Corporate real estate strategy changes depending on company needs. In this episode, your host Sabine Ehm and guest Rolf Sulen discuss how to manage large-scale CRE portfolios, and change the mindset of workspaces to create a valuable office space.
Meet the guest
Rolf Sulen is the corporate real estate advisor at Equinor. He is head of the workplace team, where he optimizes utilization and creates efficient workspaces for all international offices. Equinor began as an oil and gas company, and is now transitioning into renewables. One can only begin to imagine the CRE challenges that come with establishing new wind farms and worksites.
Equinor’s real estate portfolio spans 30 countries with 27,000 employees. Rolf and his team work to position the workplace environment as an asset to aid in company movement. The team is broken up into micro-teams, from project-based to artwork specialists. They have their hands full with how to configure spaces.
Coming from a line of architects, Rolf says “real estate is in [his] blood”. After diverting from the family path to study business, he quickly returned, developing skills in CRE management. The following clips give insight into Rolf’s strategy for success.
“Our company is not any different from any other large company when it comes to utilization of space. We have a turn up, at the office, in a range of 50-60% every day. But every time we go into a new business case, looking at new space, our space norm says that we should have so-and-so many square meters per full time employee.” – Rolf Sulen
Equinor is a large company with structures in place on how to best manage employees. Each time Rolf and his team look into creating a new location, they start by multiplying their ‘space norm’ of 20 square meters per person by the number of full time employees. From here, they have a better sense of how much area they require.
We all know – it’s never that easy. With 50-60% occupancy rates, the team must consider different types of workplace configurations and occupancy metrics to fully optimize the space. Should they split the location? Implement activity-based areas? Consider desk-sharing? Each location’s answer will be different. In London, for instance, they host events with large groups of people. That location must be equipped to handle such events, but cannot be empty on a day-to-day basis.
“If we’re going to have an office, it needs to be a strategic asset. It needs to add value. Which means that, I will say that I will go to the office because what I do will have a better outcome. What I do will have higher quality. ” – Rolf Sulen
For many in the western world, internet infrastructure is reliable enough that we can comfortably work remotely. That creates an industry of competitors to the traditional company workspaces. If companies want a high occupancy rate, they must ensure they are providing more valuable office space than the competitor, which is often home. Companies must view their office as “not just a building, but as a strategic asset.”
Until now, most companies have seen their offices as just a place to “store” their employees. Corporate real estate has focused on having the space required, but then leaving it to employees to figure out how to best manage it. In this clip, Rolf suggests understanding the nuances of each work area and to add value accordingly.
“That was one of the struggles that I had with the implementation of activity based working in the beginning as well. They were saying “I don’t want it, and now you want me to pay for it? What?” – Sabine Ehm
When building out an activity-based work environment, it’s often more expensive than the traditional setup. This is because “you typically provide more fancy things, [and] nicer collaboration areas” that are more expensive than standard desks. In this clip, Sabine and Rolf discuss the pushback that comes with trying new workplace solutions. In the end, you’ll never know the overall cost savings until you try.
As Rolf puts it,“We’re always talking about flexibility. We’re always talking about space optimization. You know, all these buzzwords that we love in CRE. But when it comes to actually implementing it, and seeing how our colleagues fit in, that’s when the trouble starts.”
The workplace is more than a holding pot for employees. Workers deserve a valuable office to support their needs. Rolf and his team manage thousands of workers, recognizing their individual spaces must be seen as strategic assets to company success. There are several ways to calculate the building out of a new location, and acknowledging each variable will prove beneficial in the long-run. Pushback is normal, but don’t let it stop you from creating something new.
Listen to this and other episodes of The Workplace Leader here.