Upflex Live Recap: Schneider Electric & Colliers on the Future of the Hybrid Workplace

Excerpted from our recent Upflex Live webinar, check out a few of the insights shared by real estate experts at Schneider Electric, Colliers and Upflex, and check out the hour-long discussion in full below.

In the first edition of Upflex Live — a webinar series on the future of work — real estate experts from Schneider Electric, Colliers International and our own team dug into how enterprise companies are designing and rolling out hybrid workplace strategies now, and how they’re preparing for what comes next in office real estate.

Flex space consultant Mike LaRosa sat down with Schneider Electric’s Director of Real Estate Karen McClellan, Colliers International’s VP of Account Management Scott Moore, and Upflex’s SVP of Enterprise Workplace Solutions Liassine Talbi and examined how corporate and employee attitudes toward flex and hybrid workplace models are evolving fast, and how global enterprise companies like Schneider Electric are rolling out solutions to meet the needs of both employer and talent.

Mike LaRosa: We’ve all seen the headlines: “People would rather quit their jobs than go back to the office and not be able to work from home.” […] What does this mean for real estate moving forward? I would love to have Karen share her perspective as a director of real estate for an occupier, for the end users: You were already proactively looking at flex prior to COVID, so you all already knew what the “next thing” for Schneider was going to be. Could you give our audience a little insight as to the why and the how of that decision process?

Karen McClellan, Schneider Electric:  We considered what we were driving towards our “workplace of the future.” We recognized that we had a lot of a lot of seats that were not used every day. We had a lot of unused real estate. It was a constant battle. And when you have an office with 100 seats, and only 20 people are in there every day, they’re all spread out. They’re really not going to collaborate. We were already really trying to change that.

And in addition to that, we had over 100 small offices in North America, and by small offices, that’s less than 15 employees per office.That’s a security issue. It’s a management nightmare. There was just constant turnover. It’s difficult to manage an office that we were in control of. We were trying to say, “You know, guys, you’re not there that much. Let’s try a more flexible avenue.” But it was a tough sell.  The opportunity that came out of the events of 2020 have allowed employees to really understand, “I can work from home. I can be mobile. I can recognize a more hybrid environment.” I think for us, it has really accelerated what we were already trying to sell, and it’s made the sell a little bit easier.

And then, once we started working with Upflex, [the realization] was: I don’t want to have to have a different relationship in every city with a different landlord. I can have a one-stop shop, and I can also have a better space than I probably would have been able to provide, because I would have gone to a class-B space to save some money, and I would have signed a five-year lease, with a lower-end build-out. In this way, I can have a class A, I can have a lot of amenities, and I can be very flexible. It just accelerated what we were already driving towards.

Mike LaRosa: Scott, could you share a little about what you’re seeing, not just from working with Schneider, but also from what your peers are working on? Is the thought process that Karen had led her teams through growing, like a ripple effect, through the rest of enterprise real estate? Elaborate as to how you see companies trying to get to where Schneider already is.

Scott Moore, Colliers International: Since we’re just beginning to return to the office, I think many occupiers are still evaluating that go-forward model. We had a little bit of a head start evaluating that going into COVID. But now, there’s an expectation from employees to have flexibility. So, I think that’ll accelerate things a little bit. You’re starting to see the velocity of these rollouts pick up.

I think you’re going to see continued enabling of work-from-home, flex space, and then one thing we’re seeing is the development of personas: We talked about “always in the office;” “always remote;” “hybrid workers, in for three days.” So, you develop your plan around that.

“Since we’re just beginning to return to the office,
I think many occupiers are still evaluating that
go-forward model… But now, there’s an expectation
from employees to have flexibility. So, I think
that’ll accelerate things a little bit. You’re starting to
see the velocity of these rollouts pick up.”

Another interesting thing that’s kind of come out of all this with some of the announcements is the ability to work from anywhere in the country for you know a few weeks a year. So I think you’re going to start to seeing some interesting things being rolled out in the coming months.

Mike LaRosa: I’m so glad that you bring up personas. That feeds into what I was going to ask Liassine. Liassine, because you have so much experience in traditional executive business centers, as they used to be called, that had a very specific profile, right? Either a traveling top-level executive was running for a phone bank to answer a page, or your “road warrior,” how have you seen the changes in how organizations identify those personas? Are they still locked into thinking, ‘Oh, it’s still only my mobile workforce,’ or have they finally realized, ‘It could be a lot more folks than we think’?

Liassine Talbi, Upflex: Yes, absolutely. Something we take for granted is office space. It’s there: We go to the office, we sit down at the desk, we have internet, we get coffee and we get to work. A lot of that is done by departments like Karen’s department: They set all this up.

Way back, the office was a necessity. Companies needed office space for various reasons. You had to have your big logo on the building, you had to expect your employees to come to work every single day, they spend eight hours in the office. But things have changed. Globalization meant that companies had to be more agile—adapt quick—therefore they needed flexibility.

That’s what drove the shift back then, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, 40 years ago even, to flexible workspace. Companies needed not only to have a lease for for for 30 years, 20 years and spent tons of capital building this space for their company, but they needed their employees to be able to travel quick, access workspace, get somewhere that they could get work done. For this reason, at one point, even Starbucks became very popular for people to work from.  So that shift was driven really by business needs: reduce cost, be more flexible, adapt, be more agile.

Today, this shift is driven not only by business needs, but by employees’ wants and wishes. Employees want want to work differently. The questions are: Does it affect productivity? Does it affect creativity? Does it affect revenue? And no, it doesn’t actually. Studies show that employees are as productive or more productive, whatever the way they work. I mean, go back to March last year. Everyone thought the world has stopped. It hasn’t. That shows you how resilient it is. A lot of people carried on working from home.

“Employees want want to work differently. The questions are:
Does it affect productivity? Does it affect creativity?
Does it affect revenue? And no, it doesn’t actually.
Studies show that employees are as productive or
more productive, whatever the way they work.”

But now the need is not only from businesses, but employees. That has other impacts on how you hire talent, how you retain talent, and the talent pool responds to the role. The way people want to work today is, “I choose what worked from. Today, I’m happy working from home. Tomorrow, I’ve got meetings, I’m going to work near my client, meet and collaborate with my colleagues. I am flying to Denver, I can work from there, even if my company doesn’t have an office.” So all these differences, all these shifts, and the needs to be more productive, more agile, is driving this industry to have real estate be a lot more flexible, not just for specific personas or roles, but across the workforce.

Mike LaRosa: I think a lot of folks out there that are so pro-remote, they may gloss over the fact that most people do actually have to go to a physical location. Karen, Schneider Electric could never be fully remote, because you are in manufacturing, you have to have facilities, so I’d love to get your insight on this: As you are executing a flexible work program — utilizing the Colliers mobility pass powered by Upflex — how do you then navigate who’s eligible? Who’s the right fit? I’d love to dive in more about how you do that when you actually have to have physical spaces.

Karen McClellan: Not only do we have manufacturing, we all are also a heavy engineering company, which means, quite often, employees do need to be in the office, in a lab. Schneider was, before the pandemic in North America, somewhat flexible, recognized mobility under the radar just allowed people to be a little bit flexible, but it wasn’t very formalized.

But we’re a global company, and now it’s been recognized that we need to be fair and inclusive, globally to all employees, if we’re going to offer this. So it was a big deal, globally, for a lot of countries that could not do this before to say, ‘Yes, if your job allows, you can be a hybrid worker.’ And that means two to three days a week, we still want you to come into the office. The people that support the manufacturing, they’d never have this flexibility. So is that that the fact that it’s global, the fact that we’re recognizing the manufacturing support was really a big deal. What what we’ve tried to develop our model is we still have hubs in our major cities, where the bulk of the employees are, and we want employees to come in, and we want those to be a great work environment for them.

“We’re talking to employees about the office
being a purpose-driven place to be. When I’m
going to the office now, it’s for a purpose… That’s
another change. It’s another mindset. That’s
part of that the hybrid work model.”

But we recognize that outside of those hubs, they also need a place to go and the ability to go to another office, and that’s where the the flexible offices come in. And if you are not able to go to a hub, then we are allowing all employees access to that type of flexible workspace.

One of the things Liassine was talking about was the difference of going into the office: Before, you went into the office because that’s what you did. It was like a parking place. You went in — that’s what you did — and you were there all day, every day.

Now, this is part of the change: We’re talking to employees about the office being a purpose-driven place to be. When I’m going to the office now, it’s for a purpose. I’m understanding my my week and my work schedule, and I’m going not just because I’m going to go sit at my workstation, because that’s what I do, but maybe I’m going in with the intention of having a conference, or meeting, or knowing I need to do heads-down work, or knowing that I want to potentially run into a couple of groups that might be there. I’ve talked with with my team, and we have Tuesdays — that’s the day that we’re all going to be in the office, when we know we’re going to be able to have that collaboration. It’s not every day, so it becomes a very purpose-driven. Again, that’s another change. It’s another mindset. That’s part of that the hybrid work model.

Watch the full Upflex Live webinar here: