Guest Post by Michael Lawings, Senior Director Global Workplace Services Americas at Microsoft

Listen to the community, then build projects that support it. It’s a simple yet powerful concept, and it’s one we’re putting into action at our Atlanta site at Quarry Yards that encompasses 90 acres on the city’s west side.

At the start, we committed to set aside 25% of the site for facilities that benefit the community and help the surrounding neighborhoods meet their housing, economic, and education needs. Hearing from civic partners, community members, non-profits, and more will take some time, but it is a critical part of the building process.

This is not real estate as usual, but it’s the direction our CRE industry needs to go. The choices we real estate professionals make about where, what, and how we build can change lives for generations. As an industry, we have the power to support communities, and we should use it.

When we listen to the community, we are by extension listening to our customers, our current and future employees, and our business partners. The businesses we represent are part of the community, and the community is part of us.

We know how an investment of this size can affect a city based on our growth within the Puget Sound region around Seattle. But solutions that worked well in Seattle may not be a good fit for locations like Atlanta. A cut-and-paste approach is no way to build a campus or build trust.

That’s why our first action item in Atlanta is to ask the local community what we can do to make a sustainable and positive impact in their city. To do this we will create a community led advisory council to engage with our recently announced planning team. This group of community members will be asked to participate in planning for key milestones and to represent the many local stakeholder groups including education partners, neighborhood and business associations, non-profits, and councilmembers.

The logic is simple. The more people you involve in solving a problem, the greater the diversity of thought and the better the solution.

This partnership with the community depends on all voices being heard. That means listening to both formal and informal leaders. It means being empathetic and finding common ground.

What we’re building in Atlanta is more than just a campus, it’s an economically integrated community where people with a variety of incomes can live, work, learn, and play in environmentally sustainable surroundings with easy access to the entire metro area.

This is how you ignite the soul of real estate. Yes, it takes time, but the ultimate goal is to make a positive impact together.

Michael Lawings is Senior Director Global Workplace Services Americas at Microsoft