WORKTECH New York and the Future of Flexible Real Estate

By Amanda Fanoun
24.05.18 ·

Last week, WORKTECH New York brought together a mix of workspace innovators, providers, and suppliers. The speakers and synergies in the room reflected the real shift of the commercial real estate market towards the future of work. With keynotes from the leaders of Microsoft, Ogilvy, and UNWIRED, attendees were forced to think about what’s next for future generations and how they can adjust their businesses for flexible real estate and shifting trends.

The Empathetic Society of the Future

The workplace is increasingly becoming the epicenter of real estate and technology. Since coworking hit the market and spread like wildfire, operators have been scrambling to find a way to systematize it and, at times, even explain it. At WORKTECH Jess Kimball Leslie from OgilvyRED explained that we lack the language today to describe our economy and jobs. Society’s own progress and innovation are ahead of itself.

“We are experiencing an Industrial Revolution,” said Kimball Leslie. Over the last ten years, 94% of new employment growth is comprised of freelancers, day laborers, and contingent workers. Technology innovation has enabled today’s gig economy, worker mobility, demand for flexible workspace, and disruption in traditional CRE models. The growth of the flexible workspace sector is a testament to companies making earnest efforts to de-risk their businesses by reducing overhead, slashing space per employee, and bringing common areas and collaborative environments to the workspace.

Technology has forged a new society and a new set of norms. Just as real estate is adapting to serve the modern employee, companies are adjusting to technology’s impact on today’s knowledge worker. Kimball Leslie’s argument made the WORKTECH audience ponder how to prepare for the post-capitalist economy and future worker. For example, new technologies and services and companies like Amazon and Google have restructured employment and the way society lives. Technology has allowed people to be more connected than ever. It’s empowered society with access to more information, networks, and collaborative tools for both professional and personal use. This wide-spread connectivity has reached the workplace and today’s workers expect greater community, collaboration, and flexibility in how, when, where and with whom they connect.

Social skills, respect for diversity, multi-lingual abilities, and more than anything, empathy and experience will be highly demanded qualities. The ability to connect with people will be a differentiator of successful businesses of the future. Jess Kimball Leslie closed with the verdict that “the future is in communities and people taking care of each other.” Coworking and workspace operators have the ability to deliver not only a service but also to offer a network of connections for their members.

Co-Fusion, Technology and the Senses

Phillip Ross, the founder of UnWork and Unwired, presented on the five senses and how technology is transforming the future of work. From biometrics tailoring the customer experience to haptics and interacting with walls, Ross predicted that there is a revolution that is about to impact real estate. Modern workspace demands have created a broader ecosystem for work, and innovative technologies from digital recognition to sensors and automation are changing the way that people interact with the building.

Coworking is “blurring the boundaries between physical and virtual space,” according to Phillip. We’re now seeing workspaces mix with social clubs and lounges, niche workspaces specialized for a trade, and landlords “fighting back.” The fusion of shared workspace and commercial real estate are bringing trends together, creating a wave of “co-fusion” along the journey. Smart buildings and connected communities, health and well-being, are all trends that are humanizing the experience of how people work in the office.

The Future of Commercial Real Estate

Joyce Bromberg, the Chief Strategy Officer of Convene, Cynthia Lindberg of Ogilvy and Ben Munn of the Instant Group sat on a panel to discuss the shifts and disruptions that are happening in the commercial real estate market. Broadly, CRE is going back to people and community and putting an emphasis on empathy and social skills. According to Ben Munn, technology has the ability to augment experiences. However, there is still a gap in what technology does and its actual implications in real life and environments. While the potential change and disruption by technology are massive, it’s still unclear.

Although there is an inevitable shift towards open space plans, the panelists agreed that there was a need to incorporate focus space and areas where coworkers can be productive. With networks changing so rapidly, operators must focus on delivering an experience that drives social engagement yet also facilitates productivity. “Space is the expression of culture, and it can shape culture,” said Joyce Bromberg of Convene. Today’s workspace market represents the commoditization of the workplace by different brands. “There is a shift in ownership of development and delivery [of space], but the choice still sits with the customer,” said Joyce. As disruption of the market continues, operators will look to transformative software and hardware to create experience and space that drive processes.

The Flexible Future of Real Estate

Chris Kelly, co-founder of Convene and MC of the WORKTECH New York event, closed out the day’s sessions with a presentation on the transformative change that the commercial real estate industry is experiencing. Imagining the CRE building of the future with the implications of technology, the gig economy and today’s innovations point to a paradigm shift in the largest asset class on the planet.

“The value of objects can be redefined with time when you change the value they have to the user,” said Kelly. Giving space a new use and value to the end-user by putting a greater focus on function and feel, integrating retail areas, and connecting all layers of the workspace with an integrated technology platform “enables real estate to become more strategic and changes the ability for businesses to compete for the best talent.”

Convene is known for its hospitality approach to commercial real estate and flexible workspace. Among various predictions for the future of commercial real estate, Kelly envisions a situation in which landlords become brands, tenants become members, and workplaces become a service. Real estate evolves from a commodity to experience, and buildings become smart and empathetic.

Beyond the Workspace Structure

WORKTECH sessions throughout the day presented by the likes of Intersection Technology, Humanyze, Scott Brownrigg and Microsoft each presented ideas, products or services that touched on the human-aspect of the workspace in a broad context. For example, Max Oglesbee of Intersection Technology presented on Responsive Cities and implementation of technology in spaces by having a digital masterplan. Technology can remove friction and create seamless, calming environments where people can focus on their work.

Humanyze is a company that uses data and people analytics to uncover how work gets done. They focus on the transformation of business more so than the physical transformation of the building. According to Humanyze, over 2.1 trillion dollars of market value was lost on failed organizational changes initiatives. Understanding and measuring collaboration can help businesses to deliver value by way of a better employee culture.

Scott Brownrigg architects focus on evidence-led workplace design. By way of conducting questionnaires, they collected information on office workflow and the dynamics between different departments and individuals to identify patterns with particular kinds of work. Understanding the end-users and how they will utilize the space enables workspace operators to implement a productive and agile environment that fosters collaboration.

WORKTECH New York delivered a true multi-disciplined event, merging the areas of workspace, commercial real estate and technology. This year’s sold out event proved to be an appropriate contextual forum to envisage the future of the workplace – which is closer than what we think.