BRG’s Michael Levine Talks Workspace Management Trends & Changes
As a business leader you’ve probably already noticed: The workspace is evolving. Fast. Coworking is in, space management is becoming more sophisticated, asset tracking has become essential—and cubicles? Well, they may as well be fossils. Sometimes wrapping your head around this rapid transformation can be overwhelming.
To learn more about the workspace management trends on the horizon, and what you can do today to prepare, we sat down with Michael Levine, senior vice president of BRG.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I've been in the corporate real estate technology industry for about 27 years—which sounds really scary when I say it. I started my career as an architect, became involved with CAD technology and worked on projects that required database specifications, so I linked the two. From there, in the different stages in my career, I've focused extensively on corporate real estate technology and IWMS. At this point, I've had working relationships with many of the leading IWMS technology solutions in the marketplace.
Can you tell us a little bit about BRG?
BRG is a multi-dimensional company, but everything we do focuses on corporate real estate and facilities management and workplace management solutions. We have three divisions that deliver solutions: A consulting and advisory services group, a workplace technology solutions division and workplace management services (WMS).
Under WMS, we work with our clients to provide specific outsourced program services within the corporate real estate facilities management value chain. Specifically, space and occupancy planning, move management, project management and asset management, warehouse control, etc. For example, one of our big clients is a multinational technology company specializing in Internet-related services and products. We have 65 people sitting on-site, full-time, operating that program, using the technology, implementing processes and ultimately being accountable to the performance of the functions we're responsible for.
What would you say, in your opinion, are some of the most common workplace or workspace challenges that companies are facing today?
Depending on the industry, real estate is typically the No. 2 cost any organization faces—second to HR. In order to maximize the return on real estate assets, companies want to make sure that they're maximizing the utilization of their space.
From the standpoint of the changing workplace, people are changing how they think about workspace. What we're seeing in the industry is a move to more agile workplaces—less assigned seating, more hoteling set-ups. The flexibility to, perhaps, do more with less in terms of your real estate assets. We're seeing a lot of emphasis around the changing workplace, the ability to measure and manage those assets—and maximize them, because they're expensive.
What are some misconceptions or old-school ways of thinking that need to be busted when it comes to workspace?
I think as the workforce changes—because the younger demographics tend to think of productive work environments very differently than older demographics—we're seeing a cultural shift in the workplace. Depending on the organization, if you're a growth-oriented technology company in Silicon Valley, you probably have a very different culture and environment than a financial services company that's been around since the early 1900s.
This shift in expectations is driven significantly by the demand for talent and the ability to recruit those with the latest, greatest and brightest skills. I think that’s an "Ah-ha!" moment for older companies, and forces them to think differently about real estate strategy than maybe they have in the past.
Based on your experience, working with several businesses, what three pieces of advice would you have for business leaders today in terms of workplace and workspace?
One—and this is sort of a cliché—but you can't manage what you don't measure, right? Put strong platforms in place that will give you the measurement tools and the technology to be able to perform on a higher level and align the CRE strategy with the corporate strategy.
Two is to put as much or more emphasis on your process and data management plan as you do your technology platform. You need to put a center of excellence around your systems and solutions, and the right process and governance, in order to make sure that when you're drawing information out of your tools, it's correct, accurate and successfully supports decision making.
Three, I would say, is taking an agile approach to technology environments. End users are looking for best-of-breed tools to manage their business functions. They want to work with tools that give them the agility to interoperate within the business but also with their vendors—almost like a plug-and-play environment for the service lines, but with an overlay of business intelligence at the highest levels that provides a comprehensive picture above the trenches.
What are some common roadblocks or mistakes that you encounter during implementation?
When you're implementing an enterprise technology solution, I believe that you have to think of it as more than buying a software platform. You have to ask yourself, "Am I transforming how I do business and using the technology to make that happen?" One of the most common mistakes I see is people going out and buying a technology platform thinking that's going to solve their challenges. It rarely does without strong capabilities and governance from top levels of the organization, to say, "This is not just technology, this is a business transformation."
To be successful, they need to be funded and staffed, and they need to have the right governance and change management programs. Frankly, the cost of the software platform is a small fraction of the resources needed to do it the right way. This requires the right staff and external consulting to provide vision and best practices, but also to guide the ball down the field and make continuous progress toward payback.
For some businesses, their biggest concerns or challenges is not being financially equipped to make a giant technology and process overhaul. What is your advice for maybe blending the modern and traditional, or at least taking a step in the right direction?
Walk before you run. Don't take on too much at once. Build your platform very slowly, and keep it as simple as possible. Depending on the maturity of your organization, the first thing is to establish a baseline for where you are today and a goal for where you want to be tomorrow. Then start to build a roadmap for the steps it’ll take to get there.
What is your current favorite app or software?
Boy, there are many. Wow. I use apps on my phone and my iPad constantly. I love Google Translate. I do a lot of international travel, so that's something that I really enjoy playing with and using to make my way around. I was just at a team meeting in Dallas, and I was showing it to people like, "Look at this. You can translate this menu from English to Italian in real time by simply pointing the camera at it!” That’s pretty cool.
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