can boost our productivity?
  • Savvy companies looking at re-constructing themselves need technology to do so.

If you liked today’s show, check out more episodes of the Let’s Get Real Podcast! This podcast is available on iTunes, Spotify and Google Podcasts.

Transcript

Sandra

Hey everyone, welcome to Let’s Get Real with Sandra and Friends, a workplace consortium podcast brought to you by Relogix. I’m excited to be sharing conversational musings about current events and how we envision the ever-changing world of work. I’m Sandra Panara, Director of Workplace Insights at Relogix. With 25 years of hands-on experience, I help value engineer global workplace portfolios and employee experiences by aligning workplace analytics with corporate real estate needs.

Have any questions, comments, or suggestions for future podcasts? Please drop me a line at [email protected].

This week, I’m talking to long-time colleague and friend, Sholem Prasow. Sholem is the founding director of Bayview Insight Management Inc. Over the past few years, he’s been focused on pandemic resilience planning, in particular on strategies for going back to the office during uncertain times. Previously, he was the President of Business Development at Teknion Furniture Systems in Toronto, and he was a past member of the USGBC LEED for Health Care Core Committee, and a past member of the Canadian Green Building Counsel Technology Advisory Group. Sholem is certified in LEED-AP, ARIDO, and is also an NCI-certified Charrette planner. He delivered free LEED accreditation coaching courses to the architectural and design community in North America and Asia over a 5-year period and he was awarded an ARIDO honorary membership for those efforts. Sholem has spoken at Greenbuild, the AIA National Convention, the Health Work and Wellness Conference, IFMA World Workplace, Niacon and IIDEX. His articles have been published in the CoreNet Global Leader and the CoreNet Canada Chapter Newsletter. Welcome, Sholem!

First off, thank you for being a guest on the show this week. We go back several years—we met when I was at CBRE, so that’s going back many, many years. I think you were at Teknion at the time. So, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sholem

About myself—I’ve been struggling to survive the pandemic and have been working at going back to the office through its various ways that the thinking has followed or preceded the next wave. I think we are ready for another wave of thinking and planning and going back to the office.

Sandra

I would agree. It’s interesting, I was looking at just the email exchanges that you and I have shared over the last several weeks, and I too have been thinking about how the real estate industry as a whole is affected and all of the different parts that make up the industry, so thinking about the construction industry, the design industry, office furnishings, and then obviously the internal part of the organization, HR, IT, corporate real estate. I’ve been thinking about all the players that have a say or have a part in some of the decision-making around what the future of work is going to look like, and what the impact is going to be, both short term and long term.

When you and I met, you were in the office furnishings industry, so let’s start there. How do you think the office furnishing industry will be affected as a result of this pandemic?

Sholem

I think the office furnishing industry as well as the construction industry are likely to be severely affected. But it’s also likely to stay the same if you look at how it took 20 years for the alternative office to really get implemented and we’ve had less than 20 months of pandemic that has generated a whole bunch of thinking. I think it’s important now to go back to the reasons why, to the business thinking that is being generated by this pandemic first, and then come back to the office and construction and other real estate industries. What do you think?

Sandra

I would agree. Let’s talk about the real estate industry as a whole and the thinking behind all of it.

Sholem

Well, I want to go back further, to talk about industry as a whole. And fortunately, we have a wonderful publication called the MIT Sloan Management Review, whose fall issue just came out 2 weeks ago, that really dug into what business should be doing. And in one of their articles, they start off with the big question: “Has COVID-19 Permanently Changed Business Strategy? What Experts Say”. Well, they say it hasn’t, actually. They say that while the content of strategy has changed as the pandemic has shifted, demand patterns have affected supply chains and transformed desires, but that really hasn’t changed what business strategy should be. And some of the changes with respect to the pandemic are likely to be permanent.

They’re also saying that the pandemic has just nudged us into the future that has been inevitable since the arrival of the Internet and digitisation. The pandemic has forced the experimentation that should have been done anyway. So, at the top level, the business strategists are saying, this is just an incentive for everyone to think about strategy and think about integrating the company into the other issues that are changing right now.

What I’m going to show you is why they think the employee is the focus of all this. MIT has a program called the Culture 500, about who’s being affected by the question of where they go to work. Well, that’s the employees. What do employees think about corporate culture? What’s important to them? With a measure of 17.9 (not sure what that means), the top one is that employees feel respected. What that means is that employees have the right to be listened to without redress. It’s not just the company telling them what’s going to happen. And the second most important item, which is at about 16.7, is leadership. Supportive leaders and leaders living the core values. So those are the two most important items with respect to strategy.

So, where does all this fit in and how do we get to real estate? Well, the Culture 500 has really linked the attitudes of the employees to the performance of the company. The first thing they say is, a strong culture, and I’m not going to go into the 150 variables here, is associated with strong financial performance. And interestingly, they also say that culture champions are more than twice as likely to be led by women than our typical Fortune 500 companies. Again, they come back to respect. That could be linked to women leading. Psychologically safe environments, this is something that happens more in women’s companies as a whole, than in others.

Back to what companies should be doing right now, and how it’ll affect real estate—they need to talk to and listen to their employees. Because that affects culture, that affects financial performance, and what happens to real estate will flow from that.

Sandra

Going back to the beginning when you were talking about business strategy and the idea that not much has really changed—from the standpoint of what the company should be doing, I can see how that probably hasn’t changed, but when you look at what companies are actually doing, that’s where I think this appetite for change is coming into play. A lot of the points that you make I think are very relevant—listening to the employee, the employee wanting to feel respected, and obviously having a supportive leadership are all really, really important in order to ensure that you have a healthy work environment or you’re nurturing a healthy and productive work environment.

But when you read the plethora of articles and things that come out about what the current conditions are in most organizations, and potentially even more importantly, the position that some of these large enterprise organisations are taking, where they’re almost bullying people to come back to the office, it makes you wonder—what is the strategy? Why would companies be pushing this agenda of bringing people back to the office? It doesn’t make any sense. What are your thoughts there?

Sholem

My thoughts are exactly that. The MIT Sloan fall issue is rich in the concepts that really focus on the culture of the company, and how it affects its financial importance. High on the list of assessing the culture of the company is engaging the employees, so clearly telling them what to do seems to be the wrong thing to do.

Now, I want to throw in a point of real data. On Friday, Allstate announced they were closing their 2 million sq. ft. office in suburban Chicago, which houses between 5 and 6,000 employees. They said, 95% of our employees are working at home right now and we’re not moving out of Chicago, we’re moving out of this big building. And this is shaking people up. Not just the insurance industry, but the banking industry too. Now, I don’t think the banking industry is anything like the insurance industry. But this is what’s on the top of peoples’ minds right now.

What do you do about it? Well, what you don’t do is what Joe Biden did in Afghanistan, which is pick a strategy and go for it. You don’t say, we’re going to get our people back to the office and go for it, because it might not happen. You need to have alternative strategies in case it doesn’t happen. They have got to do both and they’ve got to be able to switch in an agile manner from one to another. And that leads to technology.

Sandra

I agree completely, I think if there’s been any learning from this pandemic, it’s about the whole concept of emergency preparedness planning. I remember when we were planning for Y2K back in 1999, and all the time and effort that went in to prevent whatever it was that we thought was going to happen, and then it never actually happened. And then with SARS, back in 2003, I remember going through that process as well and all the planning around how to prepare for something like that, and never really thinking of the longevity of how a pandemic can actually continue on for unpredictable periods of time.

The part that floors me time and time again is reading about the success of organisations who have been able to be completely agile and pivot and say, ok, yesterday we were working from the office but we have the infrastructure in place to enable our employees to work from home, so it’s business as usual, and companies are reporting great successes, more so than even than with their employees in the office.

You’ve probably seen the debates online about CEOs who are pushing the return-to-work concept and people are not really getting it, because they’re saying, well, we’ve been working this entire time. And if you stop and think about it, that’s probably true for companies who have the technology infrastructure. But it’s not necessarily the case for all, because there are a lot of companies who, surprisingly, don’t have the infrastructure in place to enable their employees to continue to work productively from home.

What’s surprising to me is, what have they been doing for the last 2 years? Are they banking on things going back to normal? Or have they made attempts to try to bring technology into the workplace to enable this flexibility? Because if we’re lucky, this pandemic will hopefully disappear at some point and it will be something that happened in the past, but that’s not to say that there won’t be something else in a couple years’ time. I think that going through this experience has certainly opened everyone’s eyes to the gravity of it and what can happen. If a company isn’t looking at their technology infrastructure to enable employees to work from anywhere, how does that work? If they’re banking on people coming back to the office, what happens the next time around? What are your thoughts on that?

Sholem

You mentioned agility. The Culture 500 2020 survey put agility as the top cultural value and high cultural values generate high profits. So that’s very important. There are companies that have been agile for a long time; take Autodesk, for example. They bought up a bunch of companies and what’s different for the employees is the paycheque comes from somewhere else. I worked for Exxon once in Princeton, New Jersey in a walk-up just like all the other start-up companies, except for once a month from Houston I got this paycheck.

Companies like that are much more agile. Companies are going to have to deal with the bigger elements than where people go to work. They’re going to have to deal with supply shortages. They’re going to have to deal with climate change. Right now, we’ve got the gas prices shooting up through the roof, fueled by bad thinking about climate change. They’ve got to make alternative assumptions—what are they going to do if people are not going to come back to work?

Right now, we’ve got studies on the Great Resignation. A third of the people who leave are leaving because they’re unhappy with the company for years past, a third of them are happy with working at home, and a third of them want a new career. And that affects a third of the people in total in the workplace. There are ways of making that a positive. Because as the company changes its technology, it may not need many of the people who are leaving. They need different kinds of people to run the technology instead of doing the operation themselves. So, this is not necessarily a bad thing, if you look at what the business strategy should be holistically.

Sandra

I think the idea that not as many people are going to be needed, though, can be views as a negative. In the traditional workplace where you don’t have the technology readily available, you obviously need more bodies to do the work. How do you make the fact that you can automate some of these positions or not need as many positions, a positive? What happens to those people?

Sholem

We’re seeing the Great Refusal to Work. 10 million job openings, and 7 million people looking for work. It’s not necessarily what people want to do that is replacing what the technology can do for them. I think that’s the way of dealing with that where you can, where you don’t have to have people with other people-to-people contact.

Sandra

I would agree, I think there’s truth to that. I wanted to go back to the comment that you made—you were talking before about start-ups and agility. I’ve heard time and time again that there’s a difference between a smaller-sized organization or a start-up and a larger enterprise, because they tend to be much more readily adaptable and agile. When we think about incorporating agility in the workplace, do you think that that holds true?

Sholem

I think companies have been working really hard to bring that into their large companies. I think that holds true, and I think that is a big challenge for larger companies these days.

Sandra

What do you think is driving that? Do you think it’s the thinking of management, the nature of the work? We’ve been hearing, “you need to be in the office to be innovative, to be creative, to be collaborative”. You see it mostly in the banking industry, and you hear it also in the legal industry, where there are a lot of tradition in the way those types of industries work. Or are you hearing and seeing that it’s really across various types of industries at the enterprise level?

Sholem

I think you’re hearing a lot of hopes rather than data-supported facts, with respect to the idea that you’re more productive if you get together in the office. I think that you are not hearing what people really think from corporate North America. On the other hand, you’re hearing what professors really think in the MIT Sloan Review, who are remote from the companies. So, this is the balancing act. How do you relate one phrase from an academic to the real activity of a company, who may be saying one thing and actually doing another, because what they are planning to do, they believe is competitive advantage? Really tough for us.

Sandra

Ok, let’s shift gears for now. Let’s take this down through some of the other channels now, as we think about construction, design, and office furnishings. So, if we’re looking at a future where there’s less dependency on office space, obviously there’ll be potentially a lot of vacancy. So, if return to office doesn’t actually happen the way people are thinking or hoping it will, how is that going to impact the construction industry?

Sholem

I want to talk about design first. Design should be moving higher up the food chain, into business strategy. They should be participating in the business strategy, then helping to design the places, the interiors, the core office space, and also the hubs which are going to be generated from it. If design teams are at the table, they can help a lot.

About construction, the data shows with respect to office moves that they dropped a large amount during the pandemic, maybe 40%, and have now recovered most of that. What happens in the future is—I don’t know. When you look at the occupancy average over a week, I don’t think it’s going to remain as high as it was before. I think companies will see the value, as Allstate did, of shedding their bit of real estate. With respect to construction, there are other industries that could use the space. We’re expecting a doubling in seniors needing living space over the next six years. Many buildings can be converted to seniors’ homes, for example.

I think there is still going to be upheaval, and anybody who’s focused on a plan for going back to the office is going to be in a little bit of trouble. We’ve got to stop thinking about going back to the office and going back to the real world. We need to understand that the real world is now, and we need to integrate the office into what we’re doing now. That needs to be the focus of our thinking.

Back to furniture—again, we’ve got the designers who are participating at the high end of the table, and I think what they need to do is to promulgate what kinds of furniture are going to be used in the offices when people come back, because they sure as shootin’ aren’t going to be sitting at a desk typing keys when they can do that at home.

With respect to furniture manufacturers, they need to take a look at their product breadth compared to what is going to be needed. I think we may have some sell-offs, we may have some purchases of other companies, in order to bring their product mix to what’s going to be needed. That’s going to be an interesting thing to look at.

Sandra

For sure. Before, you talked about climate change. This is something that, when the pandemic first started and there was the mass exodus of the buildings and people being told to work from home, I remember one of the first thoughts I had was, what if this is forever? What happens if people don’t go back to the office? What happens to all the equipment and the furniture and fixturing and things that are in these buildings, and all the effort that’s been made around reducing climate change and sustainability? Suddenly you have all of this, for lack of a better word, garbage that nobody wants or needs anymore.

I’ve always been interested to learn about how furniture companies think about the existing furniture. Because, as you say, when people are going back to the office, they’re not going to be sitting at their desks in cubicles like they used to, because they discovered that that focused, heads-down work can be done from home. They don’t necessarily need to be in the office. So, what happens to all of that furniture and fixturing that’s in the office that supported old ways of working, and how are furniture companies thinking about that, if at all?

Sholem

Well, the last wave happened about 15 years ago when the high-panels all of a sudden were not popular anymore. One of the things that happened is a lot of people working in used furniture picked up some of them and repurposed that furniture, remanufactured it. I don’t think furniture companies think much about the old furniture that they sold. They’re more concerned about how to rejig their product lines very quickly, to match an unknown future need that the designers haven’t shared with them yet.

Sandra

I’m thinking about the comment you made about design having the opportunity to move up the food chain, so to speak. Before this conversation, one of the notes I made was that the design industry certainly has the opportunity to lead change, because of all the excess that’s in the market as a result of the pandemic. So, if we think about designing, not for the unknown, but designing for a healthier, more sustainable future, it’s not about creating new product from raw materials that are sustainably sourced. Rather, it’s about thinking about all the stuff that’s already out there, and how you can reuse that product to minimise waste.

I remember back in the 90s, there was School-In-A-Box, where you pack up all your old furnishings and you ship them off to third world countries that were setting up schools and such. The idea was to avoid this product going in a landfill. Several years later, the market was completely saturated, and so that program died off, at least from what I recall. Everyone was shipping their product to these places and it made me wonder—we shipped it on the premise that it was going to good use, but did it end up in a landfill? In which case it’s not marking you as an organisation as being the company who’s doing that, because you’ve identified that you’ve diverted waste, rather than really following where that product actually went. Are those programs still in existence? What’s happening from that perspective?

Sholem

I don’t know, but what you’ve raised is a very interesting point—I think we need to have people from various parts of the food chain get together and think about these things. If we don’t, they won’t. It’s like pulling the people together to think about the pandemic. And waste is certainly a huge part of climate change, so those people who are in that area should be pulled in to this one. What do we do with the waste? Waste is a huge problem, worldwide.

Sandra

Exactly. To your point also about the need for housing, whether it’s for seniors or the homeless or other people in society in general that have struggled with affordable housing, can we look at this as an opportunity to rethink how we make housing more readily accessible to all, and not necessarily just to those who can afford it? Even from a space perspective. The pandemic has certainly highlighted that, especially when you have these high-density neighborhoods, people want areas where they can have more space.

So, you’ve got people living in very small and dense condos with a high housing cost because you’re in the downtown core—will this exodus afford more space for people so that they don’t have to feel like they’re crammed into small quarters? Which, actually, gets problematic again when you have pandemic situations possibly happening again, a risk that I think is definitely there. We’ve gone through it now, so who’s to say we’re not going to have situations like this in the future?

Sholem

With respect to residential space, I think the problem easily gets solved because people are moving out into the countryside with lots and lots of space around them, at a third of the cost of their small downtown condo. And other people who want to live in the downtown condo are moving in. I think it’s the commercial waste that’s a big unsolved issue.

Sandra

Right. We also hear that people who go back to the office will have greater visibility and therefore more success in their career. This kind of stuff is being said out in the marketplace, and I personally don’t think that there’s truth to that. How ludicrous is it to think that your place of work, or your office dictates your quality of life?

Recently I wrote something on LinkedIn about how for years we’ve been talking about work-life balance, and how the pandemic has caused a lot of people to reflect more on their quality of life. What kind of life do they want to live? Is it always about work, and always being “on” all the time? They’re allowing themselves permission to slow things down a little bit and realize that there’s more to life than just working all the time. I think that that’s potentially what’s causing the tension in all of this fallout around people not wanting to go back to work, or people resigning because they’re thinking about where they are in life and really what they want. Maybe they were in a job that they really didn’t enjoy doing, and because of the pandemic and maybe from not commuting or whatever the circumstances were, has allowed them to learn a different skill that now has opened the doors for other opportunities. It’s interesting, the changes that are happening in society as a whole because of this change in dependency on office space.

Sholem

I have a close relative who left his job, which is almost exactly the same as his old job, because of issues with management, and because he wanted to work remotely. Now, let’s talk about “remotely”. Once upon a time, I foolishly answered an ad in LinkedIn because I wanted to know what this kind of person did. Since then, every week I get lists of jobs for me. So, last week there were 10 jobs for me, and 7 of them were remote. I think the train has left the station, with respect to people going back to the office. I don’t think the industry likes to recognize it, and I think the industry should not be a Joe Biden.

The other issue here is, the only place I hear about people getting together to improve the culture and work better, is from real estate people. That could be because I’m not looking elsewhere, but it certainly isn’t in the Sloan material I’ve just read 5 articles in.

Sandra

Culture is another topic that’s intriguing to me. I could ask, is culture something that was created by HR? Because companies talk about how great their culture is, but the employee experience really determines how great that culture is, and nobody really talks about that. There’s a lot of side conversation about what it’s truly like to work in an organization versus what the organization thinks their culture is like.

Just this weekend I was talking to my sister, who’s currently looking for another job. She’s a senior person at one of the consulting firms that she’s working at, and she’s exploring the tech space right now. I said to her, there are a couple of large organisations that are coming into Toronto, and I named one of them and said, I’ve heard about how great the culture of this particular culture is. And she said no, I know a couple people who work there and it’s not my cup of tea, from a culture perspective.

So I’m thinking now about how, in the past, we’ve been driven by the idea that culture is what attracts people to an organisation. And that might be true to some extent, but I don’t know if it’s the culture that keeps you there. Because what is culture? It’s the sum of the behaviours. So, to your point, that decision to work for a company that’s offering a remote opportunity is telling you something about the culture. You’re going to make that decision based on whether the organization’s values align with yours. But then once you’ve made that decision, something changes. There’s got to be something else that determines if you’re going to continue your commitment to this employer or not.

I know for me, personally, there’s a deeper sense of value —you were mentioning integrity and leadership at the beginning. I think a lot of companies say they have those but then you get in there, and it’s not really quite the way it works. And I think the key is, if the organization is willing to tolerate bad behaviour, that’s really where “culture” comes into play, because that’s more of a leadership issue. Your leadership team that your organization is looking up to is demonstrating a behaviour, and people are either going to eat it because they have to for whatever reason, and others aren’t. Go ahead?

Sholem

Yes, I was going to talk about Indeed.com. On Indeed, if you take a look at their jobs and you take a look at people giving recommendations, you see the questions are about the company and about leadership. That’s because those questionnaires have been created by two individuals called Donald Saul and Cheryl Saul of MIT who use the answers to rank 500 companies with respect to what they think are important values. They have 150 values, and they think the top ones are agility, collaboration, customer orientation, diversity, execution, innovation, integrity, performance, and respect. They then correlate these with financial performance. They say that those who do well on these variables do well in business. I don’t see how well they retain employees on that list, but I think we’re going to see a sea change in the future.

But to get back right to the beginning, what do the employees want? The employees want respect, they want to be able to talk without consequences, and they need to be listened to. Listening is very important. And if they do want to come to work, telling them they don’t need to come on Mondays and Fridays is not respectful.

Sandra

Yes, I think it’s definitely a huge change from the perspective of our obligations or our commitments to working life. I did a podcast several weeks ago with someone who was talking about a case in the UK about a lady who won £185,000 because her employer wouldn’t allow her the flexibility to end her day a half an hour or so earlier. There was a discussion around the inflexibility of the organisation and should employees have the ability to dictate what they want, versus an employer feeling that their business should be run a certain way. There’s a polarizing debate around whether the employee or the employer should determine the rules, as they relate to work.

Sholem

The MIT study says that those companies where the employers dictate tend to have low financial performance. Companies with low financial performance can’t contribute to society, so you get a double negative here. Employers need to think out and re-think out what they are able to do. Just like countries and states and provinces and cities of people have thought out, perhaps badly in some areas, what restrictions they can place on people who have or have not been vaccinated. You’ve got to address the problem.

Sandra

So how do you think that they’re determining low financial performance? Because this widespread idea of working from anywhere didn’t exist—well, it existed, but it was a very small percentage of the population. So, this is all relatively new. How are they making that assessment that the companies that are not willing to adapt are low financial performing organisations?

Sholem

Well, they have measured agility. They measured collaboration, customer orientation, those things are somewhat related to adaptability itself. I’d like to see the 2021 version of this study, which they don’t say when it’s coming out, but that’s probably in the middle of next year when they may have included these particular values. Unfortunately, the people who are talking about this among themselves aren’t working for the companies who are thinking differently than they are. We’ve got a gap here between the academics and what companies are really doing. And if I were a company and I had the answer to improving my performance with respect to my competitors, I’d be keeping my mouth shut.

Sandra

So, by my understanding, your thinking is that the performance focus should be more so on how you optimise people performance, and not necessarily how you optimize building or space performance?

Sholem

Yes. I’ll give you one example that happened about ten years ago. I had a job in a company where I went to work every day, but since I was a senior manager, I didn’t have to. Friday morning, I woke up and said to myself, you’ve got two important projects to finish by 4:00 today. If you go into the office, you’re not going to get them done. If you stay at home and only work on those, you’ll get them done. I stayed at home and worked 13 hours straight on those and other little things I wouldn’t have gotten into. So, I think there’s a myth that seeing peoples’ faces and talking to them socially is necessarily an improvement of company culture.

Remember the time when the concern was all this time is wasted at the coffee machine? Now, we need to pull them back in the office to get them to the coffee machine. We’ve got to stop thinking about variables that have not been demonstrated scientifically to matter.

Sandra

Based on that last comment, who do you think is driving that agenda? Because yes, the companies have their positions from a business strategy perspective, but it’s interesting to watch the position that others will take like design firms, furniture companies, construction, the leasing industry, all these peripheral service providers that are pushing this, “the workplace is still going to be prominent, there’s still going to be a need for the workplace, but the purpose is going to change”. There’s also a whole discussion around how the space needs to be redesigned to now meet this new purpose that’s being created, if you will, but is that really what the employees are asking for, or saying? Because there seems to be conflicting sides.

Sholem

There are a lot of employees who are saying, why do I have to live in the 500 sq. ft. condo downtown so I can spend 50 or 60 hours a week in the office like my boss does? Why can’t I move out to Minnesota and buy a house that’s 12 times as big for $150,000 and work remotely, because I have to get away from the office to do any real work. I think the employees are going to drive it, I think everybody who’s trying to make the office a better place for today’s employees are doing the right thing, but again, we can’t be Joe Biden. We’ve got to look at Plan B or Plan C or Plan D—how do we boost our overall culture scores, not to drag people into the office so we can boost our productivity. And that, MIT is measuring.

Sandra

Do you think the future will be much more focused on productivity and those types of measures? Or do you think at some point sustainability and climate change will be leading this change? Because it is now, sort of, but it still feels like it’s lagging a little bit. Productivity is still front and center.

Sholem

I think they’re all intertwined. If you make mistakes in planning climate change, your fuel costs will go up in the short run. And since your stock price is measured every 3 months, it hurts you and the value you have gotten from the company for those shareholders. So, I think it’s all got to be pulled together, but unfortunately, with our divisive political climate, it’s really hard for the government to do its job and pull people together to deal with common issues very well.

Sandra

So, what’s next? What do you foresee as the future of work?

Sholem

Well, the elephant in the room is the pandemic. We have to see what happens with that before people begin to get back to the office. People are voting with their feet now. And I do believe that savvy companies are looking at how to re-construct themselves internally, so that that’s a good thing and not a bad thing. And guess what? Technology is the way to do so.

Sandra

I totally agree. Any final comments?

Sholem

Yes—I think there’s too much concern about going back to the past, with respect to going back to the office. Just because 80% of companies are saying they’ll be reopening in January doesn’t mean that 80 or 40 or even 20% of people will be in the business. We’ve got to stop fooling ourselves as an industry, publicly, or else we’ll never be able to create those alternative strategies.

Sandra

Great thoughts. Sholem, thanks for sharing your perspectives, I’ve really enjoyed our conversation today!

Sholem

Me too, thank you for the opportunity, Sandra!

About the Author

Colour headshot image of Sandra Panara, Director of Workplace Strategy, Relogix
Sandra Panara, Director of Workspace Insights

Sandra has both a deep and wide understanding of Corporate Real Estate and Technology. With over 25 years hands-on experience she is able to apply non-traditional approaches to extract deep learning from the most unsuspecting places in order to drive strategy. She has developed an appreciation for always challenging the status quo to provoke and encourage new ways of thinking that drive continuous improvement and innovation. Sandra believes square pegs can fit into round holes and that the real ‘misfits’ are those environments that fail to adapt. Her expertise ranges broadly from CRE Portfolio Research, Analytics & Insights, Workforce Planning, Space & Occupancy Planning & Workplace Strategy.