The “new normal” that’s emerged as a forced response to COVID-19 restrictions has challenged every aspect of what’s familiar for many working in a corporate office setting – from process and policies to people and platforms. In our own business, we’ve been researching and future-casting the steps necessary to think of our space as an investment with returns that can be measured and evaluated – rather than a necessary expense. We’ve cracked the code and reimagined what strategic services need to be in order to help our clients turn that corner, too.
We’ve established a timelining framework of Hindsight, Insight & Foresight, which enables us to look to the past and examine what we’re hearing right now as we navigate what’s next for workplace. For TVS, our journey began with examining past positions and theories. In the context of the past year’s remote work experiment, we’ve taken a deep and multi-pronged look at what we’ve learned about ourselves, our work with clients, work platforms and the most essential aspects of our culture that drive our firm’s success. Clients and the industry are asking, “What is the future of the workplace? How should we think about our space? ” The answer to this last question should vary from business to business depending on their unique context and strategy. The learnings of our new approach to workplace make it clear that we’re not going “back” to the office. We’re planning our space as a targeted investment in our future instead.
In the past few years, we’ve been trying to understand and quantify the impact of individual choice, technology and flexibility. As a way to test and measure this impact, we created SPACELAB, a satellite office program that creates a series of temporary office spaces with short lease terms (about a year) in different pockets of Atlanta neighborhoods, each with a unique premise and potential. We study shared amenity spaces, occupancy and environmental sensors, use patterns and their impact on culture and the ways that we communicate data and impact to our colleagues and clients.
One of the most successful aspects of SPACELAB is the uptick in energy when our employees have the choice to collaborate away from the MOTHERSHIP in an alternate work universe. Our hospitality studio, for example, spent every Friday at SPACELAB, and away from distractions and the habits of daily practice, they engaged in intentional learning and mentoring exercises. As an exploration of flexibility, SPACELAB has gone from workplace to conference center to a cocktail party as we hosted industry panel discussions. One of the ways we communicate real-time information is through an art installation that translates environmental data gleaned from indoor air quality sensors into a kinetic LED lighting experience.
Productivity and effectiveness didn’t decline while working at SPACELAB – in fact, engagement, collaboration and innovation exploded. This experience began to change a widely held mindset that the office as we had known it, isn’t an imperative for our work and that broader strategies about choice, adaptation, community and culture were a better fit for TVS. We were in the process of retooling the MOTHERSHIP based on what we have learned when the pandemic began.
Our first internal survey in April 2020 confirmed that individual preference was an emerging trend over corporate mandate and that task and sphere of influence were not predictors of preference. Early on, we recognized the disruption as an opportunity to better understand and improve the way we work. Managers and staff alike reported productivity at or above pre-pandemic levels. Our work wasn’t changing – but the way that we got the job done most certainly was. Working together was no longer synonymous with being in the same physical space. This brought us to the first of two important questions: What is the ROI of the office? Our data was encouraging us to move away from the idea that work is tied to a physical place and to embrace a multi-platform setting, one that includes and leverages a digital work environment.
Trailblazing a path to a more flexible, work ecosystem is based on creating an equitable experience across both the physical and digital platforms. Supporting those platforms with policies and guidelines that build and sustain the culture is equally important. As we were reimagining our approach to the physical platform, the second question emerged: What is the strategic advantage of the physical workspace? The answers to these two questions help develop a real estate strategy that makes sense for any individual company as well as our own. In a small survey we conducted on LinkedIn, 83% of respondents value their physical office for what it provides in culture and collaboration, while stability and productivity are further down the list at 7%. This echoes our second internal survey results – culture and talent development are overwhelmingly the purpose our office serves. Looking inward, determining the value of real estate starts with listening carefully and by collecting data to define success criteria for the physical office, solving for equitable experience and digital platform integration and building the foundation of corporate culture as a way of delivering “future-proof” plans.
Like our firm’s journey, the goal is to create a work experience that is not a reaction to COVID but one that proactively positions businesses for future success. This requires solving for unique circumstances by rethinking programming from the ground up to take advantage of insights gained over the past year rather than falling back into habits that may be tried but are no longer true. Going forward, the challenge for real estate is creating value through tangible results linked to key performance indicators. A hybrid, multi-platform work environment thrives when you create an environment open to feedback and adaptability. This also translates into a resiliency plan that makes adapting to change, caused by the next unknown, much easier and potentially, even rewarding.
Based on our research and experience, it’s clear that plans for the workplace are highly dependent upon a more granular understanding of a business’s data – beyond simple reporting and methods currently in use in the industry. Benchmarking and industry trend reports may not align with specific business context and goals, which could result in real estate decisions that might not actually be right for you. The approach we’ve developed can uncover a better fit and better long-term results when your business also asks, “What’s the ROI of my office?”
As a trusted partner for our clients as we all continue to navigate this ‘work from anywhere’ revolution, we’ll continue to document the TVS strategic trailblazing initiatives and how this process works for your business, sharing critical choice points that provide clarity in your own workplace strategy.