The Changing Nature of Work and the Workplace: TORONTO

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Elise Shapiro
Elise Shapiro
Elise Shapiro is a contributing editor. Little did she know that her first job, in the facilities department at Ralston Purina, while obtaining her M. Arch at Washington University, in St. Louis would foreshadow where her career would lead. She has always been a strong advocate for providing the best possible spaces for people to work – where aesthetics meet function and drive business success.

We wrapped up our five city Work Design TALKS in Toronto on November 14. Hosted by WeWork’s Richmond Street team, our 100+ audience was treated to tours of the three-month-old, at capacity space and also enjoyed a lively discussion on workplace trends and how that fosters business success.

The Toronto panel – and no, they did not coordinate their wardrobe! From L/R David Potter, Zak Kidd, Eric Yorath, Brian Porter and Adam Boyajian – Photo by Rusyeng Art.

Where we had planned to cover many of the questions posed in our earlier events, our moderator, Zak Kidd, COO & Co-Founder at SwingSpace went a bit free-form, expertly engaged the audience and the resulting conversation provided the perfect counterpoint and additional food for thought from our earlier events. Sharing the “stage” were panelists David Potter, Managing Partner at DX Institute, Eric Yorath, Principal at figure3, Brian Porter, Associate Vice President – Advisory & Transaction Services at CBRE Canada and Adam Boyajian, Broker Relations at WeWork.

Photo by Rusyeng Art
Photo by Rusyeng Art

First up: A response to Zak’s comment on the current disruption, changes, and innovation in workplace real estate acquisition.

Below are the responses from our panelists.

“We are seeing multiple options for providing space, working from home, flexible arrangements, working remote or not and how that takes a role in business innovation. This is not an all or nothing proposition; we are moving away from people sitting on one assigned desk from 9-5 every day.”

“This is an interesting time for workplace design, we not just following industry trends, the pendulum is swinging to more progressive, agile ways of working. We are seeing our clients making more informed decisions on culture, brand, and appetite for making changes.”

The conversation then segued to more specific questions on how companies look to acquire space and make decisions on managing their real estate portfolios.

How are employers making commitments to taking space and coordinating their facilities?

“Businesses are moving away from putting all their eggs in one basket.” 

We Work because the current reality has enabled smaller companies and startups to expand rapidly, and the demand for flexible space. Other businesses see that, and now everyone is changing how he or she may analyze what kind of space may serve their needs. We want to make sure that we provide space when and wherever companies need more space without many hurdles.” 

Talking about physical space – how does the interior design, of an area, how that works to change people’s perception of what office space can be? How does that affect initial discussions with potential members, clients for design services?

“This WeWork space is what we call our “off the shelf” product; companies can come in and use what we have built. We have people come in to tour, and the concept will work for some, but it might not be custom or private enough for others. We had a tour yesterday, and the immediate reaction was, no – this is not for us, we need something more private. The good news is we now have great options with increased privacy for them. When we started hearing more of these responses to our spaces, this lead us to examine how we can work with companies to provide a more tailored solution. We are now collaborating with these companies in advance of location openings, and planning to build out space for them within a WeWork location. They want the benefit of the location and community but may have specific needs to support their work. – Adam Boyajian

“We can build beautiful space, but we are building containers for people. What we see (for example) in California, companies are exerting much effort to outdo each other from the design perspective. However, what this is about is building spaces that create employee experiences. What do people feel when they come into space, what technology allows them to get their work done.” 

“This is an HR and culture issue as much as a space issue.” – David Potter

“So much happens underneath the surface, for example, we layer hospitality on top of real estate. We have to understand what keeps people happy every day, and that is other people caring for them and treating them well. At WeWork, we try and do that personally and professionally, going by (warning- this may sound corny at first) Smiling from the heart!” We care deeply about our members, and really believe that’s one of the key things that separates us. We provide a real estate solution, but when we talk to members about their WeWork experience, they highlight the people, interactions, settings and relationships, not their office chair. It is about community, first and foremost.” – Adam Boyajian

Attendees followed the discussion intently – Photo by Rusyeng Art.

What about design and culture?

“Spending based on trend is being left behind. Companies are seeing the need to invest in retaining the talent already embedded in their culture, and appeal to the people and talent they want to bring into that culture. True success for workplace and people connecting with it has a design that displays the company values and reinforces the behaviors that make that culture work. You need to celebrate that culture and put it on display. The design needs to provide an opportunity for people to work in different ways.” – Eric Yorath

 “The key is not just to sequester real estate activities, tucking things away in corners. If you want to demonstrate that your culture wants you to do something, you need to put it out there. Using retail as an example, if people can see what you are doing, they are invited in to participate. – Eric Yorath

Is branding part of that equation?

“The brand has to be front and center in the design. Expressing the cultural values is part of a company’s brand proposition. If visitors and employees are exposed to that in multiple ways throughout the space, it is much easier for people to pick up on that messaging.”

“Young companies and startups can readily test and grow their cultures in Co-working spaces. The opportunity to learn from others by what they see and experience is one of the key values these type of places offer. By design, 90% of the walls are glass and space. It is important to every company to have a collaborative atmosphere. We do have private spaces, but we want to provide things enable companies to shape their culture.”

What about some of the significant space acquisition issues?

“Let’s look at this through the lens of how cities can be more innovative in managing public policy issues, infrastructure opportunities, communities, and transportation. There are larger cultural changes taking place that affect how companies may evaluate where to locate. The Ontario bid for the Amazon HQ2 bid, for example, took the position that their key offering was the talent pool that exists in this geography. Their bid was not about just throwing money to lure Amazon to Toronto (or Ontario). The pitch was on the value of the talent and pool of potential employees, as talent is what drives businesses, and what makes a knowledge business run. Talent is better for Toronto whether Amazon comes here or not. That talent can be utilized by any business that chooses to work here. We are building the talent pool for the long term.”

Audience questions also addressed broader issues presented by how companies are acquiring space and the denser designs affect building infrastructure.

“We find that co-working density is greater than many buildings have been designed. That is a consideration when companies are selecting space, and in fact was an issue when we were working on the site selection for this facility. These issues do affect building owners and tenants, and present challenges to existing regulatory requirements for health and safety. Occupancy issues and meeting jurisdictional requirements add a layer of complexity and costs to developing these more intense working environments. Significant building improvements that may be required may include an increase in the fresh air intake, access and egress, fire, life safety accommodations and increased environmental systems.”

What are some of the other issues companies face as they evaluate changes to their workplaces?

“Companies do want to save money and moving to more open space does accomplish that to a certain extent. Much work is collaborative, but surveys show missing privacy and being distracted is a big issue. “

“Sound, privacy and architecture do present ongoing challenges, that just can’t be solved by noise canceling headphones. There are some advances but resolving the problems presented by confidentiality vs. open space is a work in progress. – Eric Yorath

“Issues of confidentiality, and who needs what kind of privacy are also up to interpretation” This is less about generational issues (the assumed perception), but more about who you are, your role, and your general view of life. People and motivation are the big differentiators.” 

“We need to look at the workspace and designing offices that provide a mix; there is not just one way to do things. It is the mix in the middle that can be the most successful. Providing spaces where people can select where they need to work, based on what they need to do, and when they need to do it is the solution to work for.” – David Potter

“That is not to say that the agility does not come without issues!” We need to make sure technology is aligned, and platforms can connect better. Improvements in software to support multiple systems for better communication are getting there but not yet perfect. People are also in that equation, better training so people can utilize the tools that are out there is also important. It should not take 45 minutes to figure out how to set up your laptop and project to the wall mounted display and use of video conference tools.” – David Potter

In summation, it was acknowledged that we are in the midst of changes in how we acquire, design and use our workspace. The continued evolution is not only changing the historical status quo but also how the disruptors (hello WeWork) are forced to re-evaluate continually as they evolve.

Our series has been an exciting journey and opportunity to connect with our readers and join our readers in our ongoing effort to talk about workspace design from many viewpoints and locations. The similarities and contrasts will inform how we put together our next series events as we know there is still more to talk about!

Attendees were treated to thoughtful workplace conversation and great swag too! – Photo by Rusyeng Art.
Elise Shapiro
Elise Shapiro
Elise Shapiro is a contributing editor. Little did she know that her first job, in the facilities department at Ralston Purina, while obtaining her M. Arch at Washington University, in St. Louis would foreshadow where her career would lead. She has always been a strong advocate for providing the best possible spaces for people to work – where aesthetics meet function and drive business success.
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