CBC Survey Results on Employee Workplace Preferences

An interview with Fred Schmidt, Chief Operating Officer of Coldwell Banker Commercial Affiliates on  their recent survey about employee workplace preferences.

CBC Survey Workplace PreferencesIntro: On this call today we have Fred Schmidt, Chief Operating Officer of Coldwell Banker Commercial. We also have James Osgood the founder of OfficeFinder. They will be discussing the CBC Survey Results on Employee Workplace Preferences.

James: Thank you. The purpose of this call is to talk with you about your recent survey about employee workplace preferences. First, Fred, can you tell me a little bit about Coldwell Banker Commercial Affiliates and what they do?

Fred: Sure. Coldwell Banker Commercial is in 275 locations in 44 countries. We have about 3600 associates. We have all the full-service capabilities from retail office, industrial, multifamily investments and property management. That’s more or less, we’re a commercial entity with regard to all that.

James: So, you’re international and have capabilities of servicing clients who are looking for commercial real estate of all types throughout the world then?

Fred: That’s correct. I have been in the business 37 years. Coincidentally on this discussion, because I know what you do with your report, I was a formerly a tenant rep office broker also [laughs]. I come from that world.

James: OfficeFinder is a network of commercial real estate brokers specializing in tenant representation and executive suites. We have roughly 500 tenant rep members and 500 executive suite members in our network including quite a few Coldwell Banker Commercial associates. We primarily service the US and Canada. We refer our visitors to our members to help them meet their office space needs and provide them information on the process as well.

James: Let’s get back to the survey. You did a survey about Employees Workplace Preferences. I guess a couple of questions I would have is, why did you do it and what did you expect to find?

Fred: This is with the Harris Poll. It will be our third or fourth year. What’s the purpose? The premise was to compare and contrast. Also, to see the evolution of the user and occupier of space. How are they looking at that space? What does it mean? What the dynamics? What are they feeling? Evaluating in terms of generations; millennials, boomers, generation x, all the generations in the workforce; all those types of things. There were no preliminary expectations or thoughts looking at this survey.

I think I was just saying to the team when you jumped on, that I think a lot of what they’re saying about the need for privacy or private areas to work and to do certain types of tasks. It’s really common sense if you take a step and look at it, depending on the type of work you are doing, or what your task is. There’s times that you need space where you can be in the collaborative environment working with other people. There’s other times when you need privacy to be able to do that work. A lot of it is common sense when you take a step back and look it, yes, this makes sense.

James: One of the things that I’ve seen going into many offices with open areas, especially with the millennials is that headphones are the new walls. You’ll walk through an office and you’ll see people with headphones on listening to whatever it is they may be listening to, but also gives a signal that, “Hey, I need my privacy to get my work done.” As another means that they’re using now to be able to create a do not disturb signal that effectively creates a wall within an open area.

Fred: I think that’s some interesting observation. We have open plans at our offices, our headquarters. There are a lot of folks, on our team, including those that use their headphones as they’re working. So, it’s interesting that when people need privacy, when they need to have conversations or really need to concentrate, they need private areas. I like that headphones are the new wall, I think it’s an interesting phenomenon.

James: Actually, the post we did on it a few years ago was kind of interesting. Walking around in open area offices and seeing all the headphones demonstrates how they can be used to allow less distractions. There are a lot of these newer spaces, like WeWork coworking spaces that are open area. They do have the collaborative areas, and the phone booths for privacy. They are pretty interesting and very popular now, especially for millennials. Although, people of all age groups are joining in the preference for the coworking style and open space, too. Anyway, getting back to the survey, were there any surprises in the survey? Is there anything that was surprised you to find out?

Fred: I think the ones that were coming out at us were of people, folks saying that we could better utilize our physical space, the actual tenants in there, as a way to utilize it, and how it manifests itself. I’ve got floor plans for about a third of them so that was interesting to see.

They are much more aware because when you’re on an open plan you become aware of the configuration how it impacts their work. I don’t think that was as much in the past. I know that we’ve heard as much about them, that awareness of the space you’re in. But if you think about it, when you are spending well over a third of your life at work,  it’s logical that people will the cognitive of that.

James: Absolutely I have heard studies that talking about the average use of office space is about fifty percent at any one point in time. So, I think the open area with the flexibility of perhaps having different workstations at any one time could be much more cost-effective for employers. Not needing to take quite as much space, too.

Fred: Well the average square foot per employee has gone down according to CoreNet as you probably know it’s about 150 square feet per person as compared to 250 to 300 over ten years ago. The open space design, the shared space, which is one of our questions was definitely a major factor. I think particularly in the millennial generations were the majority in terms of willingness to share their work spaces.

I think in terms of corporate America looking at your point about 50% usage, that change is one that will be very interesting. I think going forward we will see more people sharing desks, hoteling and working remotely.

James: You mentioned the different generations. I see in your workplace preferences report that the results are divided up by employee generation. You know one of the big challenges I think a lot of businesses have is trying to keep a balance between the millennial workers and the baby boomer workers. Is there a way to do that or are their styles so generally very different to be incompatible? Baby boomers are typically office-oriented, and the millennials prefer, as you mentioned in the survey, a more communal type of office environment.

Fred: I think here’s we have to be careful of the generational play, I’m a of boomer okay? [laughs]. I think the cultural shift definitely toward the open plans and managing to that is probably as key as the actual physical space, the way people conduct and handle their business.

You just mentioned the earphone as the new wall. I don’t think many boomers are walking around with their earphones on. They’d probably be more attuned to getting into private areas. Not necessarily private offices, but private areas. I worked at an open-plan for a good, part of my career. I think there is always sensibility with regard to that but managing the culture of your office and the type of work you’re doing still need to be paid attention to.

This is what we’re obviously painting things with the broad brush and looking at what the needs by generation are. But like I said if you are depending on the project, depending on the work, that will dictate where you’re going to use space or how you’re going to use it if that makes sense. I know it’s a very nuance thing but it’s very important to pay attention to. And then it isn’t necessarily generational.

James: One of the things that struck me in the press release was the discussions about 63% of workers surveyed would like to see easy parking. This seems to be a contradiction to the desire for people to have office space in the downtown markets now versus the suburban markets. Obviously, the suburban market’s parking is readily available but downtown it’s much more of a challenge.

Fred: It is one of those anomalies we’re saying, “Is this a trend or is it something that we’re seeing?” and if you look at older– younger millennials 63% of the group are looking at the parking. So, we’re not sure. I think it’s one of those things that you maybe ask the questions next year and the year after and then you’ll see a trend might evolving on that.

James: I guess it’s really a contradiction to the findings, they want convenience with more lunch time options in the workplace and then they want ample parking. Suburbia doesn’t typically have a lot of lunch options nearby and downtown won’t have a lot of parking.

Fred: We paint in broad strokes but if you look around the country, two thirds to three quarters of the working population is out in the suburbs or exurbs, just outside the city. I’m not sure of the exact number but it’s something like that. So, at the end of the day, despite all what we talked about urbanization or everything else, there’s a good chunk of the office workforce is out in the suburbs.

James: Yes. Absolutely. It’ll be interesting to do to your next survey maybe you do urban versus suburban analysis.

Fred: Yes.

James: When I go into one of the coworking spaces there’s always a lot of young people. Typically, there’s no parking because most of them are in the downtown, high-density areas and people are taking public transportation or biking or whatever. You always see the bike racks and the new office spaces, too.

Fred: I think that that’s one of the questions. If you are looking at survey, the parking, storage, commuting options, electric car charging stations, weather protecting bicycle storage are all of interest. We have that and no doubt the millennials are definitely focused on that and aware of it. So, is that the other trend? We’re not sure. It makes sense– common sense right?

James: Yes, it was an interesting study and I appreciate the time you’ve taken to talk to me about it and is there anything else you’d like to add?

Fred: I think the key thing is in tenant representation work is focusing on the user. Paying attention to that and how that reflects in terms of space impacts not only developers, but  occupiers and how they can recruit and retain good people. Paying attention to this is key given the amount of time and effort and money that’s spent in terms of configuring these spaces and the amount of time it takes to train employees.

James: That’s a very good point. In terms of the brokers community and the development community having clear understanding of what tenant’s workplace preferences are, so they can meet them as best as they can.

Fred: Yes. Like I said earlier, I think the nuance on this is, if you’re sitting down, you are sitting down to write an article or a blog or something, you probably want to be in a quiet spot, most people do. You need to have a place you can focus. If you’re in a open plan you need to go to have a spot that you can do you work uninterrupted or focus on it.

James: Thank you very much. I really appreciate this opportunity of talking with you about the employee workplace preferences survey.

More information on CBC Survey Results on Employee Workplace Preferences

Press Release: here

Full results: here