John Hampton: Today’s Workplace Evolution, Tomorrow’s Real Estate Strategy: Proworking in 2014

For a growing percentage of the workforce, “going to work” no longer translates as “going to the office.” With most corporate office space vacant for nearly half of an average day—according to numerous industry studies—and nearly a billion square feet of U.S. office space sitting empty, it is clear that

For a growing percentage of the workforce, “going to work” no longer translates as “going to the office.” With most corporate office space vacant for nearly half of an average day—according to numerous industry studies—and nearly a billion square feet of U.S. office space sitting empty, it is clear that mobility is king. With 79 percent of U.S. companies planning to increase mobile workplace options, the question for commercial property decision-makers is not whether to embrace mobility, but how and when. A new approach to aligning work and place can help balance supply and demand in the corporate real estate portfolio, putting millions of square feet of currently-unoccupied space back into productive use.

Pressure to become more fluid—and more productive

By many accounts, the mobile workforce represents a dramatic change in the way we work. Lightweight devices, new communications technologies and ubiquitous wireless connectivity are freeing workers from fixed desks, while new millennial workers are seeking life/work balance and social engagement.

For corporate real estate executives, these trends coincide with rising pressures for real estate to become a value driver. As JLL’s 2013 biannual Global Corporate Real Estate Trendreports, 72 percent of global companies now expect real estate to drive workplace productivity. Companies are pressured to increase space utilization, with 31 percent citing a reduction in the size of their real estate portfolios during the last three years, while 56 percent of corporate real estate executives report increased C-suite demand to bring more flexibility to their corporate real estate portfolios.

Proworking and the consumerization of corporate real estate

What does this mismatch of supply and demand mean for corporate real estate portfolio strategy? Some forward-looking companies are adopting a new approach, known as “proworking,” focused on worker enablement.

“Workplace” has taken on a new meaning, now referring to workplaces both within and outside of a company’s portfolio of leased or owned properties. With the consumerization of corporate real estate, mobile workers prefer a menu of workplace options rather than a fixed location—and become more productive when they are empowered to select the best workplace for the task, when and where they need it. Forward-looking companies are giving workers more workplace options, just as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies allow workers to use their preferred devices.

As many corporations have learned, the traditional own-or-lease corporate real estate model can limit the ability to provide more options and to respond to changing conditions. Whether a company is growing rapidly or reshaping its global footprint, the traditional corporate real estate model constrains capital in long-term leases or mortgage commitments, interferes with monetization of unused space, and creates inflexible structures for both landlords and their corporate tenants. Solutions that can offer shorter-term and more fluid usage models are needed.

A natural extension of coworking at the enterprise level, proworking overcomes these barriers and helps companies achieve greater flexibility. It entails utilizing assets more efficiently and creatively, looking beyond the traditional corporate real state portfolio to provide mobile professionals with a mix of professional and well-maintained work environments.

Optimizing real estate for mobility

Adopting the proworking approach involves several key steps:

  • Align the workforce with business goals. Corporate real estate executives must understand how work is performed, where facilities are needed, how employee teams interact and the support resources required, such as presentation screens or flexible team space.
  • Match people to place. Business intelligence data and occupancy studies can uncover where workers need to be, who they work with, at what times and for different kinds of work.
  • Create engaging work environments. Providing a choice of engaging workspaces will deliver high ROI in terms of worker enablement, especially when support resources and connectivity are easily accessed.
  • Think beyond the traditional portfolio. Expanding the workplace boundaries to include professionally curated and managed locations can drive productivity, employee engagement, talent recruitment and retention—as well as helping align facility supply with demand.

New marketplace technology is available to help mobile workers locate workspace for use by the hour, the day, the week or more. Similarly, a corporation can use a matchmaking Web application to connect its excess space with mobile employees or even make the space available for other companies to use. This flexible model speeds and simplifies the process of finding a workplace for mobile workers, and expands the universe of highly-productive “prolocations.”

In this model, a company provides employees with a mix of professional, vetted workspaces both inside and outside the corporate portfolio, supported with reliable technology. This “third space” may be a satellite office, home, café, library, third-party office share or even underutilized space in another company’s facility.

Moving from a traditional real estate model to a more flexible proworking strategy requires a new set of corporate real estate management skills. But we expect the simple value-add of increased agility and improved worker productivity to be worth the effort.

John Hampton is Senior Vice President of Innovation & Product Development for JLL. He can be reached at John.Hampton@am.jll.com.