As employers grapple with efforts to bring workers back to offices, large shifts in work culture and the ongoing Great Resignation, customized commercial real estate is becoming a bigger factor in companies’ success. Consequently, CRE firms need to offer new services to bolster the success of their tenants and their buildings, according to Julie Whelan, Head of Occupier Research at CBRE.

“We have reached a point of mass change,” Whelan said.  To navigate that change, “clients are engaging with us much more for advisory or consultative services rather than just transactions… Companies like ours are creating solutions and services that help our clients move from where they are today to where they want to be with their workplaces.”

Increasingly, CRE companies are helping clients work through a change management process that impacts both their real estate and their daily operations.

“We talk to organizations about moving towards activity-based workplaces,” Whelan said. “You cannot redesign office space in a vacuum. You have to understand how employees are going to use that space.”

CBRE’s Washington, D.C. office. Photography by Sam Kittner.

That solution – especially amid the widespread switch to hybrid work arrangements – is different for every company. Offices need to be customized to provide the right mix of individual workspace, collaborative space, social space and amenities, as well as technology that supports “meeting equity” in gatherings that combine in-person and online participants.

“Office designs need to allow each person to be their most productive selves when they are in the space,” Whelan said.

Given ongoing office hesitancy and high levels of Americans changing jobs, “we also really try to create environments that influence people and create a desire in them to get up in the morning and go to that space,” she said. “A lot of people today are rethinking their priorities, rethinking their purpose and whether their job and organization fulfills them. The combination of workplace policies and workspace can be a differentiator in how your company attracts, engages and retains talent.”

Achieving those sweeping changes isn’t likely to happen quickly or in one step. Many employers, Whelan predicted, may go through an iterative process of piloting various changes in work practices and office space to eventually determine what will work best for their staff.

Current trends and challenges in work culture, however, could lead to a lasting change in how companies assess and manage their real estate needs.

“Corporate real estate divisions have typically reported to the chief financial officer and there has been a laser focus on cost, cost, cost,” Whelan said. “Now, real estate is more human-centric and corporate real estate people are increasingly reporting to the chief people officer. We think some organizations could end up creating a role of chief places officer and that person would be tasked with making sure that an employee’s experience is good in their workspace and the company can operate effectively. That shifts the real estate conversation. Cost will still be important, but so will human resources and IT and employee wellness and corporate culture.”