CoreNet Global 2021 Summit Recap

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Chair of the Month

Bob Fox
Bob Fox
Bob is an industry leader and the founding partner at Fox Architects in Washington DC, celebrating 20 years of design professionals working together to reshape the office and work environment. Bob also publishes Work Design Magazine, which, with its thousands of global subscribers, is the premier online publication dedicated to workplace strategy, information, and resources. Bob earned his B.A. in Architecture from Temple University in Philadelphia. When he’s not innovating new concepts for the workplace, Bob leads a competitive sailing team on his 44-foot race boat, “Sly.” He’s been racing offshore for almost 20 years, sailing more than 30 thousand nautical miles of open ocean. Bob lives in the Washington DC area with his wife, son, and three daughters. He remains focused on our changing work environments, and the state of workplace design today, and looking ahead to dynamic shifts that are forthcoming.

Couldn’t make it or want to relive the experience? WDM Executive Publisher, Bob Fox, has you covered!

CoreNet Global 2021 Summit just ended, and it was great to get out, travel and see old friends. As I engaged in conversations, I asked each person why they were here and what they were hoping to accomplish. In addition to reconnecting with people, the consistent reaction to that question was something like “I’m looking for answers”, or “to see what everyone else is doing”. Across the sessions and presentations, the consistent theme was that nobody really knew the answers. Rather, the CoreNet Global 2021 Summit was filled with speculation and experimentation and plenty of theorizing.

While there was a lot of optimism and an energetic buzz, there was a realistic perspective that the corporate/commercial real estate market is in a state of very rapid change that is extremely dynamic and uncertain right now.

Attendance was about half of historic numbers and included the range of professionals that participate in the corporate real estate world. I had a lot of fun. Never before has the industry had the opportunity to step back, take a hard look at the value that it provides and reassess how it supports organizations and delivers the products and services. A few speakers recognized that fact and pointed to the realization that if we do not take this opportunity to improve and deliver real value, we may not ever see another chance like this in our lifetimes.

Planon and IAdea had plenty of workplace ideas.

People who attended covered a broad range of corporate real estate interests from brokers and corporate real estate to design and technology. All were there looking for a direction for the next iteration of the office. A quick look at the agenda reveled a unique shift in the attitude, interest of those that consume real estate. It was about real estate, but it wasn’t. The topics included things such as leadership and culture; diversity, equity inclusion, and belonging; environmental sustainability; flexibility and choice; mental health and neuroscience. There were relatively few discussions about deals. The closest discussions to physical office space were about hybrid work and how the work environment has expanded.

This was underscored by the opening session key note given by Michael Bush, CEO of Great Place to Work that was all about how diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging was a powerful tool that underpinned top level performance. The data clearly showed that the companies that were the most equitable out performed their peers by a significant factor. He was followed by a performance by SongDivision, a very creative and talented musical group that shared their creative process.

The environment and sustainability was another big conversation that was taking place, almost as an undercurrent. It was comforting to hear a clear concern for the planet and that our moral conscience demanded better solutions that would improve and not harm our people and our environment. There was a recognition that this industry is responsible for a massive amount or CO2 and we need to reconsider many of the ways that we buildout our environment.

The other big topic was data. While data tools have been around for years and many groups have been collecting data, historically there were few if any revelations of substance presented. Data was being collected, but with little knowledge of how to use that data. Now the technology has advanced and patterns are emerging and especially with the pandemic, data has become a much greater interest and people are looking much more closely to determine how to best utilize the physical office environments. But the data went beyond looking at how the meta data contained in our email, phones, networks and virtual communications reveals much more insights about who and how and how often we connect with others, creating new performance metrics.

Our team enjoyed Modo Labs’ virtual experience. Who won the AirPods?

The exhibitor floor was predominantly companies that collected and tracked a variety of data, but still most surrounded occupancy, scheduling and utilization.

There was a strong bias that we need office space and a rationalization that organizations would not perform well with out it. There was also a lot of speculation about the near future demand for office and who would be returning.

The consensus was that things have changed, won’t go back to what we had, and we are still in the midst of a very dynamic and fluid, rapidly evolving environment. In many sessions, data presented about the patterns that were emerging of those that were starting to return to the office. There was a lot of speculation about people’s desire to return to the office, most of the data indicated that the majority of people want to return, but they are demanding flexibility. The data clearly indicated that if they were told to return on a specific schedule the attrition rate was very high. Those organization who offered flexibility were able to retain their talent and attract new talent more successfully.

It is clear that we are in a period of time where the office and commercial real estate, which has always been one of the slowest to adopt new technologies, is now having to adapt in order to survive. There were a lot of questions around the value that the real estate provided and discussion about how technology would affect how we work and how virtual and distributed work would be integrated with work in the physical office.

One concern was the amount of stress and mental challenges that we are all suffering. There have been lots of changes, but people are pushing themselves and limits in many ways have been removed and there is a blur between work and life. Flexibility and options are a healthy choice, but there is concern being expressed about burnout and stress.

WeWork offered all attendees a change of scenery!

The general feeling was that as people returned to the office that there would continue to be a contingent of virtual work and that the office would need to accommodate and serve the distributed workers as much as those that were the physical space. Data showed that people preferred the office for focused work, but that the primary role of the office would become collaboration. The office ultimately has had to become able to accommodate a broad variety of work.

The work environment is expanding and will now include an ecosystem of spaces and places that will reduce the friction and inconveniences that individuals face. That environment will continue to include work from home, but coworking spaces and a variety of other locations will now complement the traditional office.

People came to CoreNet Global 2021 Summit to talk. There was a willingness to change and lots of support for experimentation and new ideas. If real estate and office space is to continue to provide value, it needs to expand and provide value in different ways.

Wanda Wallace, a psychologist and Managing Partner at the Leadership Forum, summed it up best “It’s going to feel weird, but if we are going to stay ahead of the competition, we need to test, experiment, learn and discover.” We are seeking a better and smarter use of the built environment coming out of CoreNet Global 2021 Summit. See you next year!

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