Panelists at the ULI breakfast event. | Image by Carrie Rossenfeld

Event Coverage – November 2018: Culture Gains Prominence in the Workplace

Carrie Rossenfeld Event Coverage

From SoCal Real Estate’s November 2018 issue:

By Carrie Rossenfeld

If you can’t define your company’s culture — or it has a bad one — employees are likely to head for the door, said panelists at a recent ULI San Diego monthly breakfast event, “The Culture-Driven Workplace: Driving Employee Satisfaction, Profit, and Innovation.”

The panel was led by JT Barr, a principal with Schmidt Design Group, and included Anne Benge, CEO of Cultura; Tiffany English, a principal with Ware Malcomb; Pamela Fleming, human resource director for Fuscoe Engineering; and Casey Brown, founder of the Casey Brown Company.

Barr said that companies with no culture will have high turnover, and while many things can be stolen from a company, its culture is not one of them. He asked the panelists why we are seeing a talent war now, and Benge said that 2015 ushered in “the age of choice,” the first time since the early 1900s that we saw more jobs than people to fill them in the workforce. This shift necessitated the development of creative office, the war for talent, and the need to keep employees happy, well, and comfortable.

Tiffany English said the current trend in CRE is all about the experience, in every facet of life, which is why culture in the workplace is so important. “People want to have an experience with their people,” she said, adding that it’s about the “tribe,” being part of a community, and a sharing environment. “Everything can be shared now.”

Barr said work-life balance is more important than ever now that the lines are blurred between work and life, and he said there is a cross-pollination within the scope of amenities in different aspects of one’s life. Fleming added that getting people on board with adding amenities to the workplace is not always easy because not every company has the ability to make those changes, especially if it is run by baby boomers.

Casey Brown discussed his firm’s office-renovation project in Mission Valley called Amp&rsand, a redevelopment of the former Union-Tribune newspaper building that provides interactive amenities for tenants. He discussed the importance of getting San Diego companies on board with the importance of modern office amenities. “We need to get these companies to start doing it with culture — they need to embrace it.”

Brown added that this process begins with the tenant moving in; the culture is evident as soon as anyone walks through the door, and it represents the top brass of the company — if there is not a good “vibe” when you walk through the door, then top-level management doesn’t have a good handle on the firm’s culture.

One of the shifts in the workplace environment has been toward people as a company’s truest resource. Fleming said, “People are the core of everything. It’s the vibe you get as soon as you walk into an office, and it starts with people and how they interact.”

English agreed, adding that 90 percent of the cost of a business is its employees, adding that, on the design side, this has led to a greater focus on the occupants rather than the building itself. Issues such as wellness, light, and comfort are coming to the fore as a result. Also, there are no longer standard eight-hour workdays anymore since people are “always working,” and workspaces need to provide that flexibility for employees, she pointed out.

Using that concept as a springboard, Benge said studies have shown that 90 minutes is the amount of time a brain can be engaged before a person needs a break. Because of this, modern workplace design needs to offer choice, options, and movement. “A person has about 90 minutes of energy at a time. It’s about managing your energy during the day” and creating that work/life balance, which is different from the way workplaces operated in the past.

Shifting to what tenants want in their workplace given the emphasis on culture, Brown offered fitness, on-site food services, and communal areas, but he added, “They don’t know what they want.” Hours of operation used to be an issue, but now employees are at work “all the time.”

One of the things employees could use, Brown said, is a life coach in the office. “They say you should get up and ‘walk in the forest’” throughout the day, like Richard Gere’s character in the movie Pretty Woman when he takes off his shoes and walks through the grass in his business suit. Brown called this “forest bathing” and said it’s necessary for work-life balance. “A life coach can help you do that. Will it be the next amenity?”