CRE Leaders: From The Back Office To The Front Pages

Long underserved by the technology sector and sometimes sidelined by corporate leadership, Corporate Real Estate (CRE) leaders have now been thrust into the spotlight, moved into a role that connects office reopening decisions to employee satisfaction and long-term success.

The role of the CRE Management team is evolving – and fast.

At a recent Armored Things-sponsored Fireside Chat, CRE veteran and Armored Things advisor Robert Teed talked with Madhu Chamarty about what he’s seeing on the front lines. CRE leaders have gone “from the back office to the front pages,” according to Teed, and are faced with constant offerings from technology vendors who want to reshape the reopening process. It can be hard to sort out which ones are a good match for the long run.



NEW CORPORATE REAL ESTATE STRATEGY 


In the last two years, CRE leaders have risen to the occasion – and are more strategic when it comes to workforce planning. “We’re seeing organizations embrace a more continuous approach versus a point-in-time approach to revisiting their real estate portfolio – and revisiting their headcount needs,” Madhu explained.


“We’re seeing organizations embrace a more continuous approach versus a point-in-time approach to revisiting their real estate portfolio – and revisiting their headcount needs.”

MADHU CHAMARTY, CEO AND FOUNDER OF BEYONDHQ


To get smarter with the ways organizations are using their spaces, CRE teams are creating strengthening alignments with HR teams. Strategic CRE leaders have a continuous pulse on talent trends across the country, not only for the purposes of space planning but for new opportunities to create opportunities to attract a wider and more diverse talent pool. 


WHERE TO START: SO MANY CRE TECH CHOICES


The pandemic has created what Teed called “a gold rush effect”  for the world of workplace technology. That is, workplace reopening technologies are increasing in numbers and types.

“We went from this kind of dearth of technology to this overabundance,” Teed said.



At the start of the pandemic, it was critical to make smart software product choices to allow for cross-functional collaboration which is essential for a distributed workforce. But as employees trickle back into offices, space planning technologies that track occupancy are top of mind as CRE leaders look to design flexible, dynamic spaces.


FLEXIBILITY MEANS MANY THINGS


As many CRE leaders strategize for spring and summer return-to-office plans, there’s a new vocabulary needed. An obvious start is ‘return-to-office’ rather than “return to work” – a nod to the fact that employees have been hard at work at home – sometimes working even longer hours with now boundaries between home and office.

Many corporations have been throwing around the words “remote” and “hybrid” – even using them interchangeably, said Teed. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to decipher what the idea of flexibility means anymore -and the truth is – it can mean something different for every company.

According to Chamarty, how an organization defines flexibility is dependent on two things: the  size of the company and its overall objective.

“Flexibility means how we enable some level of working from home. But also how do we make the workplace safer, more productive, and more conducive to things that you cannot do at home,” Madhu said.


“Flexibility means how do we enable some level of working from home. But also how do we make the workplace safer, more productive, and more conducive to things that you cannot do at home.”

MADHU CHAMARTY, CEO AND FOUNDER OF BEYONDHQ

For now, Teed encouraged CRE leaders to take time to explore their own space needs in a way that makes the most of the spaces CRE leaders manage – knowing the pressure is on CRE leaders to rely on hard data when renewing leases and spaces.

To watch Teed’s and Chamarty’s full conversation, click here

Here’s where you can learn more about how utilization software can help corporate real estate leaders reshape their offices.

Alex Trotto contributes to the Blog and Social Media channels for Armored Things. She is currently a Northeastern University student in her sophomore year.

6 Things Facilities Directors Will Tackle In 2022

Directors of facilities are no strangers to the many struggles and responsibilities that come with their job titles, but the pandemic has introduced entirely new challenges. Already a member of upper management, their strategic outlook is now vital to successful return-to-office strategies. 

On top of their pre-pandemic responsibilities, facility professionals have to figure out how to create a safe and collaborative work environment, one that encourages employees to return to the office. It can be hard to limit a Facilities Director to-do list to just a few, but here’s our take on the top 6. 


1. SUSTAINABILITY – HIGH-PERFORMANCE BUILDINGS AND ESG


Sustainability isn’t anything new for facilities directors, who are trained to think about everything from eco-friendly supplies to whether to expand corporate footprints.  A lot of that falls into the ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) bucket, and the pandemic highlighted the importance of measuring environmental impact at every turn. High-performance buildings are often talked about in terms of energy and water efficiency, high-quality indoor environments, and conservative resource use. Some estimates say sustainability efforts can improve operating profits by up to 60%. And a focus on sustainability is appealing when it comes to softer ROI numbers since consumers and potential employees often prioritize sustainability, and want to buy from and work for companies that do as well. 


2. MANAGING HOT DESKS – FIRST COME, FIRST SERVE  


Hot desking has gained traction throughout the pandemic as a way for employers to reopen with less corporate space, or in newer spaces.  Although offices are beginning to fully reopen, hybrid office schedules – with employees in the office 2-3 days a week – are increasingly popular. So how are facility directors expected to support and navigate this new way of working? 

Many facilities directors utilize schedulers to allow employees to reserve desks ahead of time on a first-come, first-serve basis, and hot-desking and hoteling software is on the rise. But both of these rely on employees and collaborative teams utilizing their reserved spaces – that is, following through on their vision to bring teams in on certain days. The challenge lies in invalidating those occupancy requests and determining the number of desks and spaces needed over time. 


3. SMART PEOPLE COUNTING – OCCUPANCY ANALYTICS HERE TO STAY 


The post-pandemic hybrid work model has transformed how offices function. Facilities directors need a better understanding of which spaces are actually occupied and how to create a work environment that provides employees a sense of belonging and ownership. Creating occupancy reports using space utilization software is one way to do this. Occupancy analytics can help these directors determine employee density in existing spaces and decide whether office spaces are underutilized or not. These analytics can also integrate with other scheduling and collaboration tools to aid with any other space-related decisions. 


4. DEEP CLEANING –  SANITIZING THE NEW WORKPLACE


The pandemic has completely altered the way that people think about their office cleaning crews.  Facilities managers have to prioritize more thorough and oftentimes more frequent cleaning crews. The ability to communicate to workers that office spaces are professionally cleaned on a regular schedule is crucial if facility directors want to be able to persuade employees to come back to work. Most employees will be expecting to see communications around cleaning vs disinfecting and will want to know when a space was last cleaned. This can help with return-to-office choices, and help employees feel safer. 


5. DEFERRED MAINTENANCE –  COSTLY AND PROBLEMATIC


Those of us who aren’t managing facilities don’t always fully understand how much goes into properly maintaining an office building, including how much budget needs to be assigned. These misconceptions can lead to maintenance repairs being deferred. 

Deferring maintenance changes the process from a proactive one to a reactive one. Reactive maintenance means the asset itself picking the time when it needs emergency service or total replacement. This can cause disruptions during peak occupancy hours or even a complete shutdown of the facility. Studies have shown that on average, for every dollar “saved” by deferring proper maintenance, there can be a four-dollar increase in future repair costs.  Today many facilities departments are at risk for deferred maintenance due to indecision about how and whether companies are reopening.


6. FLEX SPACES – TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK


Offices have been left with a lot of underutilized space and less than enthusiastic employees due to the hybrid work model, so facilities directors must get creative in order to solve both issues. One way to do this is by designing flex spaces. 

Flex spaces involve creating spaces that are multi-purpose. Many businesses are replacing desks with couches and televisions in conference rooms to create more welcoming and inspiring spaces. This can help facility directors redesign the office to become a more efficient and collaborative space, subsequently boosting employee morale. Instead of separating different teams on various floors, creating flex spaces can unite teams and allow them to work more collaboratively in the office. 

In redesigning the new office space, the goal for employers is to create flexibility without adding any unnecessary space. Flex spaces are able to foster collaboration between teams while also utilizing rooms that would otherwise be left unoccupied. 

To learn more about how Armored Things is helping CRE leaders make the most of their spaces, check out our CRE Guide or reach out directly to sales@armoredthings.com for a quick demo.

Alex Trotto contributes to the Blog and Social Media channels for Armored Things. She is currently a Northeastern University student in her sophomore year.

Return To Office Means Rethinking Space Management

Corporations are facing the twofold challenge of having to reshape both physical offices and employee attitudes as they work to design return-to-office plans and satisfy a reluctant workforce. The challenge for the CRE industry is real – how to design for flexibility without adding more premium space that may sit unused most of the time.

In most office buildings, predicting occupancy is still an enormous obstacle. At the close of last year, 73% of full-time U.S. workers were going into the office at least once a week. This means a vast mix of employees are working remotely and in the office. And the Great Resignation – a phenomenon that describes record numbers of people leaving their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic – means HR and executive leadership teams are working overtime to bridge the gap between employee satisfaction and a return-to-office norm. 


TOUGH CHOICES ON EXISTING LEASES


Accenture’s Market Leader Gabe Burke highlighted the need for corporate real estate restructuring in a recent LinkedIn article. “It is clear that if those in the C-suite knew then what they know now, they would have immediately begun to reduce their real estate assets,” Burke writes, in a post titled Corporate real estate has become a black hole that devours money. Time to fix it.  

Now corporations need to reduce their office space or restructure it to accommodate a workforce that many predict will not return to a 5-day office presence soon or ever. Most workplace strategy experts agree that office design should change, which further decreases the value of holding empty space,” writes Burke.

Underutilization has always been a costly issue in corporate real estate.  According to JLL research, nearly 40% of workspaces in CRE portfolios are underutilized in a typical workday in the U.S.  That statistic was quoted prior to the pandemic, and it’s one that strategic planners and facility managers know can be hard to budge.


DESKS OUT, COUCHES IN


But cutting backspace can mean less inviting spaces and be caught off guard later.  In the first-quarter AICPA Economic Outlook Survey, 72% of business executives said that their organizations have no interest in shrinking their office footprint because they don’t want to risk needing that vacant space down the road.

Many corporations are already getting creative, turning unused conference rooms into new common areas for employees, for example. Brent Hyder, President and Chief People Officer of Salesforce, told The Wall Street Journal in an article discussing corporations’ plans to renovate office spaces titled After Covid Closures, a New Quest to Make Offices Less Awful that Salesforce is clearing desks from vacant conference rooms and replacing them with couches and televisions to create spaces for teams to collaborate.

“We’re creating spaces so that, when our teams come together, they have a place that’s inspiring to them,” Hyder told the Journal.


OCCUPANCY ANALYTICS FOR SPACE MANAGEMENT


To better understand which spaces are actually being used and to deliver the work environments that provide employees a sense of belonging and ownership, many corporate leaders are searching for ways to create occupancy reports, see predictive analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI).

Space analytics software from Armored Things leverages existing WiFi, cameras, badge systems, sensors – any available data sources – to manage and monitor occupancy. When using Armored Things software, operations teams can visualize their space in a format that can be easily understood, and apply historical overlays to see predictive use cases. This type of machine learning or occupancy analytics is helping CRE customers find more value in existing spaces. Workspace analytics can also integrate with other scheduling and collaboration tools to help validate space decisions.

To learn more about how Armored Things is helping CRE leaders make the most of their spaces, check out our CRE Guide or reach out directly to sales@armoredthings.com for a quick demo.