The nature of workplace design and strategy has changed completely, from a focus on real estate to people. Executives are realizing that workplaces foster strong culture, and can enable employees, for increased productivity.
Lisa Fulford-Roy, CBRE’s Managing Director of Workplace Strategy, has seen this shift in organizations over her 20 years of experience in workplace strategy and design. Lisa engages and collaborates with clients to develop innovative, business-aligned workplace strategies and portfolio solutions. We had the chance to sit down with her and discuss the future of workplace strategy.
Workplace Strategy at the Forefront of Business Strategy
Aligning workplace strategy to the business strategy allows us to align on culture, brand and look at what type of behaviours and what type of collaboration is really going to support the business. – Lisa Fulford-Roy
Cost management has historically driven workplace design and strategy. That is now shifting, as companies are realizing the value of better workspaces in engaging their employees. While costs will always be a factor, the shift to a people-centric workplace has allowed organizations to invest in their greatest assets – their teams. As Lisa points out, “People are now at the centre of the conversation.”
More than ever before, workplace strategy is top of mind for senior executives and the C-suite. Leaders are really looking to understand how to engage their workforce in a more collaborative productive and enabled workplace to achieve stronger business results.
Creating New Ways to Connect
An effective workplace strategy helps to improve how employees connect with each other. This helps create more opportunities for collision and collaboration, and opens up lines of communications that were traditionally more structured and unavailable. CBRE is currently transforming its Canadian office portfolio, with its Canadian Headquarters due to open shortly, and Lisa speaks to the implications of designing for enhanced connectivity and how this opens up access to senior leadership:
We’re not just connecting colleagues; we’re connecting leadership differently. When we start to create choices in settings, not only are staff employees moving around. Leadership is also moving around. There is an increased visibility to leadership and access to leadership. This is especially important for our Millennial employees, who want to be heard. There are more opportunities to overhear conversations and have casual interactions with different leadership members to create a different social connection for employees. Informal passive mentoring starts to happen in an open environment where different colleagues are connecting
Empowerment Through Choice
In addition to enhanced connection, employees are also expecting more choice at work. They’re afforded the luxury of choice in all other aspects of life. Fulford-Roy explains that, “In our personal lives, we are able to tailor how we view media, what device we want to view media on, we can customize playlists, we can customize viewing times. The whole notion of being empowered and being able to tailor our lives, hasn’t existed in the work environment before.”
Lisa notes that this is changing though, “Now with the technology that is available, and designing a workplace that has multiple settings, you can actually empower people to tailor where and when they work, to do their best work.”
CBRE is rolling out increased choice in the workplace to empower employees at their offices across Canada. They include 6 different types of locations within their offices, including telephone and focus rooms, open touch down areas, huddle rooms and a café, allowing employees to choose the best place and environment for them to work.
These changes also bring with them the need to future proof the workplace. Lisa provides insight into how different cycles between leasing, furniture and technology must be managed.
Future proofing involves designing for as much flexibility as possible. The workplace strategy that needs to work for day of occupancy, but can also transform organically, with very little cost to the organization. Cycle of changes used to be 7 or 8 years. Now with technology, the pace of change is a 3 year cycle, yet leases are a 5 year cycle. We now need to plan for 2 or 3 changes within each lease term.
Managing all these different cycles are a challenge but Fulford-Roy highlights two ways that workplace strategy is addressing this. “Items that have 2 or 3 potential uses are something that we need to think about when developing a workplace strategy. Workplace Strategy also now involves looking at the investment in technology – we create a flexible backbone within a workplace setting so that technology can change over time, without impacting the physical space.”
It’s impossible to talk about the future of the workplace without realizing how rapidly change is occurring. Future proofing and a rapid rate of change require a carefully coordinated approach.
“Workplace strategy will only be successful when the technology solution, the talent solution, and the real estate solution are completely aligned with the priorities, objectives and goals of the business. Connecting all these is the critical success factor of any workplace strategy” says Fulford Roy.
Executives must understand how enabling employees can benefit their overall business. It’s a learning curve but if they can fully embrace the culture they envision, the potential for success skyrockets.
Educating employees is the other factor for success, Lisa notes that “Change management helps them understand why the change is happening, what the benefits can be for them and how working differently can be a better experience than where they are working today.”
To Fulford-Roy, the focus on people in the workplace is thrilling and has always been central to how she has viewed the workplace. She concludes, “The workplace should be an environment that is highly engaging, seamless and intuitive and removes barriers to success for employees. At the end of the day, the business benefits because they have happy people who enjoy coming to work and have the tools to do their work extremely well.”