Flexible real estate: the two terms don’t generally go hand in hand. But for Sheila Botting, it’s the only way forward.
Sheila Botting is Principal & President of Americas Professional Services at Avison Young, with previous stints at Cushman and Wakefield, and Royal Lepage. A former partner at Deloitte, she holds a business degree from Harvard and a master’s from The University of Waterloo.
Avison Young is currently the fastest growing commercial real estate firm. Sheila’s mandate is to add professional services. Through her work, Sheila has learned how to best optimize value of an asset. She has also learned that in business real estate, form often follows function.
Listen to the following clips for Sheila’s real estate expertise:
FLEXIBLE REAL ESTATE AS A SERVICE
“What if we actually activated that whole lobby experience, sometimes there’s underground or adjacent buildings attached to it. Let’s activate [it]. So that you want to be in that building.” – Sheila Botting
Creating value for tenants is a continuum. Now that real estate has core and shell, net-zero, and LEED Platinum, those are givens. But how do truly create value for the employee experience?
For Sheila, that’s about maximizing value from overlooked spaces. What if the stairwell was a place for exercise and wellness? A place that no one wanted to spend time in now becomes valuable to the employee.
Real estate as a service is also about outfitting smart buildings. If you have data telling you average vacancy rates based on days employees come into the office more, you can adjust accordingly. This results in improved sustainability and ESG goals.
FLEXIBLE SEATING MODEL
“What came out of Australia, and in Europe, [is that] many companies are moving to unassigned seating models”—Sheila Botting
With the unassigned seating model, because people are moving during the day, you have the space that you need when you need it.
If you need a meeting room or a private office, you have it. The unassigned seating model unlocks the empty space you had before.
Subsequently, the accountants love this because it immediately reduces your footprint on a cost per-employee basis. With those savings, you can instead redeploy those funds, because we know staffing is the largest line item for PNL.
Therefore, redistributing those funds is a net win for the company and the employee.
FLEXIBLE REAL ESTATE ACROSS GENERATIONS
“You go to Bob or Sally [and say] ‘you know that big ego corner office that you’ve worked your entire career to achieve, and it’s got all of your degrees and stuff on the wall? Well, you don’t need that anymore, because we know you’re only sitting there 20 to 30% of the time.’”— Sheila Botting
Will that approach work for the person who has risen through the company over decades?
Many offices have five different generations all working together. For the senior folks who have earned the corner office, perhaps not.
So, ensuring individual requirements are met and achieved requires a thoughtful, methodical change management program.
Going into this model, people are resistant. They want the private office or their typical workstation. But when they go through the process and they see the benefits of collaboration, they are much more enthusiastic.
Sheila says that what is individually sacrificed is made up for by the engagement with colleagues.
FLEXIBLE REAL ESTATE FOR SUSTAINABILITY
“So any organization [can] easily reduce its footprint by 10 or 20%, [even] before COVID. Now, in the new hybrid world, you can probably reduce 30 to 50%.” — Sheila Botting
How do you make your space sustainable? First, start with hard materials: furniture, fixtures and equipment used to procure it.
Another factor is work hours per employee. If employees are travelling during rush hour but choose other times that commute that reduce co2 emissions, you must enable them to do so. Enabling people for hybrid working environments prevents needless travel.
Subsequently, facility management practices are key. The company footprint can be massive, and it’s important to be mindful of paper printing and to encourage electronic transmission.
Lastly, food services with a focus on healthy offerings as well as sustainable disposal. Secondly, look at garbage and waste disposal programs. Are you reducing single use containers? Wellness centers for employees to stay fit.
All of these are net wins for your company and your workforce.
REAL ESTATE IS AN EXPERIENCE
“In the past, we viewed it as an asset, but real estate’s an experience.” – Sheila Botting
Traditionally, commercial real estate was thought of as an asset, as bricks and mortar. Now we have shell and core, but it’s not enough.
It’s about the experience people have in that building.
Now it’s about improving the experience for everybody, whether that’s the ecosystem within or the physical real estate itself. Sheila thinks if we pivot to real estate as a service, that’s the way forward for the next twenty years.
CONCLUSION FOR FLEXIBLE REAL ESTATE
Sheila urges people to get passionate about real estate.
You can now eat, shop, and be entertained from home. Of course, we did that during Covid. But now, everybody’s going to restaurants, or the mall, or to the theatre.
We’re craving community. So Sheila challenges the real estate world to offer the experience to bond. What the user journey is and wants to be will dictate the next two decades.