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Regardless of readiness, digitization in real estate is inevitable – Corinne Murray, IMPEC Group

Corinne Murray is VP of Workplace Strategy and Culture Transformation, at IMPEC Group. In her role, she is developing a new advisory model for companies working to develop new or stronger ideals to help foster a healthy culture that people feel safe and effective.

Throughout her career, she has led several workplace transformation efforts to facilitate the greater potential for companies and unlock better experiences for employees and their communities. Prior to IMPEC, Corinne worked at RXR, WeWork, Gensler, American Express, and CBRE.

She is passionate about creating innovative opportunities to foster cultural evolution in companies and has a deep focus on empowering individuals and teams through human-centered designs that minimize “frictions”.

Main takeaways

  • The more working style options people have, the more autonomy and agency they’ll have
  • Certain parts of the industry are more ready than others to use technology, but regardless of readiness, digitization is inevitable
  • A responsible organization should focus on building a healthy environment, virtual and physical alike
  • The pandemic accelerated the awareness of mental wellbeing, a key factor in how companies will design their spaces and support their employees

What does the future of work look like?

We’re witnessing a complex variety of styles of work, with people choosing to go from work from home to work from anywhere or back to the office. Corinne thinks that this mix actually represents the balance people are looking for in their futures as employees, even though all types of work have their strengths and weaknesses.

The future of work is about an equal evaluation of an individual’s preference (where do I like working from best? where do I feel most productive?), current context (is my team going to be in the office? what’s the weather? are the trains running?), and space performance (what activities happen effectively here?). 

The more options that we provide to people, the more autonomy and (hopefully) agency they have in how they structure their workweeks, the more nuanced understanding we will all have of the current and future needs of workers around the world. 

There’s no doubt that even with this combination of work styles, the office won’t cease to exist. But it has started to change and this process will continue. Corinne says that developers and landlords now need to be paying attention to the future of Central Business Districts and to the vacant spaces that can now play new roles. 

While the “flight to quality” will continue to be a trend in occupier leasing behaviors, the number of people commuting to and from the CBDs on a 5-day a week schedule will drop dramatically. 

This means that there will be vacant spaces to find new uses for. Could it be a school? A museum? A grocery store? A hotel? I hope that developers and landlords find a neighborhood-minded outlook to the changes we’ll start to see in the next few years.

That’s not a small task to ask, but it’s crucial to creating an integrated urban environment that will help businesses scale and people feel their needs are met. 

Offices will become social hubs that bring people together and foster relationships and connections. We shouldn’t be ashamed of socializing at work, this is a crucial element to creating successful work Corinne cites an article she resonated deeply with. Furthermore, she adds:

I’m a firm believer that workshops and collaborative work sessions are best done in-person. There is technology evolving to make virtual sessions more effective, but these sessions require presence and energy, both of which can be challenging to convey and understand through a screen. 

The feeling of being in a room with your teammates working something out is a special one. 

Technologies that influence the present and future of office spaces

To stay relevant and profitable, office landlords must adapt their spaces. This doesn’t mean just how they are used or the design, but also the technologies they integrate.

Every enclosed space needs to be wired to have a 3+ person virtual meeting, so video conferencing capabilities are more important than ever. 

Sensors and other utilization data tracking tech (i.e. badge swipe data, Wi-Fi beacons, etc.), though not necessarily the top-of-the-line ones. Just enough to understand how many people are consistently coming to the office, demand for office space may fluctuate over time, so we need to understand the new occupancy peaks and valleys. 

And while some players are more ready than others to become digital natives, digitization is inevitable, Corinne emphasizes. 

Without having proprietary information digitized onto a company network, the cost of business disruptions will continue to grow and companies will  lose talent to competitors or other industries

Culture and innovation

Innovation isn’t synonymous just with technology. There can be innovation in the way a company builds its culture. A responsible organization should have at its core the focus on a healthy environment, virtual and physical alike. The first thing to be done to achieve this, Corinne says, is to ask its employees to voice their ideas, concerns, questions, and hopes. 

A forum is how each company can identify the unique values and motivations of their employees and, within a reasonable budget and other things, work swiftly to ensure their understanding that you heard them and their voice matters in the trajectory of the organization. 

This, too, is a tall ask of many people, but this mindset is what establishes respect and  mutual trust amongst colleagues, regardless of title….and without those things, a healthy culture cannot survive. 

Also, a very important part of building a healthy culture is mental wellbeing and how much a company encourages programs on this topic. The pandemic has certainly emphasized its importance and Corinne hopes that this is more than just a trend.

We understand more about brain health and the effect of major traumas and stressors, such as a global pandemic, a social justice movement, and/or becoming a homeschool teacher to your children – has on us than ever before. 

We’ve also never been so aware of our need to move our body is not solely to maintain a certain level of fitness, but to sleep soundly, focus more, and not feel as distracted. 

She remains optimistic that this accelerated awareness won’t lose its power and that it will become a key factor in how companies design their space, provide support to their employees, and embrace the fact that we’re headed forward, not back.