Let’s Get Real Episode 17: Building a CRE Technology Toolbox

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:

  • Does IWMS support businesses properly anymore? Are point solutions old and tired?
  • How do companies find one true source of data in a world of disparate data sets?
  • It’s not about the best tech tool—it’s about having the best process for using your tech tools
  • The key to moving forward is to keep your eye on the long game—where do you want your company to be in three years?
  • It’s essential to have a tool that can bring data together, sort through it, and guide strategic outcomes
  • Companies need to bring together not just corporate real estate data, but data from human resources and IT, too
  • Your company is unique, by virtue of its people—so you need unique solutions
  • How could artificial intelligence and virtual reality help us get the insights we need?
  • Are we overly scared of letting go of some privacy for the sake of security and ease of use, in terms of data collection?
  • Privacy and security can only be managed well in an environment of trust and confidence
  • How can the Space module be used going forward, now that workplaces are turning towards shared desks?
  • Can we work towards “hackable space”—a space that’s flexible enough to be what each employee needs it to be?
  • What’s the future of the office space, and how can sensor technology help us manage it?
  • Environment, Social and Governance, as well as sustainability, should be key considerations affecting decisions about the future of work
  • Susan Spiers describes what the future of the corporate real estate technology toolbox will—or should—look like.

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 have my long-time friend and colleague Susan Spiers joining me. Susan is the owner of Spiers Consulting, which helps companies develop their organization strategic vision, roadmap, and marketing strategies. Most recently, she’s helping with channel program development in CREtech and PropTech industries. Susan integrates a client growth and cell strategy with customer service, helping clients develop their network and ecosystem, and assists with technology strategies for the workplace. She’s a professional facilitator, conducting workshops on building trust and organizational resiliency, which are both critical to the hybrid work model.

Sandra

Thanks again for joining me today on the podcast. Obviously, your background is in corporate real estate technology and you’ve had a lot of unique experiences. You and I actually met, I don’t know how many years ago—was I at Nike?

Susan

Probably 12 or 13 years ago, something like that.

Sandra

I think you were at Nelson! So that’s a long time ago.

Susan

Nelson actually gave me my introduction to real estate tech. They had a real estate tech group, so I think they worked with Manhattan and IWMS implementing for big financial clients, so that’s where I learned about tech. I had to give them credit for getting me into this industry, or at least making me aware that there was an industry.

Sandra

So why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Susan

I have a little bit of a different background, because before I got into real estate tech, I was actually a teacher and then worked in strategic planning in non-profit, and then got into franchising. So, I have a teacher/education/strategy/franchising business background, in both sales and operations. I got into real estate because I worked for an indoor air quality franchise company. That dropped me into the industry, and from there I worked with engineers and architecture firms and design firms, really learning how they build their businesses. As we talked about, then I was at Nelson, and Nelson introduced me to real estate tech, and voila. It was a life-changer for me, and a career-changer.

I’ve had different experiences—I’ve worked on the service side, where we’ve actually done implementations and worked with clients to figure out what they actually needed out of the technology, and then making the technology work. I’ve also worked for the technology firms themselves, both point solutions and IWMS. So, I’ve got that whole gamut of experience. Lastly, I worked for DeLoitte, launching products and supporting IWMS as well. I’ve launched them, I’ve tried to figure out where they fit, I’ve supported them, and I’ve sold them.

Sandra

Interesting! So, thinking about the long history that you have and the different perspectives of business applications, what would you say has changed over the years, working in IWMS? I’ve talked to a couple of different people specifically in the IWMS space and some people that are in the peripherals, about the future of IWMS. Some people say IWMS is ancient in terms of how it helps support businesses, and that it basically doesn’t support businesses anymore. Would you say that there’s truth to that? I’d be interested to hear your perspective on what’s changed and what hasn’t changed in IWMS.

Susan

I ask that question all the time to myself because I wonder where it’s going. If you look backwards, you would either get a point solution or IWMS. You’re going to get a solution that’s going to solve a specific problem, or you’re going to get a more enterprise-level solution that can give you a lens into your entire portfolio. You can see that one true source of data, and you can make strategic decisions.

I think as we move forward, it’ll be about following the money. There has been so much investment in technology, and there are so many cool, wonderful point solutions out there to solve problems. And the IWMS solutions are kind of old and tired. They’ve been around for quite a while. But there still is something about having the one data source, and there still is something about being able to grow with something. Companies are also saying, how many point solutions can we manage? Even though they’re cool and they’re wonderful and they’re easy to use, they’re low-cost to implement, but when you have 30 of them…

I had a client once that called us to in when I was supporting IWMS and said, we have 39 point solutions. If I could get them down to 10, I’d be happy. So, I think none of that has really gone away. So I think that in the future, IWMS can be two different things. One, it becomes more of an open platform that can actually allow you to take the best point solutions in terms of solving your problem, and connect it to the IWMS platform which then allows you to read the data, have one source of truth of data, and be able to look at your whole life-cycle to make some strategic decisions. I think that’s probably where it’s going. Also, since COVID we’ve all been working at home for 2 years, and we’ve all learned how to do it. And with all the screaming and shouting and kicking, I think it’s changed.

So, when you look at integrative workplace management, what is workplace? I think that the IWMS platforms through open APIs can bring in data from somewhere else, but to really capture where we’re working, what is the cost of that, what’s the impact on the environment of going in the office or not going into the office. So, I think right now, it measures “office”, it might measure anywhere we work, so that companies have a lens into that data as well.

Lastly, the other thing that I think will remain with IWMS is the ability to look at space and leases. You’re going to need to do projects, you’re going to need all those pieces. You’re going to have facilities that you’re managing and you’re going to want to look at your ESG scores and you’re going to want to connect to smart buildings, so I’d like to see it grow into something that an IWMS offers you as one platform, and connects it to all the cool technology out there. And I think companies are actually there. They’ve opened up their systems.

Sandra

So, a couple of questions. When I think about IWMS, obviously there’s different modules of IWMS, and in all the years that I’ve been doing consulting, I’d say probably 98% of companies are using mostly the Space Management module. I haven’t really seen companies embracing all the modules of IWMS. Having been on the procurement side and within companies, I know there’s a conversation about Best in Class. So when you think about the other tools out there for financial management and those types of things that are considered Best in Class, suddenly IWMS is just Space Management. This speaks to the point solutions disparity, where you’ve got all these different data sets that need to talk to each other but there’s no way for them to do that.

Has that been your experience as well? Or what have you seen when working with customers, in terms of how many modules they effectively use? And if they don’t, what would be the reason for not looking to doing it all in one place?

Susan

Since I’ve been in the IWMS world, there have been quite a few clients that have used all the modules. I’ve had a few clients that have bought all of the modules, and they’re typically big, global enterprise-level clients with complex portfolios and they’re trying to get that single look into the data. They usually start with one module, usually Space or Facilities. When the whole lease piece was such a big deal, they could go in with lease as well. They usually have a starting point, and then they grow. I honestly would say that there have been years where Space has been the top driver, and other years where Lease or Facilities Management have been the top driver. Capital Projects hasn’t been the top driver as much.

But that’s what I’ve seen. Companies got tired of renovating space, spending 2 or 3 million dollars on space that they were not going to renew. And at the end of the day, having those combined and integrated so that when you’re getting ready to spend your capital budget and looking at what decisions you were going to make, you could actually see what leases were coming up and where they were. So I did actually had a little bit of a different experience than you in that I’ve seen clients use multiple modules.

Sandra

As you talk about companies getting tired of sinking money into renovating space and then making the decision that they’re not going to renew the space—what do you consider to be high-value CRE tools in the environment we live in right now? We know the value of an IWMS solution having that single pane of glass. But when you think about what’s going on with other technology tools that are emerging in the CRE space, what’s your perspective?

Susan

I can’t plug this enough: it’s not really about a tech tool. It’s process. I think that part of the challenge of getting value out of your tech tool is that companies need to sit back and decide where they want to be in 3 years. This is an opportunistic and exciting time. You could either react and wait and see what your employees are doing, and put time and money into it, or you could sit back and say, this is what we want to happen, and then drive it.

For example, if you’re a company that wants your employees in the office, you need to figure out how to make your office a destination. You have to figure out how to put time and money and resources into your office, so your employees are going to want to come in. Or, if your company looks 3 years to the future and says, I don’t care if they come in 10% of the time, then you’re going to want to put your time and money into giving them the tools they need to work wherever they’re going to be working. I think getting people on board and making some decisions makes tools more valuable over time.

The other piece that I’ll throw out there is, a high-value tool will be anything that helps companies figure out what to do with this plethora of data that they’re getting. When you have your IWMS, or your point solutions, and your sensors, and all this stuff coming at you, it’s really hard. I don’t think our clients really know what to do with all of it to make the best strategic decisions to get them to their destination point, whatever that is. There are tools out there that are starting to really do this, like BeyondHQ, Navigator, and Relogix. You guys are all starting to help clients sort through data. I think that’s high value. I think that we all just live in our own little boxes and we only know what we know, so it’s great to have some outside help with that.

I think that virtual reality’s kind of interesting. If everything’s about employee engagement, and you’ve got people not in the office, how do you give them an experience of working online that’s as close to being in the office as you can? Honestly, I think I’m a little over the top age to understand how my avatar is going to make me feel more excited about being in the space. But people have been doing it in gaming forever. The gamification of virtual reality to help figure out what’s going on with data, I think is really important.

Then I really think that it’s important to get all the different data into one data source, so that everybody’s looking at the same stuff and looking from the same data source in order to make their strategic decisions.

Those are the big ones that I see.

Sandra

I like what you said about how it’s not so much about the tool, per se, in driving the value, and that it’s more a focus on process. We see that as well in our company, where you say OK, we all know that the value of what we do at Relogix is about the data and the outcomes, primarily outcomes. What is the company ultimately trying to do? What’s interesting is that there’s definitely two stories to this: one, the company needs to get at the data to understand what the business is doing, so there’s a focus on data and analytics and getting to the decision you need to make. That’s definitely a value.

But then on the flip side of that, and equally if not more important, is the ease of access to this processed data. As you said, there’s a lot of data out there that’s all interconnected. IWMS solutions, or a sensor solution, or looking at badging, for example, they don’t really do very much on their own. It’s only when you bring those data sets together that suddenly this patchwork quilt, as my ex-boss at Telus used to say, starts to come into formation. All of a sudden you start to learn things about your organization that you would not otherwise have seen. So that’s where the insights come into play. That’s really what it’s about, going forward.

What’s interesting is we started this conversation talking about IWMS and driving information into that platform to augment what’s there, and how limiting that might be when you start to throw in other things that are not typically part of an IWMS solution. If you think about what corporate real estate traditionally looks at, yes, it’s corporate real estate data, so IWMS would be that central or single pane of glass to view the data through. But what we’re seeing in our world is there are other data sources that don’t belong to corporate real estate, but that are definitely complimentary to that data.

Susan

Like HR and that kind of thing?

Sandra

Correct. I’ve seen HR integrated into some IWMS solutions, like when doing seating assignments and that kind of thing, there’s some level of HR integration. But it’s not to the extent where the real value of HR data can come through, it’s still kept separate from what you would actually bring in to an IWMS solution. That mash-up of data sources is really where the value lies, and can start to paint a picture around the demographics of yoru organization, the attributes of your people, and what the correlation is between those specific attributes and their dependency on office space.

To be clear, we’re not saying you can paint people of a similar age or tenure with a single brush and say, this is how you plan for this group of people, because we know that every company is unique. The reason they’re unique is because of the makeup of their company, which is their people. No two companies are exactly the same, even if they have the exact same culture, beliefs, values, the mere fact that the people who work in those organizations are different people, that makes each company unique. So that makes it even more interesting when you think about the idea that it’s not necessarily about the technology in terms of hardware, it’s ultimately about asking yourself, what are you trying to understand about your organization so that you can position for going forward?

Susan

You know, we’ve been talking for years, since I was at Nelson, about how HR has to work with real estate and IT. How many times have we talked about that three-legged stool and gone to conferences about it. But they really have to do it now in a very different way, because if employees get more empowered and employees know what they’re willing to do or not willing to do and still perform, HR really is the owner of productivity and the employees itself. But we, in real estate, have to support that.

So, in my crazy world, I think about going out and using artificial intelligence and using tech to find information you need. You have to figure out what information you need and why, and then have the tech there to find it and bring it in, nothing more, nothing less, whether it’s HR data or whether it’s demographic data in the marketplace. Whether it’s, are the employees there, what are the tax incentives like, should we open up an office in this space where we need this kind of production, do we have the people? I think that technology is going to get closer and closer to going and getting the information they need to answer the questions that you pose. So, how do you figure out those questions?

Sandra

Yes!

Susan

That’s the key.

Sandra

The other thing you mentioned was this whole VR concept. Let’s backtrack a little bit and think about workplace experience. Workplace experience is something that I think still needs to be defined, because it means different things to different people. If you’re looking at data to design the workplace experience, it’s about intention. Once you understand what people want, then you design the space to fit what people want. On the other hand, there’s providing or measuring or monitoring, although I hate the word monitoring, what the workplace experience is like for the user, i.e. employee experience. Was what you intended to do from a design perspective actually achieved, based on peoples’ interactions?

I’m seeing a lot of talk right now about the need for improved employee experience, whether it’s because you’re trying to figure out how to bring people back to the office, or just in general, to keep people employed at the company so you don’t have people dropping like flies. Where do you see employee experience, in terms of its importance now and in the future?

Susan

I think it’s critical. We’ve all been at home for the last two years. So how do we bring into the office the employee experience that we’ve all been having at home for the last two years? So, if I’ve been getting my office materials from OfficeMax or Staples or Amazon or wherever, can I just order my office stuff online? Can I go to GrubHub or UberEats and get my lunch delivered to me? Can I walk into a space and have the lights and the heating match what mode I prefer? Do I have to go out to everything, or can I be at home right now, and have an app tell me that my team members are going to be in the office on Tuesday, so I know when I should go in? What is that ease of use that just makes our lives more seamless? I think that that’s part of where tech can help, and I think people are thinking about it now, which is pretty cool.

That the other piece is safety and security, the whole idea of visitor management and is my space clean. I worked for a company once where we’d walk into the New York location and we’d be looking for space and looking to sit down, and it’d take 20 minutes to find a touchdown space. That wasn’t a good experience. So I think using the sensor data, using our utilization data, figuring out who’s in and when, that’s what we need to make sure that when we do show up to the office, we have what we need when we need it. I think that is really important.

I remember going into an office once where everybody’s got Wi-Fi and laptops, but my laptop wasn’t charged, and I could not find a single outlet anywhere to get anything to work. It just didn’t exist. And then I couldn’t really connect to the internet, and I couldn’t do what I needed to do. So how do we really make sure that those experiences are easy? And I know a lot of people are talking about missing the fact that there are extra cupcakes and bagels left over from a meeting room, and where is that located. I don’t know if I need that, but to some people, they love that surprise after lunch!

Sandra

Lots of great points that you’ve made. I’m thinking of the post that you made on LinkedIn a couple weeks ago where you were travelling, and you had a seamless experience where everything just worked. I remember reading that and thinking, that’s actually pretty cool that you didn’t really have to think about anything, because it just knew what to do. It knew who you were, it knew how to respond to different things, and you just glided through that whole travel experience without having to touch anything, without having to do anything. When I was reading that, it made me think that that’s ultimately what we’re striving for. That the technology is there to enable that.

But people have been very guarded. There’s some force behind us about privacy and security. I’m sure you’ve encountered this as well, you walk into a workplace as an employee, and obviously when you first get hired you sign your policies and things like that around what privacy means to the company, and there is no privacy as far as you’re concerned, because you’re there to do a job, and the company can basically monitor you if they wanted to. But it’s interesting that there’s this huge backlash on privacy and awareness of these things, which are really the foundation of enabling these optimal experiences for people, regardless of if they’re at work, or at the grocery store, at home, or wherever it is that you are, to connect that sort of online world with the reality of what’s happening, and sort of move people through.

Thinking about privacy, do you think that’s something that will become much more relaxed in the workplace in the not-too-distant future? Because that’s been something that’s been right up there, from a resistance point of view, and it’s been there for at least 20 years, if not more.

Susan

I have to unpack that a little bit. Part of what made my travel experience work so easily was that the machines could read my retinas and I had fingerprints and so I didn’t need a driver’s licence or ID, because I had those other ways of identifying myself. I was a little freaked that somewhere, my retina information was stored, but on the other hand, think about how protective that is. What I thought is, nobody can take my identity, nobody could use it to spend my money somewhere, or to do something illegal, because they knew who I was and they were measuring it in a way that could not be counterfeited or forged. So, on the one hand, I think that that is actually more private and more secure. But people have to get used to it being done this way, because we’re so used to cards. I don’t think things get more relaxed, I think we need to figure out how to get people used to it.

I think that as privacy laws and rules get stronger and stronger for our clients, I still think internally, my stuff is my stuff. And, yes, it belongs to the company. Once I resigned from a company to go somewhere else, and at the end of my last day, the second I pushed “I Resign”, my computer shut off. I mean, there it goes. It was there and not mine. I was done. So I do think there’s going to be a blend of what we get used to, and that’ll seem more relaxed.

Sandra

Yes, and I remember us having this conversation and I have the same reaction, still now, around using your retinas or your fingerprints, or whatever is uniquely yours, to verify your identity, and to feel more secure with this, rather than feeling like it’s extremely private and invasive. Initially you think, oh my god, they’re going to have my fingerprint or my retina to identify me, but it’s true, you can’t replicate that. That’s uniquely yours and no technology could replicate it, although, maybe they can, I don’t know. There’s all kinds of weird stuff that happens.

But we also had a conversation around using data in good faith. And this is important for the workplace, because I’ve seen cases where there are stipulations set around how and why you use the data, and then the data gets into the hands of managers and suddenly they’re thinking of other things. You have to say no, you’re not supposed to use the data for that, it’s only for planning purposes. But you can’t help human nature to say, Jane Smith isn’t coming in to the office every day, when she’s supposed to be here 5 days a week, I’m going to go reprimand her. That’s not what the data should be used for. And you’re always going to have those bad apples, which creates the need for extra precautions around data.

But I think that it’s true that there’s privacy and then there’s privacy in the workplace, so that when you’re working, there are certain things it’s OK to share and aren’t going to be used against you. For example, I’m totally against this whole idea of monitoring keystrokes, which some companies are now doing.

Susan

I saw that, I was like, oh my gosh!

Sandra

Like, why?! What is the purpose of that? People mocked it, because they could be doing something completely different. Just because I’m hitting a key on my computer it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m working. Although, on the tech side, they could see what applications are you working in, and there’s all kinds of stuff that they could obviously explore in terms of trying to understand that, but, really? There’s so much more that they could be doing but they’re focusing on the wrong things.

Susan

That’s the HR piece, right? Teaching managers how to manage. This is the human nature part. When you look at privacy, how much of it is about confidence? When I first used the Google Suite collaboration tools, I realized we’re all collaborating on the same document but you could save all the versions. You could look at a version that was done a month ago. Well, the way I work is to try stuff out, and type stuff out. I don’t know if I want you to see my third version of what I was trying out. So do I have to print it or get it into my hard drive, and not have it in Google? Because my process is no longer private, in a Google Suite.

And by the way, I love the Google collaboration tools, so it’s not a comment about that. In fact, in my current business, Spiers Consulting, I actually have a Google collaboration site, because I love that. But I had to get used to it. I felt like my process was no longer private, and how I thought was now public. My whole train of thought was public. I was kind of uncomfortable with that. Not uncomfortable necessarily with the retina, but uncomfortable with the work tools that are letting people see my process. I just want them to see my end result.

Sandra

Not the messy part of what it took to get there—I hear you!

Susan

So, it has a lot to do with our own confidence level.

Sandra

Absolutely. Now that we’ve talked about privacy and different things that need to happen, and the interrelation of data to really drive the value, again I’m thinking about IWMS solutions and data sets that I’ve extracted from IWMS. If you had an environment where seats were assigned to employees and you had an integration with HR, you could basically put a name to a seat. In the sensor world, the sensors are anonymous. We just know you’ve got a sensor on the seat, we don’t know who that person is, unless the company integrates with HR and pulls in all the attributes of that user, and then reports based on different things that the company is trying to do. But with this whole concept of unassigned seating and desk sharing, which has been around for quite some time, you lose that identity.

Susan

It blows up the whole space thing. The Space module doesn’t have the same purpose anymore.

Sandra

Exactly. And that becomes extremely problematic for a company because how do you manage space when the tool itself is not designed to do that? It assumes it’s one to one.

Susan

And, if we’re going to have a world where I’m going to either reserve a space or drop in and work with my team for a couple days a week, then are we really going to do chargebacks anymore? I think that the whole Space piece of an IWMS solution, or even a point solution, is going to have to be re-imagined. I’m thinking of a blog article that talked about “hackable space”. How do you design hackable space so that employees can come into a space that’s whatever they need it to be in order to do the work they’re there to do? And it could be different, from day to day. What does that look like from a Space planning perspective, and how do designers do that, and how is it measured? That’s very different than the way Space is currently configured in an IWMS.

Sandra

I agree 100%. When I think about IWMS, I think about structure. Everything has its purpose, you allocate X amount of space to whatever that specific space type is and what the intent of that space type is. I’m already hearing some emerging ideas around what the purpose of the future office going to be. There are lots of conversations saying it’s going to be for people to come together, whether it’s for social purposes, collaboration, structured meetings, that kind of thing.

I’m calling it—I think it’s going to be far less structured than it has been, possibly to the extent that people aren’t even going to have to book a seat. I think it will be more drop-in, and then companies can use sensor technology to help manage supply and demand, rather than that long winded process of putting in an IWMS. Because we know IWMS is never up to date, and it takes forever to get your IWMS up to date with your drawings and all of that, to say exactly what you’ve got on your floorplan. And companies right now need current information. The historical information has been completely put to the wayside. That information is no longer helpful or useful, because it’s not current.

The real-time element can help us manage space, but it can also help us think about where people go. When you’re coming in to a workspace, or a workplace, where are people congregating? What kind of spaces are they going to? Is it hackable space? Or is it more of a structured space? Is it the enclosed space? Is it open space? There’s an opportunity right now for companies to learn how their spaces are being utilized or not, and that I think as we continue to monitor that over time, it will start to then form the direction that the company might want to explore, in terms of how they might think about re-designing their space going forward.

I don’t think we’ll see companies saying, let’s monitor for 3 months and then slash the space and call it a day. There’s a lot more involved in that, and the more time you give yourself to really understand what these natural behaviours are and how people are choosing to interact with space, that’s very telling. So I think it’ll be less structured than following policies and procedures and directing people when and how to use space.

Susan

As you were saying it, I became a little breathless, putting myself in the seat of the head of real estate, or head of workplace. Because really, if you’re thinking about it, we’ve got an IWMS tool that we’ve implemented and used for the last 10 years, and it’s very structured and Space is what it is. And I know that people are going to be using it differently, but the reality is I don’t know what that means. Because none of us know what we’re really going to do in six months, because it’s a new world for all of us.

And on top of that, I don’t want to slash anything and I don’t want to make decisions right now that are going to not be right in five months. I might decide I’m going to go into the office because I’m dying to get back, dying to see people, I want to work, but then I get really tired of that 45 minute drive. And I honestly get tired of thinking about what am I going to wear, doing all the decision-making that gets you from home to the office or a WeWork. So we really don’t know in six months or a year where people are going to land and what they’re going to decide to do.

I had dinner with a colleague and a friend of mine who has a 45-minute drive to the office, and his boss is requiring him to be there 3 days a week. He has worked with HR, he’s worked with his boss, he’s a high-performer in sales, and he is now, after three months of going in and working with them, starting to look for a new job. So again, he went in three months ago and thought it would work. His intent was there to stay with the company. And in three months, he was like, this is ridiculous. So, I don’t know how we’re all going to react.

If I’m the head of real estate right now, I’ve got my structured program, I’m putting in sensors or looking at badge data, people are coming or going but they’re getting different variants of COVID so they’re coming and going irregularly and randomly—how do you be flexible enough in how you lay out your space? Or maybe it’s really about talking to employees and watching and observing and measuring, and then taking that data and matching it to what they’re saying, and really listening for the first time about what they need. And then, again, what do you want this to be at the end?

Companies have control here. They can decide what the risks are when they make certain decisions. But they have to be intentional about it and they have to be strategic about it. And I think that will direct them a lot.

I also think that there’s another other pressure that I’m hearing about, that eventually, CFOs are going to come in and say, half this space isn’t being used. And they’ve been saying that for years, but now people are not going to come back and they’re going to be told to shed space. So they’re going to need to start thinking about a year from now, or two years from now, and start doing that planning. Because leases have expiration dates, and you have to start not just working and exploring the current and the near-future, but then the longer-term at the same time. Because you’ve got milestone dates you have to meet, and you’ve got opportunities that you could leverage.

Sandra

Yes, I totally agree. I think it’s funny, I made a post on LinkedIn probably a month or so ago about how corporate real estate’s been a bit of a wasteland for many, many years, that nobody really paid attention to. It was just one of those necessary costs that you had to have, and that was the reality. But nobody bothering to really look at the data. Which takes me to this question: you said, we don’t really know what the future holds, and companies are somewhat paralyzed right now because they’re not really sure what direction to take. Do you think that that’s because they don’t have enough data to make the decisions? Or that there’s too much data and there’s no process?

Susan

The only thing that we know is that things are going to change. And I think that it’s more about all of the above. We’re all human, and we all can make certain decisions about our own lives and I think when overlaying all the data, no matter how much data you have today, we as people might change what we want to do tomorrow. So, the company needs to step back and figure out what we want our employees to do, and how we’re going to put our money and time and resources behind that? And how are we going to listen to them?

I think it’s more of a discovery. You look at a project and there’s a discovery phase, and you can test ideas out with your data. We haven’t even talked about predictive analytics, which I think is critical to where it’s all going. We could look at a data set and be able to predict who’s going to be there, what your costs are going to be, and how, if I do X, it’s going to impact my workforce in this way. I think that there are lots of opportunities for predictive analytics to play into our whole narrative. But we have to direct it a little bit and manage to it, because I don’t think you can take into account the human factor.

Sandra

I agree. I think the key is, as you said, the company trying to decide where and how do they want to position themselves. Corporate real estate has been, for many years, just something that you have, because it was expected that people came to work. The thing that I’ve always found really fascinating is that, you can read the annual reports of many of these companies in terms of what’s important to them, and they talk about the health and wellness of their employees, they talk about sustainability, they talk about connecting with community, and then you look at mandates, like right now, to return to office, and that kind of contradicts these values that you’re claiming are the center stone of your company. And I think those levers are already defined, it’s just that no one’s really made the connection that what you do should actually align with what you believe and what you say you support.

Susan

We didn’t talk about one more big piece that I think is huge and coming up, which is ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) and sustainability and smart buildings. I would say that any IWMS platform out there needs to integrate with that data. ESG scores are going to include what your savings are, if you have 30 or 40% of your workforce in, and what is going to be the difference in your energy costs and usage, as well as diversity and equity and all of that stuff. But I think that IWMS has to be linked to all that in order to get that cost life cycle piece moving forward and to get that lens into ways to manage that strategically and provide value to your organization. Because sustainability is on everybody’s radar right now.

Sandra

It’s funny that you say that because the company where I worked before, that was actually very much part of the goal. The company was already doing mobile since early 96, or maybe it was 2006. They basically progressed over the years to work toward mobility and when I joined in 2015 they were already 75%, 80% mobile. But what was interesting was the way that the connection to the mobile workforce tied to ESG. We had a sustainability team, and the information from corporate real estate actually went over to that team to calculate how much we saved, as a result of reduced commute? They calculated the impact on operations and quantified the impact that we were making in ESG, that ultimately was reported in the annual report.

So, when you talk about sustainability, when you talk about things like that that matter, you’ve got those values noted in your annual report, if you’re a public company. You have a direct way of being able to measure the impact that you’re having on those goals, based on the decisions that you’re making with respect to where you hire, with respect to the locations that you’re choosing for your workplace, the amount of flexibility that you’re going to allow your employees, they’re all interconnected. I think that’s the piece that a lot of companies haven’t quite made the connection to yet—it’s there, it’s been there for a long time, but nobody’s really paid attention to it.

Susan

And with all the point solutions and with all the solutions out there, you’re really going to digitize your entire workplace, and as long as you’re going to digitize your workplace, and you have an open IWMS platform, you can pull that data in and really start analyzing it and making decisions around it. So again, it’s all about the open platform, and stepping back and saying, this is what we want to find out, and this is where we want to go, and then making sure that the solutions are there to get you that data, so that you can make decisions. And I would definitely include digitizing and ESG in there.

Sandra

For sure. It’s funny, I’m working on a project right now with a company that I think is very leading-edge in terms of how they’re looking at the consolidation of these different data points, and commute is very much a part of the decision-making. They have a lease that’s coming due in the next two years, they’re thinking about getting out of potentially all of their space, but they’re re-considering. Should we keep an office? Is that something that we do? Do we go to Space-as-a-Service as an alternative? The commute is really what’s driving that. So they’re saying, let’s see where our people live and let’s correlate where our people live to how often they come in to the office.

And this is during the pandemic, so they don’t have the mandate for people to come back to work, it’s just people voluntarily choosing to work from the office, and then exploring what department they belong to. They’re looking at their demographics, so their tenure, their age group, the distance, doing calculations around their mode of transportation, both looking at distance and time. And it’s quite fascinating when you start to look at that correlation between those types of data sets, it’s very different than just looking at it and saying, ok, 20% or 30% of people are coming into the office, so what? What does that mean?

Susan

Exactly. And based on what’s going on in the world, for employee attraction and retention, people want companies to be measuring this. And people are looking for companies to have an impact and to do the right things.

Sandra

Last question: what do you think the future of the corporate real estate technology toolbox will look like?

Susan

I think that the toolbox, number one, is going to have something to help you analyze data. Data is king in all of this. And I think that the more we have the ability to collect data, the more data there is, the more there will be tools out there to help you make sense out of the data. I think that that’s really big.

I think the one single truth of data, one source of data, is going to be key. Whether it’s an IWMS as your source of data, or a data lake, or a data warehouse, I think that that’s going to be in the toolbox. I don’t think you’re going to have 39 or 40 point solutions that you’re managing. But you’re going to be having an open platform that you can pull data in and out of.

I think mobile apps that really allow your life to be incredibly easy are going to be important. I can even imagine, I walk into an office and my mobile app tells me where to sit based on what I’ve been doing for the last three months. I don’t have to look around, it’s going to tell me what my options are. It’s going to be smart.

I think the workplace is going to be digitized, and I think that those tools that allow you to do that are going to be core and central. I think capturing environmental and sustainable information is going to be key. I think that those are it. It sounds really exciting, doesn’t it?

Sandra

It does. As a final thought, I had a thought on the weekend about how in the past, companies were fighting for the competitive advantage, and how were they surfacing their uniqueness in the marketplace. But it almost feels like we’re at a turning point, where that competitive advantage is more about how well you collaborate with other companies. It’s not necessarily just being the sole provider, it’s about how well you work with other companies so that together, you can do something really great. That’s what is emerging, it feels like to me. Especially in the technology world, there is not one technology solution that solves virtually every problem, and that’s why, if technology is what’s going to drive the success of the future, the need for technology to work together is going to be key.

Susan

I’ll throw another piece out there: I wouldn’t be surprised if a new IWMS solution emerges. If the solutions aren’t really thinking about what we’re talking about today—being open, digitizing, smart buildings, etc.—somebody’s going to come up with a new cool version of getting this one source of data lens into your portfolio so you can make decisions. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that, with all the money being poured into PropTech. They’re saying the next two years are going to be the heaviest investment in PropTech.

Looking at the market, I think being curious is really critical for anybody in our industry. I think when you’re curious, you’re going to be open to possibility. We’re talking today on February 1, but we could have this conversation again in six months and see what it looks like.

The other thing too, and I can’t emphasize it enough, is that it’s time for stakeholders to sit back and make some decisions about what they want, and think about where they want to all be, and get in agreement. Because there’s so much out there, there’s so much noise, and the sales teams are pounding on your door, and when they’re compelling, you want to buy. Really figure out where you want to go, and what you want to do, and why you need the data, and how you need the data. And work the data piece into it. I think is so important. I don’t think we can emphasize that enough.

The other piece we didn’t talk about today is trust.  You asked questions about security and privacy, and I think about people working from anywhere. How do we build environments of trust?  We all have to trust each other in a very different way. We have to trust that the data we’re getting is OK, and that we’re not overstepping a line, and we have to trust our employees and hear them about what they want and what they need. We have to trust our managers to use everything in the right way and to be there for us. I know at Spiers Consulting we’re actually putting a whole workshop together on trust, and I was thinking about even our conversation today, trust is so big, to enable any of this to work.

Sandra

Absolutely, I think that’s at the core of all of this, whether it’s technology, process, how business operates, how employees feel, that’s the one thing that connects us all, ensuring that we’re working in a trusting environment and that we’re all working towards a positive change in terms of how we work and how we live. That’s really what it comes down to.

Well, this has been fun, thank you again for your time today, it’s always fun talking to you, we could have a whole other episode on many other topics, which I’m sure we will in the not-too-distant future!

Thank you, again.

Susan

Thank you for asking me, and happy to do another one with you soon! It was really fun. Thanks, 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.