The amenity that matters most in the office? That’s easy, Kim Brennan, managing director at Cushman & Wakefield, said.
“The biggest amenity for office space is people,” she said. “During the pandemic, we learned that, the more we worked from home and away from colleagues, the more we wanted to be back with people.”
That was just one of many takeaways from a TED-style talk given by Brennan last week at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association’s 9th annual Women Business Leaders Forum at the Newark Airport Marriott.
That connection continues to be the secret to leveling up personally and professionally, for businesses seeking to keep employees connected.
“You need to use your relationships to make things happen,” she said. “Hearing the water cooler talk or hanging outside the corner office door and being invited in on conversations can’t come from working from home.”
Not only does working alongside colleagues open doors, but it opens opportunities, she said. Future female leaders are looking to current women in business to be their mentors and give them that seat at the table.
Here’s how it happens.
Brennan said she knew from an early age that she coveted a corner office. It was reinforced when she went for an interview — in that corner office — where she could look down the hallway and see only rows of darker offices and uninviting cubicles.
She got the job and worked hard over the next year trying to make her way to one of those senior offices. One day, she heard that there was a woman leaving and a vacancy was opening. She was happy an opportunity was presenting itself to her.
She knew she was right for the job — and decided to go ask for it. She didn’t get it.
Instead of giving up, she pivoted.
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Brennan decided to go where she could make more of her career: With a competitor in New York City.
As her career moved forward, she went from research to brokerage to management to brokerage again. With each step, the office space changed.
Gone were the corner offices. The space had become conference rooms with glass walls, plus a lot of other spaces with more glass walls and just a few cubes along the side.
Sometimes, bosses would sit in the center of the spaces with people. There were huddle rooms and collaboration rooms and there was bench seating. People were very mobile. And, as people were more mobile, there was more flexibility to work outside of the office. The new trend seemed to be what was going to be around for a while.
Then, COVID hit. And we were all sent to work from home. Which was challenging, she said. Aside from the social distancing, and other mandatory rules everyone had to follow, there was the unanswered question of what would happen to all the collaborative office space that was around?
Brennan, as was the case for many, found working from home had its own challenges. Then, realization set in that, the more we worked from home and away from our colleagues, the more being together was needed.
“You can’t do all that on Zoom,” she said. “You can do some of it. And some people have some success. But, for the most part, people need to be back. You cannot overlook the fact that you could be standing outside of some of the more senior staff’s office, and they will motion you in to hear the last 10 minutes of a phone call.
“That doesn’t happen anymore. I got little nuggets like that all through my career that absolutely helped me.”
Brennan sees the flight to quality at Class A buildings that everyone used to talk about as now becoming a flight to experience.
Where are we headed?
As offices began to ask employees to come back, the corporations were pivoting and, in this hybrid environment, people want some type of experience. When it comes to real estate, Brennan said many companies’ choices are now driven by this desire to be connected in new ways.
“They want some type of live, work, play atmosphere as a means to bring people back to the office,” she said. “Companies went from ‘me,’ when we think about the employee, to ‘we,’ and now they have to think about working smarter.”
Global companies are engaging with portfolio optimization and looking at their space and cost, she said. They are looking at health and wellness, at analytics and computation patterns. They are redesigning their offices, break rooms, their technology — and making it all about their people.
Not only will a corporation have good Wi-Fi, but it will have actual cameras pointing at the people in the conference rooms, so, when you do connect virtually, it’s as if you are actually sitting there.
“People want the ability to work from anywhere at any time,” Brennan said, adding that it is important for companies to give their employees choice and flexibility in this realm.
These types of hybrid innovations allow companies to maintain the productivity and collaboration they desire while still offering the flexibility that is so sought after today.
Brennan said that, ultimately, strengthening relationships, forming new ones and building chemistry with colleagues is vital not only to a company’s success, but also personal success. While our employers can try to offer as much as possible to foster their workers’ success, it’s up to the individual to make it their own.
“Every single person here has a different journey,” she said. “Your journey is your own, but the path you take to get there is different. And, on the path, you’re going to hit a lot of obstacles. Constantly.
“But you have to pivot and move on. If you can do that, you will have success in your career.”