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Hybrid work

Why real estate and hr teams should work together


April 23, 2024


April 24, 2024

HR and real estate might seem like an unlikely match. When it comes to the workplace, they often occupy separate spheres: the real estate team, orchestrating the physical spaces, and the human resources (HR) team, weaving company culture and employee experience. But their roles actually intertwine as they have a core aligning objective: making the workplace better for all employees.

So, as organizations navigate the evolving work landscape, collaboration between real estate and HR teams becomes paramount. It's not merely about allocating square footage or crafting employee policies, but it's about creating environments that maintain a strong culture, foster collaboration, and drive productivity.

In this article we will explore the intersection of these two vital functions, its benefits, and some strategies for collaboration. From reimagining workplace design to optimizing talent attraction and retention strategies, real estate and HR can work together to help organizations modernize and keep up with the future of work. 

Key roles in real estate and ht

Real estate team

Looking at the role of real estate teams in the workplace context is extremely important to better understand how organizations make decisions about their office space, whether renting somewhere new or downsizing.

First, let’s break down the type of jobs found within the real estate function, some of which are in-house while others are contracted outside of the organization. Internally, there are corporate real estate (CRE) managers, facility managers, and workplace managers. These roles can also be done through by a consultant, meaning they are not always internal. They focus on managing the properties that the company owns and optimizing office space. 

Externally, there are workplace designers and architects. They are further removed from the daily happenings in the office, such as space management. Taking on a one-time design function, workplace designers and architects work with the company to ensure the office meets the needs of the organization and its people. It is also important for these designers to understand the core values that need to be translated into design, such as sustainability or employee-centricity. This is because offices are the most prevalent touch point employees have with their company, which should reflect the culture. 

Human resources team

HR teams are internal and work closely with every company member to create a positive work environment and ensure that all people-related goals are fulfilled. The team can be broken down into different functions, such as talent acquisition and employee engagement. The talent acquisition side of HR is focused on finding new talent to join the team, ensuring that they are both a professional and cultural fit. They own the end-to-end process of sourcing these prospective employees, reviewing CVs, interviewing, and finally onboarding them. 

The employee engagement side takes it on from here, making sure that the workplace is a safe, inclusive, and positive environment to be in. This is key for employee retention. The role of this team is to review employee feedback regarding the workplace and if it is meeting the needs of all individuals. Additionally, they are responsible for the creation and maintenance of the company’s culture. While this is a broad topic, it includes how employees feel when they come to the office, how loyal they are to the organization and how much they feel part of the team, whether working remotely or on-site. 

So, looking at both real estate and HR we can see that both share similar goals: creating a positive employee experience and the development and maintenance of company culture. 

one male and one female colleague looking at laptop
Real estate and HR working together

Where do real estate and hr intersect? 

Workplace and employee experience

While exploring the key roles and responsibilities of HR and real estate teams, we discovered that both drive the workspace and employee experience. It is within their goals to ensure the office is a great place to collaborate, innovate, and be productive. While each group takes different steps to reach this collective goal, creating employee experience is one of the main points of intersection between these two teams. 

On the one hand, HR professionals foster positive company culture through people-related tasks, such as team bonding activities, onboarding, and well-being initiatives. On the other hand, real estate professionals contribute to this by creating beautiful and functional spaces for employees to work in, directly impacting not only how each person feels but also how the organization functions. 

Workspace design has a direct impact on employee productivity and well-being. From the way the office is layed out to the number of meeting rooms versus individual desks and even how much light or plants are in the office, design makes a difference. More than anything, how an office is designed should reflect the goals of the company and fit within the overall culture. An organization built on openness and innovation should have community spaces that foster communication and camaraderie, for example. 

This is where HR comes in. They need to work with the real estate team, whether they are internal workplace managers or external designers, to ensure that the workplace truly meets employees' needs. It is up to HR to maintain culture and be the liaison between employees and the workplace to meet as many needs as possible. 

Talent attraction and retention

Employee experience also directly impacts talent attraction and retention. The happier employees are, the more likely they will stay at the job and promote working for their company. Both HR and real estate teams play an important role here and can work together to maximize their recruitment and reduce employee turnover

While everything mentioned in the previous section about employee experience also contributes to whether an employee stays loyal to the company, let’s get into a few more specifics. A beautiful office is a great selling point for prospective employees. People will be more inclined to accept an offer at a workplace that has great amenities and is conducive to different types of work. This is especially true in today’s work climate, as most companies are going hybrid, meaning that the days spent in the office need to be worth it. If someone is more comfortable in their home office, they are not inclined to come to work. Therefore, office spaces need to offer something special and be a place where people can truly connect. And when it comes to retention, a cubical farm is not going to inspire employees to build relationships, hindering their loyalty to the company. 

In this sense, HR and real estate work together to bolster each other’s goals. A beautiful office will be a selling point for new employees. Plus, a strong HR team that inspires culture-building will mean the office is being utilized to its full potential. 

woman looking at building blueprint on laptop
CRE manager looking at office layout

The benefits of collaboration between the two functions

Cost efficiency

When real estate and HR work together, they can contribute to saving costs. Renting office space is extremely expensive in most major cities, posing a challenge for organizations that hope to improve cost efficiency. This is where real estate and HR collaboration come in. They can work together to optimize space utilization. In other words, they can use the space they have in the most efficient way possible to avoid having to get a larger office. Or, they can find ways to downsize while continuing to maintain efficiency. This can be implemented in a number of ways. 

First, HR teams can implement flexible work arrangements, such as hybrid work. With fewer people coming into the office, less space is needed. This can be tracked using a desk booking or week planning software to better understand how many people are coming into the office and, in turn, how much space is actually needed. 

Second, they can create activity-based workspaces. This means designing the office layout to accommodate different work activities (e.g., collaboration zones, quiet zones, focus areas) and providing employees with the flexibility to choose the most suitable space for their tasks.

Third, agile office design can be used to maximize the current available space. Similar to the activity-based workspaces mentioned above, agile offices use flexible furniture and configurations that can be easily moved and adapted depending on employee needs. For example, a meeting room can be seamlessly turned into a space with multiple desks for individual use by using desks that can come apart and be put back together at a moment's notice. 

The key when it comes to workplace optimisation is aligning space needs with workforce dynamics to minimize wastage. This is where HR and real estate directly intersect. HR can gather data surrounding the needs of employees while real estate teams will implement the changes that will support these requirements.

Improved communication and collaboration

When these two teams work together, not only will employee experience and cost efficiency improve, but so will the employees’ abilities to communicate and collaborate. This is because when workplaces are designed to meet the needs of individuals, then they are better suited to complete collaborative and innovative tasks.

For example, if the HR team of a hybrid organization notices that most employees come in on days when they have meetings, the office can be designed to include spaces that are large enough to accommodate meetings that have the right resources (e.g., projector, whiteboards) to facilitate these sessions. 

Additionally, with hybrid being a prominent model being adopted by many organizations, the role of the office has shifted from a place where tasks get completed to a place where employees come to connect. These less formal interactions are crucial for the company's success and for the development of trust and open communication. Therefore, HR and real estate need to work together to create an environment that is conducive to less formal communication, such as large open spaces and well-being rooms. 

These benefits can be best realized when analytics are used to measure office utilization. Therefore, the key to implementation here is measuring the office in terms of certain tasks, which can be conducted by HR. 

two people working together on architecture design
Cross collaboration between real estate and HR teams

Strategies for collaboration between these two teams 

Regular communication and coordination

Since these teams do not traditionally work together, communicating openly and regularly is very important to ensure there is synergy between them. This is especially true if the real estate team is contracted outside of the organization. In this case, having clear communication and coordination is crucial to ensure that the right messages and goals are being received. 

Real estate and HR teams should establish channels for ongoing dialogue for strong communication and coordination. In office settings, this might mean regular catch-up meetings in person. However, establishing communication is a bit more challenging in flexible work environments. Thankfully, we have plenty of technology to support this. Slack, for example, allows for instant communication, no matter the location of each individual. A specific channel could be created for HR and real estate only to share their ideas and coordinate projects. 

Additionally, in both in-office and remote settings, joint meetings and brainstorming sessions can be held to align objectives. The only way to reap the real benefits of HR and real estate working together is by setting clear, actionable goals with the next steps properly delegated to the respective teams. 

Desk booking & week planning platforms 

When it comes to coordinating both of these teams, desk booking and week planning platforms are key, especially in hybrid work environments. Allowing employees to book desks in the office helps bridge the gap between HR and real estate. Instead of HR having to communicate to workplace managers who are coming in and what desks and resources are needed, this information is easily accessible, helping to streamline any workplace management processes. The workplace also needs to have the agility to shift with changing demands and workplace managers evaluate what is needed on certain days. 

Data sharing and analysis

A successful collaboration between the two teams is built on data sharing and analytics. In order to create a positive environment for employees, it is important to understand how they feel at the office, which requires collecting qualitative data. Additionally, both teams need to know who is in the office and when to leave both with the responsibility of measuring this metric. 

To get the most out of the intersection between these two teams, HR should share workforce data to inform real estate decisions and space planning. The desk booking and week planning platforms mentioned above can be implemented here to track office utilization so that workplace managers can understand which areas are being used the most, which needs improvement, and if the office can be downsized based on occupancy. 

Similarly, the right data will help optimize space usage based on employee preferences and behaviors. For example, tracking the tasks being done in each space will help prepare that space with the resources needed to maximize productivity. 

While HR and real estate teams might have originally seemed like an unlikely pairing, we hope you now see the benefit of their collaboration. From creating a positive employee experience through meaningful design or saving costs by understanding office attendance, this cross-team collaboration can truly transform your workplace for the better. At the end of the day, these two teams have the same goal– to create offices that inspire, maintain culture, and keep talent on board. But when it comes to bringing these two seemingly disparate groups together to achieve this goal, it is key to maintain open communication and use office occupancy and utilization analytics. All of this being said, one thing is clear: modern workplaces need to be people-centric to be successful, and the intersection between HR and real estate will ensure your company is optimizing its space and creating an agile and dynamic environment ready for the future of work.

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Why real estate and hr teams should work together

Annabel Benjamin

Annabel is a hybrid work expert who combines insightful strategies with practical applications to help navigate the changing landscape of modern employment. Her writings provide a wealth of tips, best practices, and innovative approaches to boost productivity, foster team cohesion, and maintain a healthy work-life balance in hybrid settings. 

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