For many companies, technology is a source of disruption and benefit within their real estate footprint. Information technology moves faster than organizational clock speed, which can overwhelm assumptions and create unintended consequences. Culture is where the disconnects show up.

I recently went to the CoreNet annual conference in Boston, Massachusetts. The conference explores trends and innovations in the real estate industry.  Here are my key takeaways from the conference:

Technology, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and their social impact

Opening session speakers Dr. Kate Darling, Dr. Ken Goldberg, and Joy Buolamwini tackled AI, robotics, and digital equity. The impact of these technologies on our workplace is already profound. AI is taking on repetitive data management tasks. Robots are doing part feeding and fixturing in factories. Tidbit: Sometimes we treat the robots better when they have faces!

There is a dark side to the technology too – facial recognition software has a terrible success rate with women of color, particularly at gender identification. The software literally cannot see people for who they are. This performance bug has not been the focus of a massive retool like we see when there is a credit card or identity breach, as to-date the capability failure has not caused demonstrable financial harm. This makes the implications inside the corporate workforce and the #MeToo movement even more troubling.

More with Less

Technology is also at the root of a great downsizing. As technology allows for a more mobile workforce, interior office space needs are dramatically shrinking. T.J. Lambert from Adidas and Arlyn Vogle from Gensler showed that on the Reebok HQ relocation, reporting a 2/3 reduction is leasable floor area from their suburban location of 600k SF. At the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, the team reported the work area as perhaps too perfect so staff are reluctant to talk out loud or make mistakes. This limits organizational maturation, as when risks are not taken then lessons are not learned.

Culture Tensions

Dealing effectively with what speakers called the ‘contingent workforce’ had social implications of culture, and environmental implications for energy, water, and carbon. My conversations with attendees reflected the social issues – inside their companies, two of the nation’s biggest architectural firms have the same issues as the end users: poor leadership skills are modeled by bosses; entry level staff churn through, looking for purpose; and middle management deals with the consequences. It is an endemic problem throughout the industry.

Many property management companies have developed solutions for these ills: social media platforms for space reservations; business cases for benefits; and even packaged furniture solutions that influence culture. A Cushman and Wakefield team presented a new way of thinking about experience, trying to develop KPIs for amenities we see everywhere.

End users must significantly upskill their talent program if they are to resolve the space – culture – technology puzzle. Otherwise they are prey to the latest Furniture, Fixtures & Equipment (FF&E) trend, and spend with little value creation to show for it.

Leading from Within

Indeed, some of the top-tier management consulting firms seem to have more sizzle than steak. The technology and SaaS solutions have outpaced the capacity of corporate real estate adoption rates. It was more often the case when a committed real estate director took a deep dive on their situation and tried something new that value was created. Jennifer Taranto of Structure Tone and Paul Asmar of Millipore made it real in their talk about how for their companies; simple policy changes can create business value from sustainability.

The Rich Life

One session was led by emeritus real estate executive Stan Gibson that espoused living a rich life. He showed attendees ways to slow down to speed up, and how to stay on purpose. From that rich life will emerge a better you and better real estate solutions. The late-in-the-day session was highly attended. Audience members put their phones down and were highly engaged.

Become Familiar with the Unfamiliar

The closing plenary featured reporter Rona Farrow, activist Tarana Burke, and Dr. Josh Packard discussing the implications of the #MeToo movement inside the corporate work place. I admit that going into the session I did not fully appreciate the pervasive nature of man-bias in our industry.

The conversation on the dais was thought provoking and modeled the curiosity we need and the faith in which we must trust to eradicate sexual harassment in the workplace. I learned how I can, as a man in the workplace, contribute to the necessary shift in cultural norms. When I think about my close female colleagues enduring some of these behaviors it makes me mad.

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