Let’s Get Real Episode 29: Navigating the Biggest Transformation in the History of Work: A CRE Leader’s Perspective on Managing Hybrid Teams, Communication and Data Analysis

Discussions on the Workplace and Corporate Real Estate Podcast

Written by Sandra Panara, Director of Workspace Insights

Key Takeaways & Discussion Points 

  • We’re currently going through the single biggest transformation of any industry in the history of work — we live in momentous times! 
  • How will any tech company convince its workers to come to the office, especially when they’ve spent the last 2 years hiring remote talent? 
  • How vital is “breaking bread” (in person) with your team to collaboration, building connections, and innovating? 
  • How do you manage expectations within an organization when some job titles can be afforded much more flexibility than others? 
  • Good management is about having difficult conversations with your people about how to accomplish our collective goals. “Because I said so” is not going to cut it for a lot of employees! 
  • How do you get a useful reservation system working when everyone is waiting for the other person to book first?  
  • What is the value of solving problems in person versus over email? Do we rely too heavily on tools for communication? 
  • You can glean important insights from simple data sources, like access badges. How do you know when you need to go deeper? 
  • Your employees might have valuable skills that risk going unnoticed or underutilized if you don’t take the time to get to know them, ask questions, and break bread.  
  • How do you solve the disconnect between subject matter experts in corporate real estate and interpreting the data collected on this topic? Sometimes the solution is partnering with a third-party data analytics expert.  
  • Trust and communication will be key as organizations switch from attendance-based management to outcome-based management.  
  • What measurements can be put in place to make sure hybrid actually works for you? 
  • Why are patent attorneys losing business these days, and what does that have to do with corporate real estate? 


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.


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] 

I’d like to welcome my special guest, Dan Ryan. Dan is the VP of Real Estate, Facilities, and Travel for Pegasystems, Inc. An MCR holder from CoreNet, Dan has worked in corporate real estate for 25 years for some of the best-known tech companies in the Boston area. A global executive that has worked in major markets around the globe, Dan has immersed himself in the local cultures to provide excellent service to all his customers. Dan has spent the last 12 years with Pegasystems implementing a real estate strategy to support this innovative and fast-growing SaaS company.

Dan and his lovely wife of 35 years, Cathy, live in North Andover, Massachusetts.  

Hey, Dan! Welcome, I’m happy to have you as a guest today. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself? 


Sure, Sandra. Very excited to join, this is a topic I get very passionate about.  So, I’m a long-time real estate facilities person. I’ve worked in tech for almost all my career, but I actually started out working for the Boy Scouts of America as a district executive. So, I’ve done lots of interesting jobs throughout the years, but I’ve spent the last 20, 25 years working in the real estate and facilities world for many well-known tech companies in the Boston area. 


What made you want to go into facilities?


I wanted to travel, to be perfectly honest! It’s a funny story because I was working as a procurement manager for a software company, and the woman who was managing the facilities for the company decided to leave and go join a company down in Florida. I went to my boss and said, hey, listen, I’d like to have her job and will backfill my procurement role. He said, you know, I hadn’t thought about that. Let me sleep on it and I’ll come back to you tomorrow.  

The next day he came back to me and said, listen, I have no question in my mind as to whether or not you can do both jobs, but I’m willing to give up one of my direct reports, so pick one. And I’m going to backfill the other and have them report to me.  

And I said, you know, I’ve always wanted to learn something about this real estate facilities stuff. I want a new challenge. So, I started managing a real estate portfolio that was east of the Mississippi River. Not so much Europe, they weren’t willing to give that to me as the new guy on the block, but I quickly showed them that I was more than capable, and I’ve never looked back. And I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.  

I’ve travelled the world, I’ve ridden camels around the Pyramids of Giza, I’ve walked the Great Wall of China, I’ve seen the Taj Mahal. I’ve been very, very lucky and blessed to be given the opportunities that I’ve been given while I’ve built out these offices around the world.  


That’s pretty cool! I’ve never heard of someone as worldly as you in facilities management. You’ve definitely been a lucky one in that regard.  


Yep, I’ve really enjoyed it and now I have friends around the world. You know, I grew up in a little town in western Massachusetts, and if I’d followed the path my parents imagined for me, I’d be working in a factory somewhere making toothbrushes. But here I am instead.  

My mom used to play bridge with all her friends and say, Danny’s in India today, thinking I’m such a big wig. But I put my pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else in the world! I just sort of fell into this and have earned the right to be able to do it.  


That’s great! Let’s talk a little bit about what’s happening in the world of facilities management. What’s happening in the world of offices? We know there are a tonne of challenges and organizations are trying to figure out their next steps. As we think about the return to office and hybrid, and all of these new things that are emerging that are very different from what the office was like in 2019, what puzzles are you trying to solve in your organizations following the pandemic? And how do you know they’re the right ones to solve? 


That in itself is the one trillion dollar question. I don’t look at them as challenges. I call this the single biggest transformation of any industry in the history of work. We, as real estate facilities professionals, used to have some things that were just givens. You know, a person filled a seat. If they were a salesperson, they didn’t fill a seat. For the most part, if you were in professional services, you had some kind of ratio and that was a given.  

That’s no longer a given. It used to be the same for every company, and now, depending on who you talk to and the leadership of the company, it could be the old one or it could be something that’s 180 degrees and in the opposite direction and there’s no rhyme or reason to it at all.  

People used to look at real estate facilities professionals as the person that just took care of the office. We didn’t have a seat at the table, and now we’re being asked to come in to explain why we have either too little or too much space. We’ve all seen some of the recent articles about some companies that have mandated people to come back to work. But they don’t have enough space for them to come back to work when they mandated it, because they didn’t take any additional space at the beginning of the pandemic to accommodate the people they were hiring.  

And it’s not just real estate facilities. I do travel and physical security too, and travel is just as crazy as real estate and facilities. A lot of it is related to the ability to hire people, because so many of the Boomers have decided to retire early and nobody had planned for it. They lost a tremendous amount of talent.

As far as what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to make sure that we understand what peoples’ needs are. We’re trying to make sure that everybody understands the give and take of the decisions that they ask for. Hey, if you’re going to be remote, then be remote, and accept that you’re not going to have a permanent seat.  

A lot of the challenges that we have are being able to make sure that people understand the impact of what they’re asking. There isn’t any company out here that should, if they’re being fiscally responsible, hold seats for people in case they want to come in. I think that’s the biggest thing in real estate. People are now trying to justify things. In talking to some of my friends, you’ve got management that want people to come in, but they’re unwilling to put mandates in place, so leadership is saying not to give up the space, they might come back.  

But I think in tech it’s going to be really hard to get people to come back. Especially companies that have spent the last 2 years hiring the best talent within a 30-mile radius of any particular city. How do you tell the team that’s within the 30-mile radius that they have to come in to the office, and that the people outside of that radius don’t? That’s going to be the biggest challenge to managers that want people to come in and collaborate.  

What’s going to be the biggest challenge for guys like me is, what kind of an office do I have to build in order to catch the people that are on the verge of not coming in? Those that want to come in are going to anyways, if you live within 5 minutes of the office. They’re going to come in pretty consistently 3 days a week because it’s not a heavy lift. But at half an hour, 45-minute radius, you’re going to have to do something pretty special to get them to come in, or have a manager that has a really good reason to bring the team together periodically, in order to collaborate and work together. And then there’s the question, does the office support that collaboration?  


You’ve raised some really interesting points. On that last point with respect to distance and commuting time: we find that to be true in our data sets as we look at commuting patterns and how frequently people actually come into the office. It’s absolutely true that the further away from the office you live, the less likely you are going to come in. It’s a challenge in terms of figuring out what is going to bring people back. I think what’s really interesting, too, is you’re able to determine things like what percentage of your population falls into those buckets, because I think that would be really useful as well.  


We haven’t done it recently, because we signed most of our leases in all of our cities prior to the pandemic. So, making those changes and reducing it to accommodate the number of people coming in versus what we need in the future — I see this as right-sizing the real estate portfolio versus a question of where people are living. But it’s helpful information, and it’s good data. We’ve used it for making a lot of our decisions. 

To answer your question, no, I haven’t gone back and re-run that data. But I do know that a lot of people have moved around since. And a lot of people have changed and left. If the Great Resignation continues, you almost have to run that report every 6 months in order to make sure it’s up to date, and I’m not sure what information that would give you.  

Because for me, it’s really coming down to how many people are coming into the office vs what’s going to happen in the future. I don’t know about your crystal ball, but mine’s a little cloudy right now. I can only look at what’s happened in the past and then try to make some guesses about what’s going to happen in the future. And I do that more by talking to people, not necessarily looking at data, as far as where they’re living.  

Because again, I’m the guy that’s in that 35-mile radius. But if I go in on a Monday or a Friday, it’s great. I can get in and out without a problem in 35 minutes. But if I took mass transit to get into the Boston office, it’d take me 2 hours. The other day, from the moment I left my house to the time I walked in the door, it took me 2 hours. But I went to the office this morning and it took me 35 minutes. Completely different scenarios. The 2-hour commute, broken down, doesn’t seem like a lot but when you add it up, holy smokes, that’s a long commute.  

So, because people are going in one day a week, they’re not giving up their cars. They’re not willing to take the train. They’ve gotten used to having that flexibility and the choice to do whatever they want, as opposed to having to be there for 9:00 AM in the morning and not leave until 5:00 PM at night. If you look at the commute travels around Boston right now, the return commute starts at 2:00 PM.  

It’s really fascinating how our work patterns have changed over the past 2.5 years, it’s really incredible.  

Yet, on the flip side, one of the biggest things that we’re getting back in some of our surveys is people wanting permission to turn off. You know, we never had that issue pre-pandemic because people worked 9 to 5, and then they got in their cars or on the train. Maybe they did some emails in the train, but they didn’t necessarily do it on the way home. They shut off. But now people have been working from home for two years now, and they’ve lost the ability to shut off. So that’s been really interesting.  

That’s one of the things we’re trying to address. Some of the new information that we’re sending out about hybrid work is about just having that discussion with your manager about the hours you’re going to be available. But there’s also no one complaining about no longer having to start their day at 9:00 anymore. I can start my day at 7 and be done at 3 if I want to. There’s nobody complaining about that.  

I think that’s part of some of the other things we’re talking about — it’s a mutual responsibility that you need to communicate to your boss about what hours you’re going to work in order to get that block of stuff done. But you also need to communicate to people when you’re not going to be available.  

And I think we need to put some guardrails around what is acceptable depending on the job title. So, if you’re an individual contributor, you don’t have to work with anybody around the world, then that’s fine. You want to work 4:00 in the afternoon until midnight, knock yourself out. But if you’re dealing with people in India, sorry, you’ve got to start your day pretty early in the morning to get that overlap so you can talk with your coworkers and be able to work. That’s got to be part of it, but we need to have more communication around this.  

We really need to learn not just to talk, but to collaborate. We’ve sort of lost that with having this electronic separation from each other. I just had my team here from around the world. I’ve got 2 people in the US, 2 from India, and 1 in Poland. We just spent a week here together, and it was the best way to get reconnected. Everyone agreed that it was really productive.  

We thought we were well connected before, but managers like myself have got to bring teams together and reconnect with people. I call it breaking bread. If you break bread with people, you will build connections that will last forever. And we’ve sort of forgotten how to break bread with each other, and how important that is to the success or failure of companies and reaching their goals.  

Wow, I’m getting on my high horse today. I thought we were going to talk about data here a little bit.  


We are, in a second! I was just going to ask you, how do you manage expectations? I’m just thinking about previous organizations that I worked with where you have different teams that are managing flexible or hybrid work. And inadvertently there’s always this sense of “have” and “have not”, just because of the nature of what people do as part of their job. There’s a certain requirement and so they’re not going to have the same level of flexibility as others who work in the same organization. So how do you manage those expectations when it comes to differences within the organization? 


First of all, in corporate, there’s going to be people who have different jobs and that flexibility is granted to people differently. Let’s just get that out there, let’s recognize that there’s a difference between all of us.  

I had a discussion with a manager the other day, and he said, I want you to come out with a corporate standard. I said, oh really, why? And he said, because I don’t want to tell my people that they have to come in. I want you to say it, and I’m just going to say sorry, corporate says you have to come in. I said, wait a minute — what about all of the managers who don’t feel their people should be coming in? Are they now going to break the rules because they don’t want to force their people back? He said, well I guess I don’t want you to do that either.  

There’s a lot of relearning going on, on how to be a manager. One of the things we’re talking about with our hybrid program is that we need to come up with some new training programs on how to reconnect with your employees and how to have these hard discussions. How to be transparent with your communication. That’s the way you solve that problem, as far as I’m concerned. You’ve got your receptionist and cleaning people, they can’t do their job without coming in to the office. Hey, this is an office job, you want to wear a mask, go ahead. Our receptionist in Cambridge wears a mask at the front desk every day. That’s a personal choice and there’s hand sanitizer and everything else, and she’s perfectly happy and content to do that, and no one’s wigged out by it.  

But these are the kinds of discussions that managers have to have with their employees. Another one of my Danisms: that’s why you get paid the big bucks. You have to have these discussions and learn how to explain to people the goals of the organization and how we’re going to accomplish these goals. 

There’s no magic here, this is no different than any other business problem. It’s just a difficult thing for some people because they’ve never faced it, and they think there’s some magic in how to communicate it, but it’s nothing more than just being transparent and having a dialogue around it.  

I had a great boss here at Pega, and we were talking about hybrid versus remote and what that means, and he said, do you have hybrid workers or do you have remote workers? If you have hybrid workers, that means they’re going to be expected to come into the office at some frequency, two days, one day a month, I don’t know. But if they can’t get in because you said they’re hybrid and they work out in Connecticut and our office is Massachusetts — it’s highly unlikely that they’re even going to be in once a month. So, are they remote? And if they’re remote and the ten other people in their team are not, how do you expect it to work?  

These are the real questions, this is where the rubber meets the road. These are the hard things we have to solve for and have the answers ready. But we’ve got to go through some training sessions to get the consistent answer. Because it could be, “because I said so”. And for some employees, that will be acceptable, and for some, it won’t. And they’ll have to decide what they want to do in these instances.  


It’s interesting, I was thinking this morning about there maybe being a significant difference between companies who have locations in different parts of the country and companies who have people who all reside within a certain state or city, who have access to the office. So in that situation you have hybrid, depending on how you define hybrid — to me, hybrid is basically the collusion of the in-office and remote-office workers that are working together. They’re not necessarily all in the office at the same time, but there’s this constant change of who’s in, who’s out, who’s working remotely, who’s working in the office. 


And there’s a much more complicated piece of this. One of the biggest questions I consistently get, is how do I know when Sally’s going to be in the office, because Sally is the person I want face time with? And I ask, did you make a reservation? And they say no, because I don’t know when Sally’s going to be in. I said ok — let’s see the flip side here. If you don’t make a reservation, and Sally’s thinking that she only wants to be in when Jamie’s in, how is she going to know when Jamie’s going to be in the office? Everybody’s waiting for the other guy to move, and that’s never going to happen. That’s the single biggest challenge.  

We created a really usable reservation system, but nobody uses it because they don’t know if Sally’s going to be there and they don’t want to make a reservation and then not use it.  

It’s been really interesting. I don’t know what’s supposed to happen first anymore, like the chicken and the egg. I care about the people that want to come into the office and not be the only one there. They’re having that meeting in office but everyone else is remote. And everybody’s sort of like, look at Charlie, he came into the office and we’re all at home!  

Two of the things we’ve learned: one, if you’re a senior person, you’ve got to publish a calendar of when you’re going to be in the office, and you have to stick to that calendar. Or you have to give people advance notice of when something’s come up and you can’t be in. If you’re a senior manager and you’re telling people that you’re going to be in and then you don’t show, people will never come into the office. If the big guys are not going to be there, they’re not going to get face time, they’re not coming in.  

And I can show you very specific examples. We had a senior manager who said, I’m going to have my staff meeting and I’m going to be in the office. So, everyone said they’re coming. But the day before the meeting, messages came in, something came up, I’m not going to be there, I’m not coming. I’m not going in. I’m not. It was almost the exact same sequence of people who chimed in.   

There are very specific examples of people who want face time and productivity and time with senior people, to be able to have that mentoring opportunity or to impress them with their knowledge. Senior managers need to be aware that when they’re in the office, their time is going to be drawn by these people meetings, and they need to accommodate that. They need to walk around and talk to their people. Because that’s their time to break bread.  

I would tell any senior manager that any time they go into the office, if they don’t have a lunch schedule with somebody, it’s a lost opportunity to build some stickiness with key employees. Because they took the time to sit down and just get to know these people that they may not have had the chance to meet.  

Back to my meeting last week. The biggest thing I did was schedule a lot of senior managers to come through and talk about what they’re doing and have lunch with us. We learn more about what’s going on in the company in those hours, and what people are thinking about how work is going to happen, than we would in any of those meetings. Because there was a free flow of ideas. There was no agenda. If this had all been pre-planned, it wouldn’t have worked nearly as well as it did while we were just sort of sitting around. It makes a big difference.  


Interesting. I think the key, at least from where I’m standing, is accessibility. If you’re going to be in person, you need to be accessible. You shouldn’t be going in, if you’re a senior leader, and just sitting in your office.  

But I think it’s also about being accessible online. In my experience in particular, having worked in hybrid environments, working from home 100%, not having the luxury of going in to the office because the office is located somewhere else — when you’re managing a team like I do, you have virtual office hours where the team can ping you as needed so that you’re there and able to support them. Just the same as if they would walk up to your desk and your office and ask you a question.  

Some people see that as being disruptive. And it does sort of chip away at my productivity. But I think that’s really how you keep cohesiveness on your team, having that time that you’re accessible, that you’re available and there, in order to keep things moving forward.  


The other thing that we’ve lost the ability to do is, if a question pops into your head, rather than responding by email, just go to the person and ask it. If we were in office, did you just walk over to the person? Or did you send an email? We’ve lost the ability to have these water cooler moments. We’ve got to get back to that and do this stuff consciously. And you know, I’m not saying stop sending emails.  


It’s funny, if I think back way before the pandemic, I posted an article on LinkedIn about what I call “desk bombing”. I was like, what is this?! It was the fear of going up to someone’s desk and asking a question.  

It made me think about when I was at Nike back in the 90s, we used to actually have days of the week where we were not allowed to send emails because you were in the office. Everybody was, at the time. Instead of walking over to someone’s desk and having a water cooler moment, you relied very heavily on emails and just sent messages. You’re done and you throw the onus on whomever you’re sending that email to respond, rather than get up and go have a friendly conversation where you can learn something.  

So, I don’t know that what we’re experiencing is a result of the pandemic. I think that was always there. It’s a tool for communication and we lean very heavily on tools for communication. But there’s also a level of accountability and responsibility, where you send an email, and your job is done. You’ve asked the question, raised the concern, and now the onus shifts to someone else. 

The other piece of it too, is that by working remote, everything you do is documented. I think it really slants the comfort level people feel having a telephone conversation, because of the fact that those conversations are not documented like they are with email.  You can always pull up an email and say, we talked about this months ago. But you can’t do that when you’re having a face-to-face conversation, which is unfortunate, but it is the reality for a lot of people in workplaces right now.  

But by the same token, I always tell my people, go talk to him, and then send a follow up email. If you’ve sent an email more than twice, you’ve got to pick up the phone, because there’s a disconnect there somewhere.  


And I get it, there’s lots of introverted people that don’t want to do it. But in some instances, we’ve created something like a team room, where there were 8 to 10 engineers in a room. They asked for this, with their own AV and they had a central desk and they’d come together in a room, talking and working.  

When they’d get a wrong answer, one of the other engineers would send the other ones the answer, without taking his headphones off and entering the conversation. They would send a text message saying, no, this is the answer. So even though we created environments that are ideal for collaboration and communication, it may not necessarily get you what you think you’re getting.  

We created these team rooms for people to work together, but we absolutely decimated cross-team collaboration because they would close their door and only work on what they wanted to work on, rather than hearing what the other guys were feeling or thinking. Or how they were going to tie other teams into their decisions. It’s fascinating how you think you’re doing something fantastic, but it has an equally degrading impact on the organization.  


For sure.  

Let’s switch gears and talk a little bit about the data journey. Obviously being on the customer side, you’re seeing that there’s a requirement of understanding what’s happening in your organization. Tell us a little bit about the data and analytics journey, what is it like within your organization? 


I’m in real estate facilities, so I own it. You’ve got to understand a little bit about my personality — I’ve always told my staff, it’s not the first question you ask, it’s the second or third question that gets you the right answer. I am by nature a very inquisitive person. I don’t accept anything at face value. If you answer the question the same way three times, but it was asked three different ways, then I know that I’m getting what seems to be the truth. If you answer it differently, then you either don’t know the answer, or I’m missing something in the way you’re answering the question, and I have to probe that further.  

As far as the data journey is concerned, I’ve always had the mantra with my team that we will not create any more data until we have consumed everything that we already have. Let’s get the preliminary answers to what’s going on from the data that we already have so we can understand that. And once we understand that data, let’s ask more questions and see where the data is insufficient to answer those additional questions.  

We’ve gotten some fantastic data from our access cards in our offices, and we know how many people are coming in and that attendance is low. I don’t need any more data than what I get from the HR data that’s on those cards, because knowing that there’s 35% people in every one of our areas tells me that I still have way too much space.  

Now, once we start to look at what we want to do, and get management approval, we tighten things up either by closing floors or going to a hybrid work program and we’re going to push you up all these floors so you can collaborate with somebody else. Then we can look at additional data. We need to be able to understand how space is being utilize now, where we’re having significant challenges, and it’s really going to come down to the complexity of the data.  

What we’re getting from our Webex unit from Cisco has the ability to identify individual faces in the rooms, and it keeps track of how many faces it recognizes. Now, when I say recognize — it doesn’t know your face. We don’t use facial recognition to know that Sandra is in the room. We don’t get down to that level. We just know there’s a person in there, and not a goat, right? 

We’re trying to understand that data and tie it to the Microsoft Office reservation system because again, we’re a global company, and if someone sends out an invitation for 12 people, there might be only one person in a 12-person conference room.  

We want to start to understand, on average, if I send out an invitation to 12 people, how many attend? And how often does Sally send out invitations to 12 people and no one attends? She has that one big conference room every Tuesday morning at 7:00 for the team meeting. Why aren’t we raising our hands and saying hey, why are you using that big room? Maybe we should just create 3-4 person rooms because that’s the demand? This is where the data is getting really complicated, and we need data scientists to be able to help us understand that and be able to put it into a dashboard that other people can make sense.

The other thing we’re trying to figure out with Webex is how accurate it is. If it’s using facial recognition software, what happens if my face is hidden behind you and the camera can’t see it? Are we counted as one or counted as two people? We’re also trying to figure out a way we can put a couple of sensors in some of our rooms and match the sensor data to the Webex data so we can have an understanding of what the data loss picture is. Can we rely on Webex, or do we need to go out and get an additional source that’s more accurate, that will give us a better picture of how that room is being utilized? We’re trying to validate the Webex information.  


I think it’s really cool that you’re using existing technology, because there’s certainly a tonne of data that already exists within organizations. While that data wasn’t intended to be used the way you’re using it, it definitely is a sneak peek, if you will, of what’s actually occurring, and can raise questions around what we need to explore more.  


The other thing I want to talk about is, I’m sure a lot of people that are listening to this are thinking, he must have an army of people to put this together. The woman that helped me put this together was a receptionist in Krakow, Poland, and I found her on one of my trips to Poland. She had just joined my team, and I take the time to meet all my new employees around the world. It’s that breaking bread thing, right? So, we started talking, and she has a degree in hotel travel tourism and was working at a hotel before she came here. I said OK, what else do you know? And she said, well that’s my second degree. My first degree is in math. I said, you’re kidding! She said no, I love math.   

Had I not had that discussion, had I not reached out to really understand what she needed as an employee, had I not sat down with her and said, what do you want to do? What is it you really like? I wouldn’t have had a dashboard that I could put up against any other company that shows our utilization by department, by day. Had I not found this woman and sat down and had a cup of coffee with her while I was in Poland.  

There are people in your organization that are going to be your Agnieszka. Find them and you’ll be able to do it with your existing staff as long as you have a licence to Power BI, as long as you challenge them and reward them handsomely. The amount of money she was making as a Power BI analyst versus as a receptionist was night and day, and that’s the win-win story right there.  She’s had a fantastic career, and challenged me as a leader. I don’t know Power BI from a hole in the wall. It’s just not something I ever had the time to dig into, but she took right to it.  

And I can’t tell you the number of executives I’ve shown this dashboard to, and they ask, who did this for you? I say, it was our receptionist in Poland, and they’re shocked.  

She’s helped with other technology rollouts and things like that, too. But you’ll be surprised, there’s a diamond in the rough somewhere in your organization too that can help you pull off the beginnings of this. Maybe not the finish, but enough people to go “wow” and give you the ability to take things further.  

If you don’t want to own your data, if you want to just go to the IT guys and say hey, I want a dashboard on these cards, you’re just going to get a dashboard on these cards. You’ve got to partner with the person that’s building the dashboards, so they get an understanding of what the data represents and what you need to be able to show, and let them run with it. Agnieszka kept coming up with new ideas — how about if we slice it this way, why don’t we see what we can do here? It was just magnificent.  


I know from our perspective, we’ve had several conversations with companies who have their own internal business intelligence teams, so they’re either using Power BI or Tableau or whatever tool, but that team usually resides either as an independent team that powers the whole organization, or it’s within it.  

The problem was always the disconnect between the subject matter expert that’s in corporate real estate to be able to interpret the data that comes out of it. I think a lot of companies just say, it’s data, it’s out of my realm. That’s an IT thing, so let them do it. But as you said, yes, they can do it, but you’re going to want to interpret it. Maybe you could partner with that internal BI team to guide in terms of what you’re looking for. The beginnings of your analytics are going to take a completely different path than if you just let them run with it completely. I agree with you in that regard.  


The other thing I’ve always said is, if you’re a large organization working with a third-party provider that’s worked with a lot of different organizations, that’s the way to do it. You’re taking all of that knowledge that’s been built working for other companies and applying it to your own problem. That’s the one thing that gets lost so much — bespoke solutions. Yes, anybody can do it, but not everybody can interpret it. 


I think the other important piece is that when you go to a third party for analytics, you have access to data from other customers, so from a benchmarking perspective you’re doing your own analytics. You can look at it and say, this is how we’re performing, how our offices are performing, which I think is priority number one.  

I mean, benchmarking serves a purpose, but ultimately you shouldn’t just be using benchmarking to guide your policies or your direction as it relates to hybrid. It should be about your organization and your people. The behaviours and things that are unique to your organization should form the basis of where you are.  

But it’s about taking a step back and thinking about how corporate real estate tends to think about space and predictability and all of these things, which are not as strong as they used to be, because we just don’t have the data history like we used to. When you start to look across the board, even if you’re just looking at the last 3 months or 6 months of data as people start to come back to the office, and you compare your organization, you can ask, are we further along in terms of return to the office, or are we different in that we figured out how to be a remote or remote-first organization.

As an independent, if you’re doing your own thing, you won’t necessarily get the value of seeing how your data compares to others in the industry. There isn’t really a source yet, though there will be one coming soon, that gives you the ability to compare how the different industries are looking with return to work, and more importantly, what’s changed.  

For example, in our data, we have a benchmarking report that’s actually coming out in the next couple of weeks, where we do a cross-section of industry and look at what has changed in terms of workplace or workspace preferences.  

So, for example, 35% are coming into the office. That’s a pretty standard benchmark, we know that’s true as we slice and dice the data. But let’s go next level. What does that actually mean when we start to think about the office? Because you can probably reduce your real estate footprint by about 40, 50% and keep that extra 20% for the unknown.  

Then as part of your second pass, when you get more into the details, you can figure out how to better reconfigure space to better suit the requirements of your people, and you’ll realize you either need that extra 20% you’ve maintained, or maybe you can do an additional cut. But you’ll be able to understand when people are coming in, are they working at their desk, using their offices? Are you seeing growth in open collaboration vs closed meeting spaces? The data starts to surface when you look at space at that level of detail.  

I agree with what you said earlier, where at a first pass, all you really need is badging data. The badging data will tell you how many people are coming in, and so if you’ve got millions of square feet of space and only 35% are coming in consistently on a daily basis, it doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that there’s a tonne of extra space.  

It’s when you get into the next level of cutting space, and making decisions as part of that process, we also want to take a look at what has actually changed in terms of peoples’ preferences when they come into the office. Because that determines the purpose. Are people coming in to collaborate as a team? Maybe they don’t come in every day or every week, but when they do, what are the types of spaces they need? 


I completely agree. A couple things popped into my mind — there is point-in-time data that’s important, and there’s trending data. I’m a big advocate for trending data. It drives my staff crazy. Don’t tell me what happened yesterday, tell me what happened over the last 4 weeks. Let’s go in and look at the trend for the last 4 weeks and see what’s causing it to trend that way. Is it an every day of the week rising, or are there 3 days that happened over the last 4 weeks that caused the trend to go up? And then let’s drill down and look at those days and see what happened.  

It’s a matter of going into both Microsoft Office and going into Webex to see if you can determine what happened. Or is it just that there was a Senior Vice President in that day, and everybody just sort of followed in? It’s not just relying on trends, but understanding why a trend is a trend. That’s part of it. That’s number one.  

And then can you correlate your survey information? Why are you coming in, vs peoples’ actual actions in the trending data? So, if your survey information is saying that everyone wants to come in and collaborate, but the conference rooms aren’t being utilized, that’s not why they’re coming in. You need to find somebody who can give you that kind of insight, because that’s what senior managers are going to be asking you for, as you start to understand what’s going on.  

And you know, the conference room stuff is an absolute bear to get your arms around, because there’s so many different pieces to it.  


For sure. You mentioned senior management and what they’re looking for — based on your experience and the findings you’re servicing within your organization, how is your management team responding to the findings so far? 


That depends on who you talk to. Most of them have come around to understanding that employees want to have flexibility in their work life. Some of them continue to cling to that desire to have everybody back in the office 5 days a week. But they recognize that’s not going to happen again.  

This is challenging people in ways they’ve never been challenged before. And it’s about finding that needle in the haystack, the magic. What’s going to work for everybody and satisfy the people that want to be back in the office, and satisfy the people that don’t want to be back in the office? We haven’t quite figured that out yet.  

We’re building a new office in the Boston area. We’ve done some pretty cool stuff. We reduced the total square footage because we didn’t think people were going to be back in to the extent they were prior to the pandemic. And we’ll find out, did I undershoot or overshoot? I don’t know yet. We hope that the way we design will draw people in.  

But it’s going to come down to, do we continue to hire people close to this office or not? There are a lot of trends here that are telling us we’re going to have an economic downturn. It’s interesting, similar to the pandemic, the question was “is the office dead or not?”, and all of our real estate providers were planting all of these stories about how everybody would be back in the office in two months, and we were going to be back to normal. And that didn’t happen.  

The biggest thing I read now is, will there be an economic downturn for us? I’m not convinced that it’s going to happen. Ultimately, no one knows, and there’s no crystal ball. It is really going to come down to what leadership does to motivate people to collaborate in person when it’s truly needed, and to do heads down work in a space that works for them.  

And trust. This all comes down to trust, and transparent communication. This is about setting goals and measuring productivity in reaching those goals. Beyond that — it used to be, you were in the office, and you could have sort of kept your head down. Those days are over, and it’s going to be interesting to see how the next generation responds to that. Are they going to be able to have transparent communication with their employees about their productivity and what they’ve done? Because being in the office is not going to be a cover for people anymore. And “what have you done for me today?” is going to become more important than it ever was, as far as how people are perceived as being productive.  

And have we put in place these measurements? I’m not so sure that there’s many companies that have taken the past 2.5 years to put in measurements that will determine whether or not hybrid actually works for them.  

Somebody told me a story the other day. They said this last year has been the slowest period ever for patent attorneys. Now I’d love to know if someone is listening to this and can send an email to tell me whether it’s true or not. I would love to know if this is true or if it’s just another effort to get people back into the office because they’re not being as creative, or they’re working on them away from the attorneys, so they don’t see it as a patentable thing. But I would love to know whether work for patent attorneys is really slow right now, because that would be an interesting piece. I’ve not found anything that documents it though, but if that’s true, I would expect to see something documented. But maybe patent attorneys don’t want people to know they’re not busy! 


That’s really interesting! 


But it would certainly be an indication of, do we have the same collaboration that we had before? Are we being creative, or are we just spinning our wheels, not doing what we need to do today, not thinking about what needs to be done for tomorrow, because we’re not sitting in a room together thinking about tomorrow. All we’re trying to solve for is today. But I would love to know if that’s really the case. Because that would be one argument, if you were the president of a technology company.  

I don’t want anybody to misinterpret this. This is not a statement that people are not working hard, because I believe that’s the case. The question is, are they working on what needs to be done today, spinning their wheels, just trying to stay in communication with each other, or are they thinking about new features and new technology that’s going to be needed to solve tomorrow’s problems?  


That’s a great point, I’ve never really thought about that. I can see that when you’re just doing your day-to-day, you’re more focused on the tactical and getting stuff done. It’s more when you’re together that you start thinking about the future and the direction you want to take it.  


You miss something. You miss a-ha moments. And because we’re doing that heads-down work. We can’t turn to the side and say hey, what do you think? We just do it our way as opposed to what might be the best way, when you have a number of minds working on it. Really interesting when you think of it from that point of view.  


Absolutely. Dan, thank you for your time today. I love your passion, this has been probably the most fun conversation I’ve had in a while. So, thank you again.  


I love it, it’s a fascinating topic. As I say to people, I’ve been doing this for more than 25 years, but I feel like I’m a college kid that’s just graduated and has absolutely no idea what I’m doing. I know a lot of things about real estate and facilities, but it comes down to the fact that we’re all in this together. And this is the single biggest time of change in our industry, ever. And data is an important part of trying to figure it out.  

So, thank you, I really enjoyed this dialogue. There wasn’t a quiet moment!  


Not at all! 


Have a great day.  


Likewise, bye!  

About the Author

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.