Event Recap
Return Agile

26 May 2021
Event Organizer: SpaceIQ
Event Link
Tagged as: Speaking Virtual

By Lucia Shorr - 23rd July, 2021

PLASTARC joined fellow leaders in spatial strategy at SpaceIQ’s Return Agile Conference. The two-day event assembled experts from facility management, space management, workplace and commercial real estate to discuss strategies for successful workplace reentry.

Keynote speaker Adam Grant—an Organizational Psychologist from The Wharton School of Business; Bestselling Author; and host of WorkLife, a TED Original Podcast—began the conference by presenting on the importance of data in the workplace, especially after the pandemic. Grant asserted that he has watched companies fail numerous times in the past not because leaders are bad at thinking, but because they are bad at re-thinking. In his organizational analysis, he asks: “What does it take to think again?” Re-thinking does not always have to change your mind, but being able to re-think something implies being truly open to ideas and able to discard outdated assumptions. He pointed out that cults, politicians, preachers, and prosecutors often refuse to re-think as they believe themselves already entirely correct. Scientists on the other hand, are constantly re-thinking. Grant called on attendees to think like scientists—look for reasons why you might be wrong, not just why you might be right. He cited an entrepreneurial experiment in which a group thinking as scientists brought in 40x as much revenue as the control group. Grant suggests surrounding yourself with opinions that challenge you, building a so-called “challenge network” in addition to a support network. As we move beyond 2020, where we were forced into a lot of re-thinking, 2021 and onwards should be characterized by deliberate re-thinking and the building of constructive challenge networks.

Expanding upon the changing mentalities regarding the future of the modern workplace, Susan Wasmund, Senior Managing Director and Global Occupancy Management Lead at CBRE—the largest commercial real estate company in the world—presented “The Future of the New Workplace”. As occupancy will no longer be based on 9-to-5 schedules, Wasmund shared insights and statistics on return-to-work timing, technologies to help flatten the utilization curve, new metrics that matter the most post-pandemic, and the move to hybrid working. Activity-based work spaces, desk booking, and other new forms of on-demand real estate define the future of occupancy management and optimization, and are central to the data-focused analysis Wasmund discussed. Notably, Wasmund shared re-entry statistics that indicated, among other things, that the third quarter was the most likely time for re-entry. Although, 25% of those who surveyed still do not have a plan of re-entry as of April 2021. Furthermore, only 16% of employees said they would prefer to either work fully at the office or mostly at the office, with 28% preferring fully remote and the rest desiring some combination.

PLASTARC Founder and Executive Director Melissa Marsh, along with Sociospatial Designer Amy Rosen, presented “Workplace Design: Configure Optimal Productivity and Delight Employees”. They began by discussing the 2020 release of “Navigating Your Future Workplace: A Roadmap”, a framework PLASTARC established to guide organizations in developing their own unique next-generation office. More than a year later, much has been learned about how to make workplaces successful now and in the future.Marsh and Rosen presented their refined 10-step roadmap.  

The first step centers on strategic planning: what do the people who work in the organization actually do, and why do they need a workplace? Steps 2-4 involve getting ready for change by assessing preferences for flex work, organizing space and policies accordingly, and preparing to manage and adjust spatial expectations and usages. Next, in steps 5-7, people return and are onboarded, learning how to function in a hybrid workplace module. Expectations and policies are established during this period and remote and hybrid eligibility and accountability are defined. Lastly, in steps 8-10 organizations figure out how to make things work long term by ritualizing sustainable WFx practices, including breaks and communication habits, reinforcing equity in hybrid employee experiences through distributed services and shared experiences, and learning from the lived experiences. Notably, these steps emphasized a shift from the primary subject of the past year, which was creating a safe office environment, to promoting culture while being hybrid. Before concluding, Rosen further emphasized the importance of maintaining a focus on employee mental health throughout the return to office process and in all of the foreseeable future. The past year has displayed how the workplace experience and the world around us can impact our mental health.

Additional topics at the Return Agile Conference included a 360-degree view of how corporate offices are reopening their office spaces, featuring multiple examples from customers, industry partners and thought leaders. Speakers examined how companies are tackling the immediate challenges of creating effective RTO plans and building new operating structures for implementing them successfully. Others addressed managing the complexities of different regions and the ability of technology resources to support these goals.

Finally, given that many companies in Australia and Asia returned to work months ago, the conference leaders asked what lessons could be learned. The conference aimed to build a workplace that is balanced, safe, thoughtful, optimized for productivity, and future-proofed down to each individual employee.