Empty Spaces, Blank Faces

Publish date28 September 2023
Estimated reading time 5 minutes

The urgency of work and how to fix it

By Kevin Schlueter & Curtis Knapp

Waste, risk and urgency

The events of recent years have made it clear: corporate real estate is now a high-risk asset for every organization. What was once an essential investment in ‘place’ – where we could put our things, collaborate, and be seen by managers who evaluated our work habits – is now empty and changing. If these spaces are no longer aligned to your business strategy, they are actually working against you. In maintaining them, you are bleeding capital that should be invested in adapting and building your people, processes, and places. The evolution of work, accelerated and brought into focus by COVID-19, and accelerated by hybrid working has far outpaced the agility of most corporate work environments and their associated support systems. Your focus has likely been on workplace efficiency. It should have included workforce effectiveness.

Certainly, real estate is a primary inhibitor to your future success as it ties up resources that could be invested more productively in corporate agility, talent development, and innovative new work practices. One thing is certain: your organization cannot take advantage of opportunities when it is weighed down by costly assets that not only fail to contribute productively to the bottom line, but also erode your working capital daily with no immediate end-date in sight. Short-term corrective actions may help cash-flow, but they do not resolve the significant gap between real estate industry products and terms and the ability to accommodate the speed of change within businesses, led by the evolution of work.

Collaboration and focus

The critical need to integrate workforce and workplace is not new. The idea that workforce and workplace elevate (or detract from) each other and contribute to winning (or losing) is well documented. What is new, however, is that workers think globally. They have now experienced greater mobility, a wider variety of work environments, and increased remote work. As such, your risks increase exponentially because of the ongoing war for the best talent.

Workplaces that no longer contribute to the attraction, performance, and development of talent are a ‘no value’ asset. You must now think about workplace beyond the traditional office to encompass any context where work can be done. Even worse, poor work environments create a work culture that embraces bad habits. Teams become unproductive, disengaged, and fail to identify ways to innovate or improve. For example, the Monday morning staff meeting moved from the conference room to a video conference. Did anyone ask, “How can we accomplish staff meeting tasks more effectively?” This nuance, a focus on employee effectiveness first, is key. People and real estate are critically linked. Each must inform the other.

Getting the highest value from your knowledge workers requires a fast, evidence-based model that creates a customized mix of people, processes, and place aligned to your strategy and value proposition. The realization of your potential requires effective collaboration among your operational teams, which underscores the importance of effective leadership skills to deliver value. In the context of human performance and workplace, your business leaders in human resources, IT, finance, and real estate are obligated to collaborate and transform your organization to meet the needs of 2023 and beyond.

If you have not already seen strategic collaboration happening among these leaders, it is a red flag.

Connecting workforce and workplace – The work information model

While the risks inherent to under-performing assets, people and place, are high, the program to guide their re-positioning is remarkably easy, inexpensive, and valuable — yielding previously unforeseen opportunity in its process. Workplaces, aligned with corporate purpose, can facilitate transformation derived from your organization’s DNA to cultivate increased agility and capitalize on the future of work. At the heart of ‘work’ lie your organization’s unique demographics, behaviors, networks, cultures, and characteristics that create value.

Said simply, knowing how work happens today, and seeing how it will happen in the future, is key to unlocking a workforce’s potential. Providing work environments that anticipate this potential makes real estate an asset with value because it influences and accelerates performance and profit. Armed with an empirical understanding of organizational DNA, leaders have control previously unavailable. It enables a real estate team to accurately predict and validate capital expenses based upon science and company’s data – not trends, case studies, and your competitors’ last project.

No organization can afford unproductive assets, whether it is people or real estate – and both are critically linked. Informed by data from your own employees, the Work Information Model allows you to foresee necessary changes and provides rationale for action with an explicit ROI for the capital required to make these changes.

Clear metrics are reconciled to financial performance, and, finally, the workplace can be quantified by the engine of the organization, its work. Additionally, attributes needed to compete, and win are identified: connection, communication, transparency, and engagement. Organizational silos are exposed, and, when removed, the true value of corporate agility is achieved. Your people are the company’s intellectual and emotional heartbeat. Like looking in a mirror, seeing ourselves at work reveals levels of organizational health and capability.

It shows you where and how to invest in people, processes, and place for continuous improvement.

How to win – agility and savings

The Work Information Model shows how to identify and eliminate financial waste due to misalignment. The tool’s outputs will shape your operational plans and budgets for the years ahead. It creates a connection between the work of your organization and the investments, objectives, and purpose that drive it.

The Work Information Model provides real estate, HR, IT, and finance leaders with a clear line of sight between the outputs of your teams’ work and the metrics that quantify the value of human performance in the workplace. If you have heard, “We can’t afford that,” and “Budgets will be slashed,” beware. It is a flaming red beacon built on increasingly outdated information, practices, and real estate solutions that are stripping your organization of its value. Paramount to future prosperity is the optimal combination of your people, processes, and place.

The Work Information Model screens and justifies the use of capital for assets that create value and enable growth.


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