I want to focus on the big theme for occupiers this year. It centres on people and their impact on business productivity and performance.
As part of this focus, we’re seeing our members increasingly appreciate the role that property plays and proactively seek to harness its potential to achieve their goals.
Many of you will have seen the myriad reports about staff happiness and productivity, which led to the publication of a report in October last year by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The first of its kind, it reaffirmed the link between job satisfaction and workplace performance.
You may have also seen the recently launched CBRE European Occupier Survey, which showed people-related objectives are creeping to the top of the priority list, above reducing costs. It found 67% of workplace strategies are driven by talent attraction and retention, with 43% by cost savings. And where cost is the driver, it is mostly based on initiatives that will optimise the quality and efficiency of existing space — so again, property can have a positive impact, creating the work environments that will deliver efficiencies and, at the same time, great places for staff.
Alongside attracting and retaining the best talent, productivity is a related topic that comes up time and again at our Knowledge Exchange Events, especially in terms of how to assess and improve it. The challenge is that current methods are not very scientific, so our industry waits with bated breath for the moment when somebody comes up with a formula that accurately measures the impact of the workplace on people’s performance.
In the meantime, businesses the world over are investing significant time, money and effort in change initiatives to help influence their staff productivity as well as improve their customer service and overall business performance. They want to be lean high-performing businesses.
So how will occupiers achieve their people, performance and productivity objectives? Through the workplace itself, as well as through processes, management and operations. “With property decisions and people aims becoming increasingly aligned, workplace and wellness are high on the agenda and will become the norm,” CBRE states.
The occupier property challenge is establishing whether and what to change and then, importantly, how to implement that change. Too often we hear of organisations investing too little and then lamenting the lack of progress. The value and benefits over the short-, medium- and long-term need to be evaluated against the cost, rather than letting only the latter be the deciding factor.
Another interesting finding by CBRE was that flexible working has not been as widely adopted as previously thought. This may relate to occupiers being unsure how to create the ‘workplace experience’ they’re striving so hard to create in a remote environment. The CBRE report suggests occupiers’ emphasis is on being able to accommodate working remotely “rather than enforcing it as a policy”. Flexible working within the office space has been widely implemented however, with hot-desking, desk sharing and flexi-hours common. This all echoes what our occupier members are telling us about the challenges they face.
So what does all this mean for us real estate professionals? We need to change our emphasis in line with our employers and clients and deliver advice and value add solutions based on what’s important to occupiers. There will, of course, be differences between sectors, but fundamentally it’s about clearly demonstrating the benefits our solutions will deliver to the business — and its people.
We need to engage with HR particularly, but also finance and IT colleagues within organisations to encourage a joined-up approach. Investment needs to be based on value, benefits and outputs. To make our case, we can point to research like the CBRE Occupier Survey and others such as the World Green Building Council study, which showed there is a measurable connection between the sustainable design of the work environment and the productivity of its occupants.
Performance and productivity are the themes of our One Big Day Conference on 5 March 2015, where we’ll be exploring how real estate can support these business critical areas. We hope to see many of you there so we can create some joined-up solutions together.
Neil Austin is former president of CoreNet Global UK Chapter, CoreNet Global board member, head of corporate services America, and head of asset management at the Royal Bank of Scotland