Boucher: “A broader swath of employers out there are recognizing that if you want to realize the greatest returns on your investment in the workplace, you need to understand how it will fit with your business’s purpose and brand.” Boucher: “A broader swath of employers out there are recognizing that if you want to realize the greatest returns on your investment in the workplace, you need to understand how it will fit with your business’s purpose and brand.”

SCOTTSDALE, AZ—Before you can talk about workplace design, you first have to understand your business strategy – then create a workplace to accommodate it, JLL managing director, workplace strategy – Americas, Bernice Boucher tells The Leland, NC-based executive is moderating the “Optimizing the Workplace for Maximum Impact” session during NAIOP’s Commercial Real Estate Conference 2016  here September 26-28. We spoke with her exclusively about the ways that developers and users are optimizing the workplace, what new methods in design and development are helping to achieve this result, and how workplace design will continue to change. What are the key ways that developers and users are optimizing the workplace for maximum impact?

Boucher: When it comes to impact, it’s first important to understand what the business drivers are. For many developers and occupiers, the main focus is around the war for talent, which is being driven by the fact that we have multiple generations in the workforce. The baby boomers are retiring by the thousands each day, but there are twice as many millennials as Gen-Xers, so there’s a laser focus by many organizations on attracting and retaining millennials. Living, working and playing in one general area is not new, but we’re talking about improving the experience of work in the entire environment – the building, the lobby, retail, the outdoors – tenants are focused on creating a great work experience so they can attract and retain talent.

Also, we live in a very virtual society where people can work anytime, anywhere and on any device. So what is the purpose of the office? It’s an experience place, where you want to enable work in many forms: alone, in groups, indoors, outdoors, and supporting concentration and collaboration when needed. Often, the exchange of ideas and information requires technology, so the workplace also needs to drive connection via technology to a company’s brand, values, different groups and businesses and what’s happening in the world in work and business.

Those connection points can be realized in social hubs – areas like the office kitchen, not just the pantry where you go get coffee, but more like Starbucks-on-steroids. You sit down at big kitchen counter on stools and chat. It’s a different setting, a social hub, and companies need to provide more technology and more power in those areas. If you’re creating these social hubs, you need to be providing ubiquitous power because people can only work in those spots as long as their devices are charged.

There’s also a new focus on celebrating innovation. Companies want innovation hubs so that they can present what they’re working on to staff, clients and customers. They get to create an experience for prospects, clients and customers that can be really powerful. It’s not just about the people who work for you, but the people for whom you work: your customers. In the tech sector, Google is considered an icon when it comes to great places to work. The image of Google is so positive that employees feel like if they get a job at Google, they’ll have it made: they can have their laundry done and delivered to their desk, they can ride their bike to work and bring their dog, and they can have gourmet meals for free. The rest of the tech sector is competing with that, but so is the finance sector and the pharma sector; insurance and accounting and consumer goods companies across the board are also doing this. And it’s extending to the building – negotiating with a landlord or developer around all the services and amenities and the experience in the building as well. What other new methods in design and development are emerging to achieve this result?

Boucher: Companies are getting smarter about developing a workplace strategy that aligns with their business goals and objectives. Before you can talk about social hubs and the outdoors, you have to understand what your business strategy is, and then the workplace design should accommodate it. What we’ve seen is businesses are much more interested in tapping into the voice of the customer in order to understand how the workplace can support the business better.

They’re also talking to employees as a whole, doing surveys and using observation techniques to understand the workplace environment. Research shows that 80 percent of meetings have two to four people in them, so they’re designing smaller huddle rooms that take less real estate. They need to spend the time investigating and discovering what the vision is for the business, the goals and objectives around the financials and the people strategy to align the corporate real estate group with the environment. They can see solutions coming out of that: huddle rooms, quiet rooms and quiet zones, more daylight. You increase productivity when employees have access to the outdoors, so there needs to be more outdoor working space, but there also needs to be access to power and the internet out there. A broader swath of employers are recognizing that if you want to realize the greatest returns on your investment in the workplace, you need to understand how it will fit with your business’s purpose and brand. How will workplace design continue to change?

Boucher: There are some forces that come into play when it comes to the workplace. We are thinking more holistically about the workplace as it relates to business – as a tool and enabler. What we’re seeing now is the greater importance of the office as the experience place. But we’re also seeing the demand for third places to work in addition to the home and office. From a design perspective, we’re thinking strategy. The rise of co-working sites has had a huge impact on how organizations use real estate and provide base solutions. What’s happening with WeWork and Convene and Serendipity Labs and all the co-working sites is that they’re creating that sense of community in the office, but also that sense of the gig economy, the liquid workforce. We’re not always hiring full-time employees; we’re hiring the independent consultant, the freelancer, to do the work. We see that rising, and that will have an impact on a company’s culture.

There will be a greater emphasis on culture – it’s been said that culture eats strategy for breakfast – and how it impacts how work gets done. Right now, the economy is solid, but what happens in the case of an economic downturn; do decisions in the workplace change? Do the amenities and services continue, with companies still focusing on creating great places to work? Or do they shift back down to providing less space, shrinking their footprint and having employees simply put up with their working conditions? The current trend of companies reducing their footprint and being more sustainable, with hoteling, free seating and desk sharing, creates a workforce that is depending less on real estate and more on amenities, so that may be the value proposition they will continue to create around the workplace. What else should our readers know about optimizing the workplace for maximum impact?

Boucher: You’re not “one-and-done.” One size does not fit all—one size fits one. If you think you’ve come up with the best solution, it’s a snapshot in time based on the current value proposition for their people, their current work process and their finances, but as something changes, that solution could also change. There’s going to be a new generation in the workforce; the next one’s coming up behind the millennials – and you need to look at what you’re doing and if it still has value. As business or the economy or leadership changes, with mergers and acquisitions, there are so many different factors that can have an impact on workplace strategy that it’s important to revisit it regularly and ensure that it is still aligned with where the business wants to go.