If you told me 15 years ago as I sat in my 8’ x 10’ cubicle that one day I’d be working in a completely open office with only about 2 ‘ x 4 ‘ of ‘personal space’ on my desk and no walls surrounding me, I probably wouldn’t have believed you – and definitely would’ve been more than slightly annoyed by the thought of it. But, here we are.
In the past decade or so we’ve all watched the workplace change. Open office floor plans have allowed companies to fit a greater number of employees in smaller spaces. In fact, CoreNet Global noted that the average square footage per employee dropped from 225 in 2010 to 176 in 2012 and shrank again to 151 square feet in 2017.
The shrinking amount of personal workspace is densifying commercial real estate (CRE) buildings today. At the same time, generational shifts in the workforce have led to heightened tenant expectations. Coupled together, these forces present big challenges for building management teams. Put bluntly, the job is different now, which means that the set of skills teams need looks different than it did ten years ago.
To understand the new skills needed, let’s look at how the changing workplace and workforce affects each role on a building management team:
Office spaces were once seen as a commodity – an unspecialized product for tenants. There wasn’t as much that buildings had to do to stay relevant and competitive. Today this has all changed. Executives are constantly thinking of creative new ways to differentiate their buildings from the competition. The challenge they face is that they are competing on new terms. It is no longer enough to differentiate buildings as products, through quality finishes and hard amenities, for example. Instead, their customers are demanding differentiated experiences from the buildings they work in.
To keep up with these changes, executives must understand how they can use different types of space in their building to make it more valuable and attractive for tenants. All of a sudden, they find themselves hungry for new data. What do tenants want? What are they engaging with? How do they feel about their workplaces? How are tenant amenities impacting operations at large? To compete effectively, CRE execs are going to need data collection and analysis capabilities; and evaluating technology solutions that collect and report the right data will be a big part of that.
Because the workplace is densifying, property managers have more customers now than ever before. Let’s think about a CRE building 15 years ago. Say you managed a 500k square foot building with 200 square feet of space per person on average. At this ratio, your building had about 2,500 people working in it. Now fast-forward to today, with a ratio of 125 square feet per person. That same building now has 4,000 coming in and out on any given day. That’s a lot more customers to think about!
The increase in traffic is putting a larger strain on building systems, which means now a property manager has to think about new questions. How much more will we spend on paper products? Do we need more restrooms? Can our elevators handle the increase in traffic? How much sooner will the carpets wear out? How am I supposed to communicate with all these occupants? Effective team management, problem-solving, and hospitality may not exactly be new skills for property management teams, but their importance is now accentuated, and the more people on the team that have them, the better.
Engineering teams are also feeling the pressure of densification. For them, more people means more work order requests to fulfill, with the same service expectations—but of course, the team hasn’t gotten any larger! Efficiency has always been crucial for engineers, but the level of efficiency now required now means using technology.
The need for technology skills shows up in other ways as well. Even though much of the equipment buildings use today functions similarly to the same way it has in the past, maximizing its performance means using new tools to monitor equipment and diagnose problems. Think about your car for example. Not too long ago, you could take your car to a mechanic who could tell you what was wrong with it just by listening. Of course, many of them can still do this. But today, it’s faster to plug it into a computer to get an immediate, precise diagnosis. The same digitization has happened with building equipment. So, to do their jobs effectively, engineers absolutely must be able to evaluate and use technology.
The tenant coordinator may be an unsung member of many building management teams, but people in this role can fill some of the vital skills that teams may be lacking. Take hospitality, for example. Because they tend to be more junior, tenant coordinators are more reflective of the biggest single demographic chunk of the workforce occupying their buildings – millennials. Thus, they tend to be very attuned to the idea of the experiential workplace and the expectations occupants have. They realize that the workplace experience is not just about the space itself, but also includes what’s going on in the building and its surrounding neighborhood. Today’s tenant coordinators are the ones leading the way in bringing a hospitality-like mindset to CRE, as well as new skills like event management.
CRE professionals are realizing that the generational shift we are experiencing in the workforce is disrupting the industry. One of the implications is that they are starting to understand that they will need to reassess the skills on their building management teams if they want to stay competitive. In some cases, the need will be for maintaining existing skills and shoring up others through training. In others, the capabilities will have to come from new talent. Regardless, CRE leaders should be taking a proactive approach to their collective skill sets.
To learn more about what specific skills are critical for success both today and in the future, see what 260+ CRE professionals identified as the top 10 skills in our report: Impacts of Generational Shifts on the CRE Workplace: Understanding the Gaps in Talent and How to Fill Them.