Rethinking real estate: The benefits of workforce segmentation

By Hannah Pitstick

The pandemic has radically altered the way people think about and use physical space. As many people return to the office, how can organizations rethink their use of real estate in order to effectively balance business goals with employee experience?

Sara Konstand, a workplace strategy manager, and DeJeana Chappell, workplace strategy leader, both within EY's Strategy & Transactions Corporate Real Estate group, will aim to answer this question during their session at the upcoming AICPA Construction and Real Estate Conference in Las Vegas, which will be held Dec. 6-8, both online and in person.

Their presentation will focus on why workforce segmentation, or understanding employees at a granular level and categorizing them into distinct groups, plays an important role in connecting workplace demand to supply and enables leaders to make informed real estate decisions.

"This has become a really important topic in conversations about what the future of work will look like," Konstand said. "During the session we're going to dig into what we think are the four key steps in the segmentation process and offer our perspective on how organizations can approach this process in a variety of different ways that might fit best with their organization and support both their real estate and people planning efforts."

As the 2021 EY Work Reimagined Employee Survey revealed, employee workplace preferences vary significantly both across and within age groups, although the desire for more flexibility has increased overall. According to the survey, 54% of respondents said they would quit their jobs if they weren't allowed ample flexibility.

"Accommodating some level of hybrid working is going to be part of the new normal going forward," Konstand said. "How much and to what degree will be variable, but it's going to be an expectation on some level."

Other major considerations of the future workplace, according to Konstand, include the acceleration of digital solutions to enable hybrid working, the rebalancing of real estate to meet company needs, the collection of information and data to make informed real estate decisions, and the equity between in-office and at-home employees.

Konstand added that while she believes workforce segmentation is a valuable tool in supporting real estate decision-making, it's not necessarily a perfect prediction of the future and should therefore be one part of an organization's larger tool kit.

"Using segmentation to create a robust foundation or framework helps organizations make quick and smart decisions now, but it should also be considered along with pilot spaces, utilization trackers, sensors, and other data that can inform greater accuracy as the return to work really happens," she said.

Accurate information is going to be essential as organizational leaders decide whether to renegotiate leases, buy or sell office space, or reallocate existing space to meet the updated needs of today's workforce. Konstand pointed out that these decisions should be made cross-functionally with a wide range of stakeholders at the table.

"This is not just a real estate or HR decision," she said. "Make sure you're accounting for a variety of perspectives, because each of these decisions about real estate or people is going to have a chain reaction. Bring those considerations to the table early and make sure there's buy-in if you want to drive success."

Finance leaders should certainly be at the table for these discussions, according to Konstand, because corporate real estate decisions will have financial impacts for any organization.

She added that insights about the workforce segmentation process should be useful even beyond the pandemic.

"One of the things we also like about this topic is that it has longevity," she said. "While the pandemic has brought it into the spotlight, it's a process that will remain relevant and useful well into the future."

Hannah Pitstick is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Ken Tysiac, the JofA's editorial director, at Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com.

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