Guest blog by Steve Quick, Chief Executive of Global Occupier Services (GOS), Cushman & Wakefield

The pace of change in business is accelerating rapidly. A company can go from a startup to the Fortune 500 in a few short years, while a well-established name can disappear due to merger or a disruption change.  Product cycles and business project cycles have become shorter over the past decade, fueled by new technologies and intensifying competitive pressures. A Gartner survey of CIOs found that half of the companies that decided to reshape their business models are doing so to advance digital transformation and opportunities.

There has always been something of a mismatch between the long-term nature of office space occupancy and the need to adapt to sudden shifts in business strategy, which makes it even more important that companies create a flexible occupancy strategy.

Of course, flexibility can mean a lot of things. Corporate real estate leaders should be thinking of flexibility on multiple levels, from overall corporate strategy to the changing needs of various teams.

At the strategic level, flexibility is best achieved through the leasing process. One way that’s reflected is in shorter lease terms. Once, seven to 10 years was the normal length for a U.S. office lease. Today, it’s three to five years. A shorter-term may increase occupancy cost – for one thing, the cost of interior buildout has to be amortized on an accelerated schedule. But that could be a small price to pay compared to the cost of excess space or, worse, insufficient space to accommodate growth.

Flexibility is also one of the major forces driving distributed workforce initiatives. The primary goal of a company’s mobile strategy is to enable productivity and collaboration among employees and contractors who, on any given day, might meet in the main office or work from satellite locations.

Distributed workforce models greatly increase workforce flexibility and agility. But they also create new challenges for real estate teams, from creating a satellite office location strategy to ensuring offices have enough of the right type of space to meet peak demand.

Flexible Team Spaces

In recent years, real estate teams have taken a closer look at the ways employees use office space, individually and in teams. Here again, the goal is to increase productivity and collaboration, and an agile workplace is a means to achieving that goal.

It’s worth noting that agility and flexibility are similar but not identical concepts. Here, I’m using ‘flexibility’ to refer to companies and buildings, and ‘agility’ to refer to individual workers and teams. An office layout that encourages interactions between departments can help create a more agile workforce. But if the space can easily be reconfigured in response to changing needs, that’s a flexible workplace.

When coworking is used effectively, it can enhance both flexibility and agility. Companies can ensure they have enough workstations, meeting rooms and conference room without paying for spaces that are rarely needed. That’s flexibility. But, it also makes individuals and teams more agile, by giving them access to a wider array of space options to meet the needs of the moment.

Companies are also doing a lot within their existing space to improve workforce agility, in order to keep up with the rapidly changing needs of business teams. One thing we’re seeing in the market is that space planners are adding what they call ‘kinetic elements’ to space. This means that the furniture and walls are on wheels or otherwise easy to move.

For instance, a team might finish the planning phase of a project, when they were circling the desks and using whiteboards, but now they’re in an analytical phase where everyone focuses on their own tasks most of the time.  With flexibility built into the space, they can configure their space in a few minutes whenever their needs change.

Perhaps the most valuable real estate strategy for improving flexibility and agility is constituent engagement. Corporate real estate directors who are informed of the C-suite’s strategic discussions are in the best position to develop location and workplace strategies in anticipation of change.

At the other end of the hierarchy, facility managers today are engaging directly with employees to listen to their ideas and accommodate their individual needs. This can often lead to larger insights on space efficiency. We’re just starting to see facility teams use sensors and computer analytics to learn more about space utilization. And that’s good. But it shouldn’t take the place of face-to-face engagement and listening to employees.

So, despite the fact that business cycle times are shortening, corporate real estate leaders are better equipped than ever to meet these challenges. With the right focus on flexibility and agility, companies can develop and carry out real estate strategies that will advance their strategic goals.


Steve Quick, Chief Executive of Global Occupier Services (GOS), joined Cushman & Wakefield in 2013 with nearly 25 years of industry leadership experience. Steve oversees the company’s global platform for occupier clients including major corporations, institutions and governmental agencies. Steve is responsible for core Cushman & Wakefield service lines through GOS, including portfolio planning, transactions and project and facility management for many of the world’s leading corporations.