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article imageWorkTech conference highlights advantages of changing workspaces

By Jack Derricourt     Nov 6, 2017 in Business
Corporate real estate (CRE), like every other industry, is undergoing a massive transformation. Speakers and attendees at the WorkTech17 conference in Toronto focussed on the technological and cultural changes that are affecting the industry.
There’s currently a massive gap between the innovative technology implemented by consumers at home and the tech being used by real estate operators to improve traditional workspaces. This mismatch in technology and working environment has led to a pressing concern for businesses: according to new research by Deloitte, office space is 40-70 percent vacant, and is so focussed on individuals (85 percent) that it’s failing to facilitate teams and collaboration.
A number of advantages can be gained by using innovative technologies in the context of the workspace — such as a reduction in real estate footprints (and attached costs), a reduction in paper costs and higher employee engagement/retention. As technology and real estate development grow ever more interconnected, CRE groups are having a greater impact on the future of work.
Workspace innovation and productivity
According to Deloitte, who hosted the first day of WorkTech, a lack of innovation and risk aversion continues to plague Canadian productivity. According to the report, Canada is 23 percent less productive than the U.S., and that number is set to worsen if the Canadian workplace remains status quo.
“It’s important to consider the range of alternatives available, both in the commercial real estate market from a site-selection and building-performance perspective, along with the organization’s requirements. When looking for a new space, organizations can no longer afford to simply reproduce their existing office environments with better furniture and paint colors; it’s crucial to plan an environment that fosters teaming and collaboration, engages employees, and drives workplace transformation with an eye toward productivity gains.”
As Deloitte’s Sheila Botting pointed out for WorkTech17 attendees, tech companies are leading the way forward when it comes to innovative business practices and workplace arrangements to boost activity. But those companies often have little office space to work with. For CRE to harness similar ideas and boost productivity, bold moves need to be taken.
Employee Journey
Companies can now harness analytics to determine what employees want from their working environment. By acting on this research, real estate groups can boost business productivity — thereby becoming a crucial agent in the war for talent.
Lorri Rowlandson  Senior Vice President  Strategy and Innovation at ‎BGIS.
Lorri Rowlandson, Senior Vice President, Strategy and Innovation at ‎BGIS.
”Real estate professionals have become hackers… of employee productivity,” said BGIS Senior VP of Strategy and Innovation Lorri Rowlandson on the second day of WorkTech. The CRE industry is important to the overall goals of enterprise, she noted, and there has been a marked shift in the sector’s concerns towards talent.
By enlisting ‘dynamic design’ practices — such as wellness concerns, built-in technology, and sustainability — CRE can help build the future workspaces that employees want, and thereby reduce absenteeism and disengagement in the workplace. Specifically, Rowlandson discussed the use of gamification tools to help embed innovative culture within employees, something that consumers are already adopting through apps like Waze or fitness trackers like Fitbit.
All the technology at the disposal of businesses can seem intoxicating, but the workspace remains a place full of people. David Martin argued at WorkTech that the focus during digital transformation efforts should be 80 percent on the talent, instead of all that attention being focussed on tech.
Every WorkTech speaker reinforced this idea: the key element of the transition to technology-driven workspaces is to focus on how people relate to and engage with the space.
The millennials are coming
Adding fuel to this drive towards technologically sophisticated workspaces is the growing importance of millennial-friendly business practices. Deloitte reports that by 2028, 75 percent of the Canadian workforce will be millennials. Innovative environments will be key to attracting millennial workers.
Deloitte s Bay and Adelaide office in Toronto.
Deloitte's Bay and Adelaide office in Toronto.
The established trends in office structures — cube farms — are not what this new generation is used to in their educational experiences or private lives. So not only are these highly individualized office spaces mostly empty, but they are not helping to attract the developing talent businesses so desperately need in order to stay competitive.
As Deloitte’s research states:
The traditional office structure is almost completely at odds with how many millennials are used to working. We risk disenfranchising them if we can’t close the gap between how they work best and the physical environments in which they are expected to work.
In order to be ready for the shift in the labour market towards millennials, workspaces need to attract these digital natives now, rather than a decade later.
Cognitive buildings
The end goal, bringing all of these ideas together, comes in the form of ‘cognitive buildings’ — the adoption of AI to augment previous building or workspace processes. Using the collected datasets from these new facilities will allow for real-time modifications of the building’s use in order to lower operational costs.
Carole Piovesan  Associate  McCarthy Tetrault LLP
Carole Piovesan, Associate, McCarthy Tetrault LLP
As McCarthy Tetrault’s Carole Piovesan stated at WorkTech, “AI will shape how we work.” Cognitive buildings are an attempt to embrace that shift, move away from the traditional ‘dumb’ office and enact successful workplace strategies. Finding your way about the office, video conferencing and locating a meeting room would all be made easier through AI-driven employee building services, increasing productivity along the way.
Deloitte has engaged in early tests of such new technology at their Bay and Adelaide location in Toronto. They provide WiFi data on floor usage to better allow companies to ‘hot desk’ around the various, flexible workspaces throughout the location. Deloitte has also set up a fitbit challenge to promote employee health. The company is confident that the pilot program will boost productivity and fuel further transformation.
Many questions remain about what 21st century offices will evolve into, but it’s refreshing to see CRE industry leaders begin to articulate a vision for an employee-driven, technologically savvy future.
More about Corporate Real Estate, CRE, Business, Technology, cognitive buildings