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We Must Go Forward to a Better Workplace

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We see this moment as a rare opportunity. In my thirty–five–year career, there have been two or three times where we’ve had an event or advancement that has given everybody the opportunity to rethink how work gets done.

Foreword

The impact of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has been profound for corporate real estate professionals as they rethink and rapidly reconfigure their workplaces to adapt to the “new normal.” In our Mighty Guide eBook, 7 Experts on Reimagining the Workplace, we interview real estate professionals on the impact of COVID-19 on their roles and their employees’ well-being as well as how they anticipate moving forward. In this blog post, Kay Sargent shares her perspective on how corporate real estate professionals must address a new set of challenges and opportunities.

As an experienced corporate real estate professional, what do you think is the most important thing we should keep in mind about this moment?

We see this moment as a rare opportunity. In my thirty–five–year career, there have been two or three times where we’ve had an event or advancement that has given everybody the opportunity to rethink how work gets done. This is one of those times. Everyone is asking big-picture questions such as, “What is the purpose of work?” “How should we be working?” and “What should we be doing?”

It’s critical that we reflect on these questions in a meaningful way and not just have a knee-jerk reaction to what’s going on. Right now, we have an opportunity to either go back to the 1970s or move forward. We’re going to encourage our organizations to muster the courage to embrace change. We believe that they should imagine what’s possible so that we don’t lose this opportunity to push ourselves forward.

 

What does it mean, in your view, to really embrace the opportunity this moment represents and reimagine the workplace?

I don’t want to return to the office we left behind. I want to move forward to a better one. A lot of things weren’t working for many environments, whether it was stress, lack of engagement, lack of work-life balance, or other things that people were struggling with. This whole notion of the workplace is changing because most of us can work from anywhere. We should eliminate the term office because what we really need is an ecosystem of spaces.

Organizations should consider what people need to do and what kind of environment can help them get it done. Most people are doing a variety of work that includes some socialization, some collaboration, and some heads-down focus. Not all those things have to happen in the same place. You might have two or three days in which you work from home. You might go into the hub or the reimagined workplace that is now an innovation-gathering collective location in which employees are coming together. It’s the heart of the organization. It showcases companies’ culture, philosophy, goals, and mission. We need to reimagine the true purpose of these spaces, and then make them as powerful as they can be so that people actually want to be there.

Do you think organizations will rise to this challenge?

I think a lot of people are going to go half in—maybe not even half in. They’re going to let people continue to work from home, but they may not necessarily put the policies or procedures in place to ensure success and change the workplace to truly encompass virtual teams. I think that it has to be done with intent and purpose. Unfortunately, a lot of people are just saying, “Hey, everybody’s working from home, it’s working. Let’s just continue to do that.”

There’s work companies have to do to make work from home sustainable. You just can’t just cross your fingers and hope it works out. You can’t just say, “Our office is going to be different. Now it’s going to be about engagement,” without making an effort to actually enable change. I do believe that organizations understand this concept. The question is, Are they willing to invest in changing some of the spaces, the culture, or the philosophy to truly embrace what needs to be done to ensure success?

A lot of companies are also struggling financially because of COVID-19. Even when you know the right thing to do, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can do it. So, I do believe that many organizations are asking themselves, “How do we reimagine this?” They are interested in exploring the possibilities. It’s just a question of how deep they can go and how committed they are to change.

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