6 things real estate leaders can do to fuel a better world of work
Our CRE edition of the New World of Work video series debuted with a conversation with Lorri Rowlandson, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Innovation at BGIS.
We talk about big CRE changes and innovations, what the biggest misconceptions are in the industry, and what CRE professionals should start (and stop) doing as we build the future of work together.
Plus, as an expert on big transformations and roadmaps, Lorri makes predictions for what’s to come in the space.
Tune in to our full chat below.
Welcome, Lorri. To start us off, could you give us a little bit of background about you and about your role at BGIS?
Lorri: My title is Senior Vice President of Strategy and Innovation, which is really just a fancy way of saying that our CEO uses me to get involved with big transformations and thought leadership. I'm like an advisor for our clients and our company, like an innovation coach, and I assist our clients with big transformations or roadmaps towards progress.
Wonderful. So let’s jump right in with a really important question. As we close out this particularly challenging year, what are some of your main takeaways from the CRE perspective related to this changing world of work?
Lorri: I think what's really interesting about 2020, and the eight months or so that we've experienced COVID-19 during 2020, is that it's been a catalyst for so much change. It probably has caused more change than any CIO or CTO has ever done.
It's really forced us to evolve very quickly in a short period of time. Normally, we would make the changes that we're experiencing in more incremental changes. So, it's been very interesting to see companies have to be very decisive and change, and it’s really illuminated their potential to be able to evolve and be agile and move very quickly.
"People have realized in 2020 that work is what you do, it's not where you are. And I think the definition of ‘workplace’ is going to permanently change forever - it will have a much more distributed definition. It's not work from home, it's work from wherever you're productive." (click to tweet)
A couple of other things that I think are really interesting are things like health and safety, and employee wellness and wellbeing, which have really come to light in 2020. I think they were always there as a subtext.
But anytime you're dealing with health and safety, it's not a nice-to-have, it's a must-have. Along with that is employee physical and mental wellness and wellbeing. And I'm really excited that it's been elevated from a subtext or a subconscious topic into one that we have to talk about, just to be able to support our employees.
"I also think technologies are accelerating. This year has been an opportunity for certain technologies to really shine and accelerate. In my book, I talk about how 3D printing helped to address some of the supply chain gaps that we had, and how companies are starting to do wild things like meeting in the ‘metaverse,’ and leveraging that as a meeting place, which I'm really fascinated about." (click to tweet)
I'm doing more research on that now. And I think biotech has really advanced in a lot of ways, although, I think it's advanced in some geographies beyond our sense of comfort of privacy. But certainly, it was used in a very interesting way to be able to flatten the curve in many countries.
"Companies that didn't have the tools or the data necessary to be able to go through these transformations are going to need to not only get the tech in place to manage COVID-19 and their return to the office, but also to be able to rationalize their space." (click to tweet)
We’re working with the same data sets - the same tools drive the same data sets that help them rationalize their portfolio and evolve into whatever their future manifestation is going to be.
Ultimately, though, there's always a silver lining. I'm actually quite excited about the amount of change we've had. I think changes are always hard, but it's exciting that we are going to get past some of the slower progress into something that is more of a future state.
On that note, what is a commonly held belief in CRE right now that you passionately disagree with?
Lorri: I hear extremes on both sides. I hear the ‘death of the office,’ like we're no longer going to have offices, which is so dramatic. I just think that's completely over-exaggerated.
And then, on the polar opposite side, you have people insisting on going back to the office now - we must all go back, or get back to the way things were. I think either extreme is not correct, and I think that we will have the office in the future, but it will serve a very different purpose.
We've proven in this living experiment that we can be productive, for the most part. There are some exceptions - and I want to encourage us to not think in extremes. But for the most part, a lot of people were able to adapt and work remotely and do that individual work.
"Why do we need the office? To go and ideate, and celebrate, and innovate, and all those things that are a little bit better in person. But if you remember, before COVID-19 hit, our biggest complaints about the office were, "It's too noisy. It's visually distracting. I could never get a meeting room." The office is going to serve a very different purpose, and, whether you call it a hub and spoke or distributed work environment, we are going to work very differently." (click to tweet)
So insisting on getting everybody back to the office is a real mistake. We're already seeing backlash from employees and companies.
"The best talent can choose to work from wherever they want. And if they don't work for a company that respects flexibility and trusts their employees to work wherever they're productive, I think you're going to see talent vote with their feet and choose other locations." (click to tweet)
The last thing that I've seen that's just starting to rear its head, and that I really disagree with, are the different technologies that measure keystrokes or the amount of time that you're online, to measure productivity. And I just think that is atrocious.
I know that there are a number of organizations that believe in that, but I'm sorry, you can game the system. So I would back up. If I heard somebody contemplating that, I would ask, "Why do you feel your employees are not productive? Is it a trust issue? Do you have performance issues that need to be addressed?"
"Visually seeing somebody in the office is a terrible way of measuring productivity. And I think our management tools are really broken. Our annual performance due process is really broken and it's manifesting itself this way." (click to tweet)
So all of that click and measure, that spyware or whatever the appropriate term is to call it, is really a terrible way to measure productivity. I would instead look at your management system and the real problem you're trying to solve.
What do you think that everyone in the CRE industry should start doing right now to help us fuel this future of the workplace together?
Lorri: There are 6 important things that come to mind:
- Train middle managers.
- Listen to your employees.
- Use evidence backed by data versus opinion.
- Take our carbon footprints seriously.
- Promote employee wellness and wellbeing.
Better support a virtual culture (using the right technology).
1. Train middle managers.
To dovetail on my last comment, I think we really do need to train our middle managers to be more comfortable with managing by outcomes instead of by butts in seats at the office or online time. What outcome did you produce?
There's an expression that activity does not equal productivity. And so, just because you see somebody doing busy work doesn't mean they're actually accomplishing anything. So, training our middle managers to be much better by managing outcomes is an important next step to be able to support distributed work and productivity.
2. Listen to your employees.
We also need to listen to our employees. What do they need? We're doing a lot more surveying of our employees to ask them, “What do you need to be productive?”
"Productivity is really personal. There are introverts and extroverts, and people that are early in their career and later in their career. Some people have young kids at home, and some people love working at home. There are so many factors that play into productivity, so we need to listen to our employees." (click to tweet)
If they do need to come into the office because they have young kids at home, we need to provide them with options. On the other hand, maybe they don't have to come to the office. Maybe they could work from a local co-working place or a Starbucks.
3. Use evidence backed by data versus opinion.
We need to use evidence versus opinion. So, technology to drive data and data-driven decisions to really have those breakthrough discussions, because I think we all have paradigms and perceptions, and often anchor decisions based on those perceptions. If we use more evidence, not opinions, we'll be able to weather the storm and evolve a lot faster. (click to tweet)
And we need to make sure we're getting the data that we need, and that includes opinions of people.
4. Take our carbon footprint seriously.
We need to take our carbon footprint seriously and make much more progress faster - that's still a big concern for me.
"Through working differently, we can actually be a much more significant contributor to carbon reduction. We've demonstrated some of the reductions in smog in cities just by not commuting to the office. I think that we should take that seriously, as a way to contribute. I mean, the best way that we could reduce carbon is by avoiding it altogether, right?" (click to tweet)
5. Promote employee wellness and wellbeing.
Then, we should be promoting wellness and wellbeing, particularly mental health. I'm so excited that this has become a topic that’s much more structured and formal, and we just encourage people to reach out to their colleague for no reason other than just to see how they're doing. We're very utilitarian in our Zoom calls and our team's calls. So, just reach out and show random acts of kindness.
6. Better support a virtual culture (using the right technology).
The last thing I'll say is, we need to get really good at virtual teams and supporting a virtual culture. I'm seeing a wave of technologies and processes that really support a virtual team environment. Some of them involve gamification. And if you followed me a couple of years ago, you know that was one of the topics I did a deep dive in - gamification at work.
"It's more relevant today more than ever, to really connect extended team members into one common ‘metaverse,’ and incentivize progress and keep that connection. Just have something fun that you can rally around because I think we're fairly utilitarian, and we're not getting those casual encounters with our colleagues." (click to tweet)
I’ve got lots of ideas about what we should start doing. That’s partly because a window of opportunity is opening, and we need this window.
Absolutely, going back to that silver lining comment you made, it is exciting (despite the circumstances) to see how everything is changing. On a final note, is there anything that I should have asked you that I didn't?
Lorri: We’ve covered a lot, but in parting, I think that with any major event, as sad as it is to have to learn the lesson the hard way, we do evolve as humans and we are very good in the face of adversity. What we have to think about is which lesson are we meant to learn in these situations. And, we are accelerating in areas that would have taken us longer to accelerate in previously.
We've learned some really valuable lessons that have helped us accelerate and evolve very quickly.
In unprecedented situations like a pandemic, a major fire, terrorist attacks, floods, or earthquakes, with every major event, we learn something, and we become better at resilience. I really encourage all of us to think about the lesson that we are supposed to learn here, incorporate permanently some of the things that we did to adapt, and understand how we interpret that and use it going forward. (click to tweet)
Thank you again, Lorri Rowlandson!
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