Moderator Michael Joroff, Research Affiliate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, began today’s session by noting the complexity of decision making today. “We’re bombarded by data. But when does data become information? And when does information become knowledge that you can use to move forward? We need to gain information on which we can make decisions, and gain it rather quickly.”

To illustrate different ways of approaching a problem or challenge, Joroff posed the following question for the panel to consider:

How do we plan for the location and design of the workplace for Millennials when the work force actually is comprised of many different age groups and the Millennial cohort is not as homogenous as usually referred to in the popular press?

Franklin Becker, Professor Emeritus at Cornell University, advocates practice-based research as a valuable approach in making decisions. “Before, in my academic-based research, it could easily be three years from the time a question was posed to the time results were published. With practice-based research, you can get results in a week to a month. And additionally, it solves the problem of context. It’s about your company.”

Sometimes we start looking for answers before we even get the right questions, Becker said. “For instance, I’d want to know what kind of Millennials I have in my company. What do they care about? I would talk to people and collect some data. I’d walk around the building and interview people and ask them questions. I’d talk to people who are not Millennials. And finally, do some observation. Often people don’t really know their own behavior. This could be done in anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.”

Next, Larry Matarazzi, Director of Corporate Services at Medivation, a biotech company, offered his thoughts. “Often we approach a problem with pre-conceived notions. In this case, I think we need a different question. It’s not really about Millennials. It’s about work and how that gets done.” A number of years ago, Larry led the corporate real estate (CRE) effort in EMEA for a high-tech firm, which brought in anthropologists to help identify the best workplace solution for its 2,400 engineers. He also recounted an instance in which he was able to present incontrovertible evidence about how employees in a European country were using their workspace, allowing CRE to overcome objections from the business about shifting to a new workplace model. Thus, data can be critical.

“Most people make decisions in a way that’s lazy,” stated GaganDeep Singh, GVP, Global Real Estate & Workforce Planning, Gartner, Inc. “There’s a remarkable level of laziness in decision-making in the CRE industry and in other industries.”

As an example, he said, we should avoid over-generalizing about the needs of the Millennial generation. “So much attention is put on about 1 percent of the Millennials, those who work for a few big high-tech companies,” he said.

The question about Millennials, he said, could be stated differently, and oriented around attraction and retention of a productive work force. “Then you look at the factors that support a productive work force. One of those is career path, which depends on the scale of a given operation. You want to provide a career path, or multiple career paths, for your people. And you can’t do that with an operation of 200 people. So you either go big, or go home.

“Another one is leadership – you must have good, visible leadership in a location. No amount of free coffee, ice cream or the freedom to wear flip-flops to the office will solve for bad leadership. So I would fundamentally re-phrase the question.”