In the last few weeks I have had the pleasure to speak on the topic of organizational change in front of human resource professionals. I made an effort to link the technology (r)evolution we find ourselves in the middle of; the changes in the way we expect to work and interact with our customers and colleagues; and the corresponding work spaces in which we seek to be productive, happy, and healthy.
Technology is changing at an ever-increasing pace. The public Internet is only 20 years old and started with 600 websites. Today, well over 630 million websites can be accessed, and more than 2.5 billion people are “connected”. In 2015, together we will be pushing more than a Zettabyte of data through the networks that make the Internet. This is equal to a stack of books, 72 million miles long. 100 Hours of video will be accessed over the web each and every second. In 2020, we expect more than 50 billion smart objects (incl. our phones, trees, cars, cows, lights) to call the Internet home to their communications (“Cisco Futurist,” Dave Evans, Chief Futurist and Chief Technologist for Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions). All this and more is having a profound impact on our workforce. We expect content to be at the tips of our fingers, and to collaborate and communicate when we want, with whom we want, and where we want. It’s happening – and IT departments are working frantically to build the supporting infrastructure and provide the tools and procedures to accommodate the changing expectations of their workforce.
The new ways in which we interact with our peers, colleagues, and friends is calling for the real estate in which we do this to change accordingly. We go to the office less and less to sit in a cubicle to do work that we could have done from home (or anywhere). We come to work to experience different interaction with our co-workers and expect spaces (meeting rooms, water coolers, etc.) to support us in it. New design concepts are introduced in the workplace. Companies like Google, eBay and other high tech firms have led the charge, but innovative and technology enabled open and shared workspaces aren’t exclusive to technology companies anymore. It is changing the landscape of what the workplace will look like in the future. Changes in place go hand in hand with technology that supports the new ways of working. One cannot be considered anymore without the other.
Here comes real estate. The second largest expense for virtually every organization after the cost of employment. Ten years ago, research would show that on-site working environments are underutilized and that more than 60% of an office environment is not used at any given time in the workday (“Information and Communications Technology for Real Estate Investment Management”, Rick Huijbregts PhD, Harvard University, 2002). Today, this isn’t that much different. Why? Real estate is not a very fluid business. Once you’re stuck with a 10 year lease you are stuck with a 10 year lease. Decisions to alter the real estate strategy are very expensive. Or is it? If already 60% of our offices are underutilized, and in the meantime we are allowing our workers to use technology to be in the office even less, or at least to use their spaces dramatically different, then we’re only compounding the problem until we take bold moves to adjust real estate strategy.
If we aren’t careful, we find ourselves stuck in a cycle that makes things worse (harder for IT to keep up; workers that expect more; real estate that doesn’t meet the needs). Or, we take this bull by the horns and can turn the convergence of work, real estate, and technology into a very powerful tool to enhance culture, productivity, innovation, and the business’ brand. Instead of looking at IT and real estate as cost centers, they combined can become the catalyst for change and transformation–if only connected to the businesses itself.
Today, the connection between IT, HR, and Real Estate isn’t always clear. For instance, only few companies link real estate savings to technology investments and truly maximize their synergy for addressing workforce productivity. Therefore, I am calling for HR departments, IT departments, and Real Estate departments to converge, and together look at the business objectives in a much more holistic way. Should they be one? Only when truly combined with shared resources, focus, and budget, we can see the transformation of all supporting tasks that will help any company to charge ahead in the competitive world we live in today.