CoreNet Global: For Corporate Real Estate, the Future is Now

For the 1,800 professionals attending the CoreNet Global fall summit in Atlanta this week, the office of the 21st century is an ever-pressing concern and attendees examined the complex links between technology, generational preferences and the effective use of office space.

November 8, 2011
By Paul Rosta, Senior Editor

For the 1,800 professionals attending the CoreNet Global fall summit in Atlanta this week, the office of the 21st century is an ever-pressing concern. Dozens of those attendees gathered Monday morning for a spirited town hall-style discussion on the evolving roles of physical space, technology and corporate real estate professionals themselves.

Facilitated by CoreNet Global vice president of global research Tim Venable, the event was the first in a series of sessions on the future of the workplace that are being held at the conference, which concludes this afternoon. Observations gathered at the conference and at other venues will be incorporated in Corporate Real Estate 2020, a wide-ranging report scheduled for publication in May 2012. Referring to the information-gathering process, Venable told participants, “We’re probably in the second inning in terms of where we are.” Also of note, about 30 percent of CoreNet members contributing to the study are based outside North America.

Participants in Monday’s brainstorming session reflected on the complex links between technology, generational preferences and the effective use of office space. Technology has progressed to the point where someone can take a job in another country without relocating. Because the youngest workers also tend to be nimblest and most adaptable to cutting-edge technology, “People are going to have to adapt to what the younger generation [does],” said one of several George State University students attending the session.

Generation Y’s preference for technology-enabled flexibility and mobility is already influencing workplace design. As an example, Venable cited CoreNet’s own recently reconfigured headquarters space in Atlanta. The new design replaces a traditional arrangement of offices and work stations around a perimeter with a much more open environment that promotes collaboration. “It’s been great for breaking down silos,” Venable reported.

Session attendees also noted that the intersection of real estate and technology itself poses a paradox. Real estate is an asset that is shaped by technology and depends heavily on it, yet real estate changes far more slowly than technology itself does. Venable characterized the issue as “a disconnect between the speed of business and the speed of real estate.” Even so, the sustainability movement has needed only a few years to make its mark on corporate real estate. As Venable put it, “The time may be coming when if you’re not green, you’re not even in the game.”

The changing role of the corporate real estate professional also provoked a lively exchange. Several argued that corporations are recognizing the role of real estate in business strategy. That trend is helping to diversify the professional backgrounds that corporate real estate executives are bringing to their jobs.

One veteran went so far as to predict that “the future leaders of corporate real estate will probably know very little about corporate real estate. Instead, they will know a lot about business,” then surround themselves with professionals who are well versed in real estate issues and can execute the details of a broader strategy.