January 2004 was a big month for me. It marked the start of my new role at the BBC where I became global head of Corporate Real Estate (CRE). Since getting involved with the consumer side of the real estate industry almost 30 years ago I have focused on becoming more than just an ‘order-taker’ In the case of the BBC and before that the Walt Disney Company my goal was to be the in-house trusted advisor on all things concerning real estate, facilities and construction used in the business. Now that there is clear blue water between these old roles and my new life it is timely to reflect on a career which has evolved considerably and is facing even more change. In fact, there have been times that I felt that my old role as Head of CRE might disappear altogether, an observation which I did share with some audiences over the years. I’m still of this opinion and recent experiences have reinforced for me that there is a new chapter looming in how we consume and make best use of the built environment especially the places we call offices.
One of the early business lessons I learned is don’t get stuck in the weeds by not allocating time to taking a look over the parapet to see what is going on in the wider world. Thankfully, I did invest time in scanning the horizon in search of inspiration and innovation. The workplace sector and indeed the wider real estate world is notoriously introspective. Probably because there will always be a business need for accommodation and shelter. Whilst that may be true there can be little doubt that the nature of how space is used is changing. I believe over the last 5 to 10 years we have experienced a seismic shift which for the most part has gone unnoticed. It is how we can do office work. For a growing number of people in many companies they can now work in a variety of places. Whilst this is recognised what is less appreciated is that this work can be done anytime. Although, there is a growing amount of coverage about these new ways of working, it is still a minority sport. But for how much longer? The influential writer Charles Handy made this insightful observation about office work;- “Organisations, however, are just ways of connecting people and now that there are so many other ways to connect beyond face-to-face encounters we will see the physical aspect of the organisation changing rapidly. It has always struck me as odd to watch all those streams of people pouring out of railway stations in order to sit in their box-like cubicles communicating with similar folk in other boxes by email, telephone or messaging when they could do it equally well from home, or from a local work hub” If he is right and he was one of the first to predict the changing nature of 21st century work – what could this mean for how enterprise consumes office space?
This subject is too big to discuss in a single blog post, especially as there are a number of different perspectives which need to be considered. The actual consumers, the providers, and the intermediaries. Each has their own point of view and agenda to pursue. Indeed therein lies the core of the matter – all the stakeholders in this type of discussion are approaching it through their own perspective. There is little meaningful acknowledgement of the perspectives of other players. Take for example those involved in my world of CRE or Workplace or is it Facilities or FM? We operate under a wide range of labels and have a range of perspectives about the role we play. It is no wonder that those looking in at what we do find it confusing and complex – maybe it is time for a change?