Let’s Get Real Episode 27: How Does Anthropology Influence CRE Decisions? What Do Millennials Think About the Future of Work?
Discussions on the Workplace and Corporate Real Estate Podcast
Key Takeaways & Discussion Points
- What role do anthropology and ethnography play in the decision-making functions of CRE professionals?
- How can anthropology and ethnography bring out the voice of the employee?
- Is this all just too “fluffy” for the C-Suite?
- We may be collecting the same data these days, but the way we use and interpret it is completely different from pre-pandemic times
- Data without context doesn’t tell the whole story — qualitative analytics is key
- How can you layer occupancy and demographic data to learn more about what sort of space works for your employees?
- How do different generational attitudes towards work influence their use of space?
- It’s important to listen to Millenials and Gen Zers about the future of work, urban spaces, and sustainability
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’d like to welcome David Gray. David is the SVP Tenant Rep Workplace Strategy at Colliers International and is located in Silicon Valley. He’s been really busy crushing COVID by assisting his global clients with the agile hub and spoke fine tuning that’s needed right now. Missing speaking live at workplace conferences in 2021, he was able to fill the void last October at IFMA’s World Workplace event and will be speaking again at November’s CoreNet Summit 2022. Looking forward, David will be co-hosting the 100th Pandemic Influence Mosh Pit, where the edge of workplace is debated by dozens of influencers, from CRE leaders to applied anthropologists.
Everyone is welcome to join the Zoom waiting room any Friday from 11:45 AM PST. Be forewarned, though, it’s engaging and addictive!
Hey, David! Very excited to have you join me today on our podcast. Why don’t you tell listeners a little bit about yourself?
I’m really honored to be here. I’ve listened to a number of them, first class stuff that you’re doing. I am a commercial real estate broker representing just occupiers, tenants, users for over — aqre you ready? — a third of a century. So, I’ve been at this a long time, and I’ve always been baffled by people that are more talented than me because they can do both sides, landlords and tenants. And maybe not just the high-tech space. They can do retail, hotels, apartments, maybe even homes. I’m not that good. I just stay in one narrow lane, and that’s taking care of the occupiers. Now, I’m based in the Silicon Valley, but the world has been increasingly steamrolling flat the last ten years, and obviously the last two and a half exponentially. And so my book of business is scattered all over the globe. And I’ve got some metrics that people can check out on my LinkedIn resume that would bore anyone listening right here to death. But I stay extremely active, even with that breadth of experience, with my boots on, holding on to the laptop, hand pointed through the wind. 20 years from now, I’ll get them all! So, I really love what I do, and especially now, right? This is such a great time.
I totally agree. I think I have these conversations almost daily with just how much uncertainty that lies ahead of us and how people feel very nervous about that. But the folks that are in corporate real estate are excited by that because I think it’s an opportunity to think differently, to do differently, and to speak more creatively than just mechanically about how we do things.
So, you said that you’re representing the occupier view. Obviously being in the brokerage space, there’s a little bit of tension between the occupier and the broker, or at least that’s the dialogue that I’ve been seeing online. People are coming back to work and companies are signing leases. And then on the occupier side it’s, how much space can we get out of? What are you seeing from your side?
I think that’s a great framing, Sandra. The occupiers are getting pressure from their board or those that hold the financial purse strings to say, listen, we’re experts now. We’ve read a lot and we have a few examples that we can toss out anecdotally and point to the fact that we just don’t need space the way we’ve needed it in the past. And I think where the rub comes is a lack of stepping back and harnessing all the different professionals from CRE tech to architects to anthropologists. That’s right. I used the a-word. All of the anthropologists and architects have to get together and agree that ethnography and visioning sessions go hand in hand. And that is the rub right there. If we start saying, “you’ve got to come back” or “the only way to get synergy is if we’re face to face” and “don’t worry about that 1-hour commute”, it’s falling on deaf ears. We’re already seeing senior VPs, some of the largest high-tech companies in the world, Fortune Five, resigning because they’re told from the top of the pyramid, have your team come in here three, four, five days a week.
No, they don’t need to. So, the challenge is marshaling the resources of CRE tech people that can identify with individuals through surveys and watching how they behave and react. Bring all these tools to the table and figure out what is it that a user needs now. Quick epilogue to that — it’s happening that way right now. I’m just reflecting what my eyes are picking up, and that is that one third of the companies are going out and making deals at the rate of 2019. The bottom line is it’s two thirds slower deal flow and that gets a little bit of anxiety going for people in the brokerage industry that perhaps have relied on a particular book of business moving at a particular rate. You have to throw all that out the window too. And once you do and get back to those basics about what it is that our people want, how do we recruit, retain the best talent to have the most impressive earnings per share, then everyone is on the same page.
It’s interesting that you were talking about ethnography. I actually had many conversations, actually with a few anthropologists over the years, and I’m just thinking about how that function played into decision making pre-pandemic. Usually you tried to get perspectives from all angles in the business, so from leadership, middle management, and the employees, and then you match that data to say, this is the direction that we can all agree on in terms of the way forward. But that was based on, obviously, a time where the expectation was such that everybody was working from the office.
Now that we have all had the experience of working outside of the office for the last 30+ months, do you think that ethnography or the role of ethnography should occur now? Or do you think that that should be something that comes in after the decisions have been made about what role real estate actually plays within the organization? Because it feels almost like leadership needs to make a decision around that. A decision that takes into consideration people’s feelings. But people are very open. And there are lots of reports to look at about how people are feeling about space, and they seem to point in the direction that they don’t want to come back to the office five days a week. That’s a no brainer. It’s kind of that push and pull.
Do you do the ethnography first to validate that, yes, that’s the direction that you need to go to, or do you make the decision and then bring in the troops to basically understand, okay, now what do we need in order to satisfy our workforce?
Well, a little bit of mechanics here in terms of the adoption process. You and I toss around ethnography, and we’ve had many conversations with PhDs and applied anthropologists. So, it’s second nature to us to recommend that. And it’s going to take traditional C-Suites quite a while to feel comfortable that that is a true cog in their measurement watch.
So go to them now, introduce your favorite applied anthropologist to leadership and explain what it is that they do. Granted, right now, the data to measure is weak compared to what will slowly reveal itself over the next year or two. But you want to get that second nature, just as those decision makers right now may say, oh, of course, having an interior designer that understands the latest trends in use, I want on board. They get that. But reaching past the top architects and interior designers, the idea of connecting with people in your organization at all levels is paramount.
So, if you’re a 10,000-employee company, you can’t have a visioning session with 10,000 people, but you want the voices of 10,000. Those voices will feel a lot more authentic when somebody asks them a question and then observes all the things they do relative to that question. No, I don’t need snacks. That’s not a bonus for me. I just would rather be at home. Meanwhile, there’s empty wrappers all over their cubicle. So, the aggressiveness of an applied anthropologist is unparalleled when it comes to social design.
If I put myself in the shoes of someone in the C-Suite, it just all feels so fluffy. They’re thinking, are you really going to use that information to think about how you’re going to plan for space? Because at the end of the day, from the corporate real estate perspective and maybe even from a business perspective, it really always comes down to dollars and cents, right? It’s like you need to be able to convert whatever it is that you’re going to do that it’s going to either generate revenue or it’s going to reduce costs one way or the other. So when you think about all of these conversations that are going on around human centric workplace, the way ethnography is going to fit into how you’re going to think about space, like I said, it feels very fluffy. Do you think the C-Suite would be open to that? Or would their reaction continue to be just trying to understand what would the value be to them, when you think about it from the perspective of cost and or revenue generation going forward?
I answer that with a rhetorical question. Who are the companies that are successful right now and have been successful in the past? They’re the ones that listen to their employees. If you want to listen to your employees, you have to walk down a pathway that may seem uncomfortable, it may seem like, isn’t this fluffy?
Well, there’s structure in the fluffiness because you’re asking people specifically, what is it they believe they want, and they don’t necessarily know. Everyone’s on a journey together, from the latest hire to the first badges in the company, so they have the same objective, they have the same OKRs, or they should disband. Anyone that’s not profoundly motivated where they’re at should move on down the road. And it starts with the individuals and then I think it’s hopefully shepherded by great leadership that says, I want to ask you what you think you want, tell me why. And yeah, let’s make sure that our earnings per share are up and away. And how else are they going to be up, up and away, unless talent is extremely, profoundly engaged?
In 2019, we had barely a third of the working population in North America bonded to their job, to their boss, to the mission statements of the companies and the values supporting that. Only 30%. Just ridiculous. That’s 2019. Now, granted, there’s been a Great Resignation and some of the people that didn’t feel engaged got pushed over the edge by circumstances. But I believe every single one of those employees is going to look at themselves and say, am I happy here? How can I be happy? And they will reveal that. And I don’t think they would have revealed that quite as readily in 2019. So, there’s an exciting opportunity here.
I think the point you made about people not really knowing what they want holds a lot of truth. I remember back in the day when you were serving employees, the responses that you got were always within the frame of reference of what was familiar to them. So, if you were asking them to think out in the future — imagine asking someone ten years ago about working flexibly and what does that mean to you? You’re always going to go based on the boundaries of what you’re allowed to do in the organization, because you think, realistically, that’s not something that we would be allowed to do. And I find the same to be true.
Also, when you’re talking to the executives in an organization about new ways of working or thinking about different ways of doing things, their frame of reference is based on how it’s always been done. The challenge is, how do you break down those barriers? How do you bring those two worlds together? I think the biggest challenge is that you can only see so far.
I sort of look at what’s happened in the past 30 months. To me, the pandemic basically forced change management on everyone. It’s mind boggling to me that someone would choose to ignore the reality of what has transpired. That is to say, change is upon us, whether you like it or not. To force going back to something, I don’t think is a good idea unless you can prove otherwise. If there’s actually proof as to why that is actually required, but making claims that something is better or worse without really anything substantiating it, or better yet, using data that was captured pre-pandemic times is different. Times are changing.
So, as I said, the uncertainty is very uncanny for a lot of companies because they don’t know what’s next. There’s a term in our organization that we use, this “blind spot” that’s emerging where you’ve relied on data for the longest time. But the way that you use the data, though, it’s going to be different. As you think about the future of work, before you looked at occupancy, okay, how many heads are in a building? And then it’s relative to what? Is it relative to head count? Is it relative to future head count? Is it relative to your as-built seats?
This whole concept of flexible working, we’re talking about the 3, 2 reference that’s being made or coming up with these arbitrary programs without really substantiating it and understanding the behaviors of people. And I think the need to understand behaviors is increasingly important, where maybe it wasn’t before. But you’ve also got then the flip side of that, which is the privacy aspect, where a lot of companies will basically say that there’s a privacy factor and it’s the reason why you can’t look at data, which I think is a bunch of hogwash too.
I just wanted to get your thoughts. What did you think about data and analytics and how you used to use analytics before versus what is fthe use case for using data and analytics today? Do you see there being a substantial difference?
Absolutely, and I don’t think it was used enough in 2019. It’s taken a lot of internal teams quite some time to adopt sensors and analyze what the sensors mean and realize they have to do bed check at the same time. Meaning, as we both know, take a look at what’s going on with that sensor data. Oh gosh, this is a different person coming into the space. This is the same person. This person is actually by themselves, the sensor was off. There was a lot of checking to be careful and then utilizing the data — paramount, no question.
Now we’re in this transition, and it’s going to be different how we interpret it. Before we get to that, we have to be really honest, especially those that sell the technology and the services of metrics. It’s going to be richer and deeper and more needed than ever before over time. We are having people come back at 5%, maybe 8%. If you really look at utilization — just start with the parking lot if you’re in that type of environment, and reengineer who’s in the space.
So, it’s asking the question right now, in the lens of social anthropology, well, we’ve got some data, we know it’s just a thumbnail, but we want to ask the people that are using this space what purposes they find from the space. Whoops — a lot higher percentage of people really like the fact that they’re spread out in what feels like a library. And more and more people are leaving noisy, boxed-in distracting environments on the home front and the coffee shop in exchange for coming into the 10,000-sqft open office that has 15 people in it. Some personalities feel at ease in that situation.
So, tracking that, going forward, we’re going to go through a few waves back and forth. The surface is going to come in, come out, come in, come out. What are we really finding here? But I think one thing that’s really important, you said it earlier, and I want to weave into this data discussion, is we’re not going back to 2019. I don’t think anybody would, because there’s 8 billion people that have been forced to turn to the same page of the book. So, whether they disagree with what the remedy is for this particular page, we’re reading the same paragraph over and over. It’s Groundhog Day. Don’t say, well, that’s enough. Step back and say, 8 billion people have acknowledged that this is happening. Okay, let’s address that elephant in the room.
That’s not fluffy. That is structure. And measure it as best you can, even when you only have a little bit of information, as people aren’t coming back at the rate that most of the C-Suite would hope for. Measuring it is what it’s all about.
I completely agree. I think what’s interesting too is that we talk about corporate real estate technologies like sensors, people counters, which obviously are making their place in the world of corporate real estate just because of what they can do that can’t be replicated through observation studies or any sort of manual attempt, even surveying for that matter. It’s just the sheer volume of data capture that gives you credibility in such a small amount of data.
So, for example, we used to rely on badging data and used to look at historical data, and you had to wait. You started to see the data normalized, usually at the 3 to 6 month window. The longer you waited, the more reliable the data was. What’s interesting about sensor data is that you don’t have to wait that long. You could do an install Monday, and by Friday you’ll already start to see some consistency in behavior because of the fact that you’re capturing data literally every 30 seconds, you know that someone’s there or not there. You’ve got 20% of your people at desks between 10 and 11, and then 40% of people using meeting rooms the rest of the afternoon.
So you start to see the shift in behaviors just as you’re monitoring the space on a regular basis to really understand how the behaviors are actually changing day to day and then week to week, month to month. What’s changing is going to be dependent on capturing that historical data.
What’s also interesting is how the data is also going to be used for looking forward. As we talk about things like predictive analytics and using AI to help people understand, the people that are using the space understand that when they’re there, what are the types of environments that are best suited to how they want to work? There’s that element of, if there’s an interaction between a human and some sort of technology application, that data that’s being captured can help the user basically have a better experience in the office.
But I think what’s interesting is even taking a step back, because I look at it and say, I’m about probably 15 years ahead in terms of how you use technology in the workplace where you’re doing mashups of data long before the sensors came up.
The reality is that a lot of the data can come from sources that companies already have in their environment. The reality is that most companies stop at looking at the badging data, for example. You get your occupancy number, and then everybody goes nuts with planning because only 50% or 60% are in, and that means we’re at a sharing ratio of 2:1, cut the space by 50%, call it a day. Right? It’s a little bit more complicated than that.
But what’s interesting, at least one of the things that I discovered fairly early on in my career, is how you bring context into the data analysis. People have always criticized the quantitative and the qualitative side of data analytics. Anything that you’re doing where you’re measuring is quantitative. It doesn’t have the qualitative side, which is how people feel or what people want, which typically would come from your ethnographic studies, your surveys, and types of things that you do. I have sort of been challenging that a little bit because I’m seeing more and more as I dig into some of the newer data right now.
We’re seeing new patterns in the data. Because you’re capturing data at such a high frequency, you can see the behaviors. If you know or you’re familiar with a certain behavior and what it looks like when you’re in a space observing people, it actually translates very well on the data side. You’ve just got to know that this type of behavior means this. Right?
Case in point, we had some data that we came across for a client just recently, and we got down to the lowest level of detail. And one of the things that I observed was these short meetings, or rather, use of meeting spaces. People were just going into a meeting room either as an individual where they were dwelling in that space, which is the new term for occupancy, I think it’s the new occupancy, where dwell is basically the continuous use of a space. So you’re seeing people that are dwelling in a meeting room for, say, five minutes, ten minutes at a time by themselves, and you’re like, what? Somebody be in the meeting room by themselves for five or ten minutes?
Well, from previous experiences, probably to have a telephone conversation, because there’s a room that’s close by to a workspace and they don’t need to walk to the other side of the office to use the telephone room. So that would be a typical behavior.
Another example would be 15 minutes or anything less than half an hour, really, where there’s maybe two people or maybe even three, are now in a room together. There’s no booking of that meeting room, but they’re in that room together for that same period of time. So that to me is more like a one on one. It could be a coaching, it could be something like that, where, again, it’s unstructured, it’s not scheduled. It’s more ad hoc. So if is happening in the organization on an ongoing basis, maybe you don’t have the sufficient spaces or the access to those spaces in order to be able to support that kind of behavior. And it makes me think of the many discussions with designers in the past around activity-based design where you did just that, you looked at how people were using space, and then you use that information to inform the future of design.
And now, well, do you even need to do that? Because if you’ve got the right technology capturing the information, you basically can pick up on those patterns now. True, you don’t know how people feel about it, whether they like it or they don’t, so there’s still that need for surveys. This is just the quantitative side, and it’s so much more than that.
Agreed. We are moving to cultures where everybody is on board answering a survey that describes their archetype, and in some companies, putting it on their signature block. So that may sound a little fluffy to some leaders that have been around even longer than me. But if we know somebody views themselves as a methodical thinker that really likes to go deep and deep and work by themselves and then report back for other team meetings and share their findings. That person is in the office. Their badge is swiped. And 20 other people that are like them are all in the office. But none of the people who describe themselves as the aggressive archetype, you need to get it off your desk now, jump to conclusion, none of them or a handful are just in the office. Maybe that tells us something. So qualitative comes with the quantitative.
We are measuring everything, and soon people will, I am praying, that everyone relaxes and says, yeah, you can track my cell phone when I flip it on to company mode. Absolutely. Of course. I want to let you know, am I in go mode and you want to know that I’m at the Starbucks or meeting with the client or I’m in the office with the one on one, or I’m at the auditorium or I’m gone at a sporting event, but who’s with me? Well, I’ll answer that if you want to be particular about me later.
And I think that needs to happen. I think we all have to address the two-way street. I’m not even saying trust and verify. I’m talking about, you’re profoundly motivated about the mission of the company, and there’s trust both ways. And they know I’m working when I’m at home next to the kitchen sink. And they know sometimes I’m taking a nap in the office.
It’s not about monitoring. It’s about learning what we want to do. And that’s the next level of ethnography, taking the personalities that we all report ourselves to be and have it validated by somebody that says, yeah, that’s that person. And now where are they and what are they using? We are going to discover, if people all haven’t already, that we all have multiple sides. They’re called moods. Sometimes even the chatty. Loquacious. David Gray likes to go to the library, heads down and not be interrupted. And if that library had books lined all over and I had flashbacks to the best university in the world, the University of California at Berkeley, I feel like I can drill down deeper than I ever have. This is wonderful. Especially if someone started talking not far from me and somebody dressed up in caricature of a librarian with horn rimmed glasses and in the 1950s outfit came waddling over and said, that’s what we need. We need activity-based work that is theatrical.
I love that. I’m getting a visual.
I think we’re walking down the same path here together. We know this is a slow roll, but we know that the data is really going to be a key factor. Those that use it and have the most granulation with it are going to be those that win. There’s no doubt about it.
You said two things that I think are really interesting. The first is the layering of the data to really understand. You talked about the archetypes — to some extent that’s also part of how you use the data better. You’ve got your occupancy data, whatever source it is that it comes from, but then it’s when you start to layer on things like the demographics, the hierarchy of the people that are being reported, depending on whatever it is that the company allows you to integrate. Lately we’ve been talking to customers that are also layering in their commutes. They want to understand and actually quantify the correlation between the commute distance, the commute time and the occupancy. How often are they coming to the office?
Just think of how marketing segments their customer to say, okay, we’re going after this particular customer and this is the way we need to market to this customer. It’s the same thing in corporate real estate. You’re basically segmenting your data, and by segmenting the data, I believe, is how you’re going to be able to think about your future workforce.
So, think about it. If you’ve got a group of Boomers that live out in suburbia that are commuting in more than 60 minutes, they’re only going to come into the office maybe once or twice a week versus the young, hip, and happening. Gen Z in the downtown core wants to be in the office. They don’t have a car, they’re within walking distance. And the convenience of being able to just walk across the street and go into the office to be with their friends, to socialize — it’s two totally different stages of life. And very different behaviors that are being observed in terms of how they’re going to interact with space now.
Is one more valuable than the other? No, not really. Do those two worlds need to come together? Absolutely. And that’s the stuff that you see when people start talking about how you mentor the young folks that are joining these organizations. They have to be in the office. And sure, but the people that are supposed to mentor them actually are not coming into the office because they’ve done their time or they’ve earned their time, as they like to say, where they don’t have to come into the office as often.
I think that was a bigger eye opener for me — when you start to segment occupancy data based on demographics, like tenure, age, even things like salary bands, you start to see behaviors that are very interesting based on these different things about people. It’s teetering a little bit into people analytics. The analytics that they do are very HR related, and they don’t really step into the corporate real estate territory. I think there’s a shared opportunity to bring the HR data into the corporate real estate world.
When you bring those two data sets together, you could think about things like where should our office be located? For example, the whole idea of decentralization will look at where your people live. If you’re trying to minimize commutes, if you’re trying to minimize greenhouse gas emissions, which some companies do, then you want to start looking at that and bringing that into your analysis so that you understand the decision that you’re making and the impact that it’s going to have on the people that you’re trying to bring into the office.
Same thing with decisions around amenities, like we’ve been hearing quite a bit actually, in the last while about how you entice people to come back to the office. You probably heard this more than I have, about organizations looking at bringing in amenities into their organization to try to entice people, it’s more of that hotel experience. The last thing I heard was putting restaurants in offices. Is that really going to entice people to come in? You already have existing spaces in society that do that. Is that really needed? Is that really necessary?
It makes me wonder, where are you getting the data to make those decisions? To say, this is what we’re going to do because we believe it’s going to bring people back to the office. It’s kind of picking something out of thin air and saying, let’s try this and see if it works. But I don’t know that any CFO would be willing to invest in an experiment and then realize that it’s not really going to work.
Well, especially an experiment that costs millions of dollars, like a high-end cafeteria. In principle we’ve seen the success of the cafeteria. We’ve also seen how they’ve been underutilized. The purpose has not been maximized. People come in for a couple of eating sessions and then Google invents three eating periods and then fills it in with coffee during the day. And then someone gets the fact that it’s a multipurpose room. What else can be done with it when those busier periods disappear? But you can’t gamble millions of dollars based on “I’m sure we can find a use for this”. Of course not.
You can experiment with some things in the hospitality realm. You brought this up, there’s a lot of working with local farmers, restaurants. Would you like to do a pop up here, come in at this particular time? Kind of a hybrid version of the food truck. And so maybe there’s an affordable entree, so to speak, but also the idea that people want it. And how do you find out they want it? You have to ask the question, is this something you would like? And we’re not seeing the big amenities with people like they have in the past.
Everyone’s in a state of change. I think a higher percentage of people are looking at themselves saying, what profoundly motivates me? How am I going to be happy? It’s not just the social construct of bragging that I have a 15-minute commute because the company moves towards me. It’s the energy, the well-being that you pick up to contribute back to the company.
When I say the company, I mean your team. I mean the people that are sharing the values you share and are trying to reach targets that you’re attempting to reach. And you’re reaching those targets because you’re communicating together. You can communicate like you and I are doing right now across one of the longest halls in North America, from Toronto to the Silicon Valley, and it works terrifically. But when I see you live and in person in Nashville world workplace next week, that is going to be the icing on the cake, or the glue, rather, that holds me closer to, “What we are trying to do? What else have you heard since then? And what about this? Hey, do you think this idea will work? I don’t know, let’s share that data. Absolutely, we’ll share that data.” I think there’s more collaboration and cocreation among so many different optics and competitors in narrow disciplines than there’s ever been before. That’s part of the excitement, right?
Yes, I completely agree with that. It’s interesting what you also said about values. We’ve had this time to rethink or re-evaluate what we value the most. And everybody obviously has a different priority when it comes to things like that. You’ve probably heard as of late the whole story around Quiet Quitting. What does that actually mean? Recently I’ve also heard of “voluntary demotion” popping up, which is stepping back from the climb of the corporate ladder, the hustle culture that we all live through from a generational point of view.
The younger generations want to pursue success, but at the same token they want to have a life. It’s not just about the career. It’s not just about climbing the ladder. It’s not about just making money. There are all these other aspects that make you a whole person. I think that’s going to be interesting as well, because as you look at the generational mixes of people in the organization, as the older generations start to retire or move on, the younger generations have a slightly different perspective on productivity from how we thought about productivity and taking initiative or taking that extra step. What is that motivator for them? Like you were saying, there are different things that motivate different people to be their best, from a productivity point of view. What are your thoughts on these stories that are emerging?
I’m excited about the human data points that are emerging. You look at Gen Z — I think some of the young Baby Boomers and older Gen Xs get together and say, you know what, they may be authentic, but they don’t realize that you have to get into the office, you have to do this.
You have to do nothing! They’re not chasing the dollars the way that bracket of people did when they were 26 years old. I can feel the difference. When I was 26, it was about being the first person into the office, having the coffee on and then going, yeah, that’s right, I did that. They’ve gone to a next level. They’re sitting side by side, a couple with elbows touching and it’s quiet in the room. Pull back the curtain and take a closer look. They’re texting back and forth with each other. They’re sharing humorous clips with each other and having an internet experience. The older generations that did not grow up with tremendous amounts of AV besides a rock concert or two. It’s time to take a look and learn from this group that’s coming up.
I think the Millennials and the Z’s who are now about to hit the 50% of total labour mark are really reshaping what the targets are. Targets are about productivity and purpose. The only chance this planet has of being around several generations down is because of the attitude of people coming up that care about community, that care about everyone having enough resources. Because when it gets drier and the temperature goes up three or four degrees, not as much foods can get produced and it could be a very challenging situation. At least we have a wide swathe of people, of the youngest workers, to whom this is paramount. We can learn a tremendous amount from those sort of data analytics.
I agree with that. I was on a call a couple of weeks ago, and there was someone there who was Gen Z, and we were talking about ESG calculations and how the metrics that we pull out of corporate real estate analytics feed into that. I mean, obviously the commute, everybody knows about that, but there are other opportunities there as well. And one of the things that he said that really amazed me was, he said if I was making a decision from an employer perspective and all things were equal, I would actually look at their ESG policies. But he says it’s not just about what’s written in their manual, it’s the actions that they’re actually taking. Are they actually following through? So there’s that level of integrity — you say that you care about something, but do you really? And people are looking very closely at that, and probably the younger generation moreso than the older generation. That might be a bit of a statement to make, but I think that there’s some truth to that, that the older generation seems to kind of look past it because it’s not as important as it is to the younger generation who are going to be picking up the slack because they have to.
You’re so spot on. And again, hats off to them. I really enjoy when I have a weekly workplace gathering and I get a couple of Gen Z’s on. They can be irreverent. It’s a lunch hour in the Silicon Valley. Three of them were on a couple of months ago, and these are top one percenters, very driven. But they’re eating their lunch. They’re talking while they’re eating their lunch. They’re muting the phone, yelling at mom and saying, hey, you know what it’s like living at home. And they come back online.
They’re not getting carried up with the Gen X, Boomer idea of building a corporate or a personal brand. They’re going for it. They’re getting things done. And they know that just because some fossil says, you should really get off that little mechanical device you have there, I want you to go on a walk with your best friend, okay? You have no idea. I got 30 best friends and I’m talking to them every hour.
Do you think that there’s an element of professionalism or let’s say, a loss of professionalism? When you’re talking about the Gen Zers eating their lunches and yelling at mom or whoever and thinking about our experiences where if your dog barks or somebody knocks on the door, it’s like, oh, my God, it’s the worst thing ever because you’re working from home and people know that you’re working from home.
It’s almost like you’re trying to maintain this sort of professional appearance. Versus the younger generation, where they just say, this is me. There isn’t sort of that division between the work me and the home me. It’s the same person. And I think maybe that’s where there’s a difference and why there’s a lot of conflict, if you will, with the older generation saying that the younger generations feel entitled to certain things. But they do things differently and are quite successful in what they do. It’s just that it gets discounted because it’s not done the same way that you and I maybe would have done it.
Right, absolutely. In fact, that last sentence is what it’s all about. I would tell everyone that’s over 41 that’s still active working: relax and learn from everyone who’s below 41. They’re being their authentic self for their last million minutes and you’re being who you are for your last million minutes. And maybe your last million minutes have been ten years of working at two companies in the same exact industry. Congratulations.
They’re scattered. They’ve been growing up, and they’ve been fighting the most important part of their education and adoption into work during a pandemic. Learn from how they’re handling that and where they see the future. I love following a future of work expert who’s 26 years old where a lot of people would smile at that, say, oh, how they can be an expert at knowing what work is, they haven’t put in their million minutes in the office. No, they’re exactly what we need. A spokesman, a translator to an entire generation that’s going to do some wonderful things for profitability and planet. I’m really excited.
It’s funny too, I was thinking about that younger generation and the idea of where the office is going to land at the end of the day. Going back to that idea of the younger generations living in the downtown core, the city center, that type of thing, that’s kind of the lifestyle that they want to live. And suddenly the demand for the offices disappears. Let’s fast forward and let’s imagine that the Boomers are going to make that happen because the Boomers make everything happen and then these offices disappear. How does that potentially impact that generation?
It’s a comment that comes up all the time that as you get older your stage of life changes in time. You tend to move into the suburbs, into neighborhoods with a larger home, you’ve got space, you’ve got kids. Someone who’s living in a 400 square foot apartment isn’t going to want to be there with their significant other working and living 24/7. It’s that opportunity to get out and about. And having said that, there are options — you don’t necessarily have to go to a corporate office to do that. There are like coworking spaces and cafes and other fun places to go and hang out and work, but it comes back down to what you said about how you enable your people to feel comfortable to do that. You were talking about trust and enabling people to feel that they could be themselves and work and go to the Jay’s game or whatever, but maybe they were working late the night before. This whole idea of accountability, it needs to be, I think, a little bit looser than what it has been. There’s that element of trust that I think is missing as well. How does that all play into all of this as well?
You said a lot there. I’ll grab onto two layers of the cake that really resonate with me. First is looking at the use of the central business district, the CBDs, the top 63 in the US. San Francisco is there and it’s failing right now and it needs an overhaul. To have San Francisco pushing beyond 20% vacancy is very unusual and I think it’s probably reaffirmed as we look at the data by the fact that you just have a high percentage of very mobile tech adapt workers and they know they can do it and even if they’re told to come in, they don’t come in. What are you talking about? You tell me to take out my garbage too? No, I don’t think so.
The Central Business Districts though, they’re coming back to strong versions of their former self with terrific retail, museums, and amenities to gather in, hardscape areas for meetings. For socializing, as it gets back to that, we’re going to see I think a resurgent of residential inside all the CBDs. I’m a little bit crazy and I think you always have to have a few people that are a little bit crazy, and I believe that.
You can see the vertical forest of residential towers scattered throughout the globe, the most impressive to me in Milan, Bosco Verticale. Imagine a Gen Z 5, 10 years from now looking at the cityscape and seeing a big tree, shrubbery and greenery growing out of every balcony, and saying, that’s where I live. That’s so powerful. And why not watch that happen with these 40 to 50 year old buildings? That really, no offense to the architects of the early eighties, seventies, late sixties, but not really the best-looking product. I hope we can find a way to rip the skin off of those, cut a little doughnut in the middle and turn those into residential vertical forests.
The second part of that is the “15-minute city”, being able to get to everything you need and could wish for in a 15-minute walk to wherever you are. That’s your Paris. If you’re in New York City, you have three 15-minutes cities in Manhattan stacked upon each other. Which one is yours? That should be the view of those 63 North American cities that are evaluating what’s next in sustainability, what’s next in engagement, how do I get people to come in and participate, make this the community?
I think we’ll see more small families living in those environments. And we’re watching as Austin, Portland swell, we’re seeing a version of that happening. So I’m really excited for that aspect primarily.
It’s interesting that you raise the 15-minute city point, because one of the things that I don’t quite understand is the fact that it’s very focused on city living. I don’t know what it’s like in the United States, but in Canada, there’s a lot of bedroom communities. So people commute into downtown Toronto where the bulk of office jobs are. As soon as you leave the core, there’s not really much out there unless you’re working in an industrial unit or you’re working as an independent. So when you talk about 15-minute cities, right away I’m thinking, okay, urban centers, though, already have that because they have all the conveniences to be able to access restaurants, transit, all that stuff. It’s more when you get into the suburbs that you’re kind of stranded because there’s no bus service or very limited transit services or anything that would allow you to be able to access the conveniences of just living, let alone work.
How would the 15-minute city be different than what it is now? Are you talking about an expansion into suburbia?
I’m playing with the idea that people stay longer in a 15-minute city that provides them safety, security, and convenience. For a higher percentage of people, their main education won’t be the socialization of the school, but it will be the types of programs that their parents help steer them towards and they’ll be digitally implemented, I suspect. I see the cities working for a longer period of time, even though some say they’re broken right now, but down the road, people staying longer.
But I still think if you look at the list of the great small cities, and into Canada, all the fantastic rural space that people found second lives in as they continue to work, you may be leaning into the digital communication a bit, I suspect, when you get spread out like that. Because you’re absolutely right, in these small cities, you don’t really want to wait for the bus and then get picked up at the bus stop and hitchhike and all that kind of stuff. I think that’s a little sticky, but they’re thinking about a 15-minute grid anywhere is really the answer there.
So if you look at your communities in Silicon Valley, we have our version of sprawl. Southern California, they really have suburban sprawl there. That’s really retail strip after retail strip, roads, freeways. Well, we have that too, in the San Francisco Bay area. And part of the solution set is to get into it, to get out of it. Look at the downtown of your city and see how you can get there easily. Can you bike there? You don’t have a bike. Get a bike and get on your bike for ten minutes and go and enjoy that coffee shop and work remotely there.
It’s about thinking and acting responsibly. Not hopping in a car for an hour plus is not just a financial planet save, I think it’s an energizer that will allow you to do more profound things with your career. And I think we’re going to see this group coming up completely. The Millennials get it, the gen Zs live and breathe it. So follow the use changes. Get ready for the vertical forest. It’s coming to a central business district near you.
David, this has been a lot of fun. Any final comments?
No, I really appreciate the honor of being interviewed by you, Sandra. As I’ve shared with you before, I follow all of your posts. You’re extremely bright. You do things right at the edge as well. So, what’s coming up in the wave? And I hope you’ll ever stop doing that. I’m a big fan.