The Changing Work Environment

Why today’s real estate choices will affect your future business.

Spark the changing work environment from Chris Fyvie

The next evolution of the workplace is underway.  The office now plays a vital role in a company’s ability to attract and retain talent, breed innovation and do more with less.

Traditionally, employees were restricted to a physical office, but today, the office can be accessed through the palm of your hands.  This paradigm shift is ongoing and change is inevitable for companies to stay competitive.  In the next decade, savvy business leaders will be focused on three connected factors driving change in the workplace:

  • Talent Attraction and Retention

  • Productivity: Innovation Through Collaboration

  • Technology: Doing More With Less


Talent Attraction & Retention
Gen Y: Get Ready, They’re Here

Gen Y, Millennials, Echo Boomers – no matter what you call them, most agree that they are a force to be reckoned with.  In less than a decade, they will make up nearly half of Canada’s workforce and are already driving a major shift in ideas as to how and where we work.

Gen Y (most commonly referred to those born between 1981 and 2000) represent the future of our workforce.  With a preference for flexible hours, and a need for work-life balance, Gen Y can sometimes be perceived as lazy, unprofessional and having a sense of entitlement.  However, reality has shown they are dedicated and hard-working, with the majority of them growing up using technology and willing to work anytime and anywhere.

In a recent survey conducted by Odgers Berndtson, only 41 percent of global executives said they are prepared for the cultural changes that will take place as these generations replace current leaders.  However, the majority of the respondents agreed that their organizations are willing to make the necessary changes in order to attract the best talent.1

Since 2011, Canada has seen more employees leaving the workforce than entering it,2 which takes the “war for talent” to a whole new level. Understanding what motivates Gen Y, and putting the framework in place to deliver on it, will give companies a considerable edge over their competition.

Generations in the Workforce

 In terms of the workplace, Gen Y has different needs than previous generations:

  • Central location

    Gen Y choose where they want to live, and then, where they want to work. Often choosing not to own a vehicle, easily-accessible locations are paramount to this generation.   Over the last few years, several companies have relocated to more central areas near transit hubs, including Telus, Coca-Cola, and Google, all opening additional offices or relocating their suburban offices to Downtown Toronto.

  • Flexibility

    Gen Y value the independence and flexibility of working where and when they choose, both in and out of the office.

  • Connectivity

    Gen Y have grown up with a constant connection to others through social media and other outlets.  They value a workplace that enables open collaboration and social interaction.

Currently, many managers are trying to keep up with the workforce changes.  With Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y all in the workplace at the same time, and all with very different needs and expectations, the rate of change has been somewhat tempered by this clash of cultures.  Considering Gen Y are already here, planning now for the future is critical.

Take Action: Profile your employees to understand generational composition.  Employee surveys are a great tool to gather insight on wants and needs.

employees at desk

Innovation Through Collaboration

In the past, maximizing profits depended on the implementation of ‘systems’ and ‘stream-lined’ processes that got things done better, faster, and cheaper. Only recently have those ideas started to change.  Employers have begun to realize that happy, healthy and stimulated employees and an improved office culture directly affect productivity, frequently leading to more innovation and ultimately to business growth.

Successful companies are now viewing real estate as more than just office space, realizing that having dynamic office space creates a competitive advantage.  High-tech firms are making headlines with trendy workspaces that include mini-golf courses and video games scattered throughout the office.  However, behind the fun and games, there are very sophisticated design principles at work to ensure that these offices not only support collaboration and creativity, but breed it.  Research has shown that “the average worker only sits at their desk around 35 percent of the time,”4  leading to more emphasis being placed on communal areas including lounges, kitchens, brainstorming spots and even spaces designed to simply allow for casual interactions.

Take Action: Review departments and functions to determine which would benefit from specific workspaces to increase team collaboration, casual meetings, and multi-media conferencing.  

Doing More With Less

Telecommuting (or teleworking) is a trend on the rise and although it doesn’t work for all companies, certain industries are benefitting from a large boost in productivity and reduced costs.  In addition to the flexibility it offers employees, there are increased cost savings to the employer as well.

Advances in technology have allowed us to not only access files and documents from outside the four walls of the office, but to have face-to-face meetings on a national or international basis with virtual meeting software or even apps on your smart phone.  While nothing will ever replace the in-person feel, the cost and time savings in using this technology are unquestionable.

In cases where employees work both remotely and on-site, hoteling stations can be arranged to make better use of a company’s floor plan, resulting in a smaller footprint per person in the office and allowing additional costs to be allocated to common area space.

Colliers projects that by 2018, square feet per employee bench-marks will fall as low as 145 square feet, compared to today’s average of 172 square feet per person.  Despite a decrease in individual space requirements, the need for additional meeting rooms and common areas has kept the total amount of space required from plummeting.

Take Action: Technology enables mobility, mobility enables shared workspaces, and shared spaces result in a decrease in square footage per employee.  Evaluate how current office space is being used to ensure maximum efficiency.

sf per employee

Final Thoughts

Business leaders today have a lot to consider when planning the future of their workplaces – how can they leverage real estate to act as a tool not only to attract and retain talent, but also as a means of boosting productivity and containing costs?

Individually, people, productivity, and technology are not driving change, but collectively, they have created a perfect storm.  Real estate has gone beyond just bricks and mortar, and companies that are prepared to take action now will have the potential to accelerate their success.

For more information, please contact:
Shawna Rogowski –
Chris Fyvie –

1. Odgers Berndtson: “After the Baby Boomers – The Next Generation of Leadership,” 2012

2. Stats Canada, May 2011

3. Bill Haas, Haas Performance Consultants LLC, AAPEX Expo, 2012

4. WORKshift Canada: “The Bottom Line on Telework,” 2011, David Craig, Director, DEGW quoted.

5. Colliers International Research

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