International perspectives on the future of workplaces in the public sector

From: Public Services and Procurement Canada

Listen to our series of interviews on the advancements in the future of workplaces and in the modernization of offices spaces in the public sector around the world.

Stay tuned! More episodes to be added in the coming weeks.


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Stéphan Déry, Assistant Deputy Minister of Real Property Services at Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) and President of The Workplace Network, meets with his international counterparts.

The Workplace Network is an international network of leaders in real property in the public sector.

Interview with Sohyun Park, President of the Architecture and Urban Research Institute (AURI), Ph.D. (South Korea)

Length: 44 minutes 46 seconds

Interview date: May 18, 2021

Listen to the interview between Stéphan Déry and Sohyun Park, President of the Architecture and Urban Research Institute (AURI) , Ph.D.

In this podcast

Below are the topics covered in this interview. You can manually advance the clip to the time indicated in the brackets to get to the desired segments.

Transcription of interview with Sohyun Park, President of the Architecture and Urban Research Institute (AURI), Ph.D. - South Korea

The Workplace Network - South Korea (Architecture & Urban Research Institute - AURI)

The Workplace Network, the future of workplaces in the public sector. Welcome to the podcast series all about the public real property services portfolio around the world. In this series, Stéphan Déry, President of The Workplace Network and Assistant Deputy Minister of Real Property Services for the Government of Canada, meets with his international counterparts to discuss progress concerning the future of the workplace and the modernization of office spaces.

[00:00:42] Introduction and role of South Korea’s Architecture & Urban Research Institute (AURI)

Stéphan Déry: Hello everyone, I am Stéphan Déry, and for our podcast series on the future of the workplace and the modernization of office spaces, it is with great pleasure that I am meeting today with the public sector real estate expert from South Korea, Sohyun Park, President of AURI. Sohyun Park, thank you for accepting our invitation and taking the time to share with us your views on this topic.

Sohyun Park: Thank you for inviting us. And this is a really good chance that we can communicate through this new and innovative way of communication among members of The Workplace Network (TWN). So I'm really happy to be involved.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you and thank you for accepting to meet with us today. It's really appreciated. A lot of our members would like to know a little bit more about the organizations we're meeting during these podcasts. So could you explain to us what are the goals and role of AURI when it comes to supporting policy research of public buildings and creating public buildings in South Korea?

Sohyun Park: Let me briefly go over about this institution and compared to other TWN members, AURI, which means Architecture and Urban Research Institute, and it's a government funded National Policy Research Institute. So not like the other members’ job of managing the public properties. We are a research institute fully funded by the government and our goal is to contribute to the improvement of public welfare and sustainable development of the country and local communities by conducting comprehensive research on architecture and urban space.

So our nature is set about doing the public policy research, but the contents would be the public building sort of a management, but our orientation is rather than direct management. But our job is doing the research on that subject. So slightly, our character is different, but still altogether we are working for the same goal, I would say, and...

Our sort of, mission statement that I sort of, pull out for this interview, and I realize our objectives are, such as creating a high-quality living space through policy research on national architecture and urban space. So we are really concentrating on policy research and for the details, we have like six objectives. May I briefly read through that for the better understanding?

Stéphan Déry: Absolutely.

Sohyun Park: OK, so our six objectives. The first one is comprehensive research and R&D (research and development) on the creation, use and design of architecture and open spaces. And number two is research on policies and systems for the improvement of architecture and urban space. And number three, it would be research on the improvement of value of place and spatial culture. And number four is support for plans and projects related to buildings in spatial environments of national and local governments. And (the) fifth one would be building and operating information systems related to buildings and spatial environments, as well as fostering and supporting related industries. And (the) sixth one would be joint research with domestic- and overseas-related organizations and research services for national and local governments, public institutions and private organizations. So those kind of six are of our clear sort of objectives. We are fully funded by the government and about 150 researchers are doing our job in this institution.

Briefly, that's sort of the mission statement that we are working for. So, would that be enough that you can understand what our sort of works are about?

Stéphan Déry: Absolutely. I think you're a separate agency that does research. In a lot of our organizations, that research is embedded into our organization. And we do research mainly on real property for government. But I think you do, and maybe I'm mistaken here, but I think you're doing research also for the benefit of private organizations. The research is wide enough that it covers all aspects of all types of organizations. Am I mistaken?

Sohyun Park: Our mission is covering the private sector a little bit, but our main job is covering the public building and public policies, so that eventually will affect the private buildings. But our main goal is for the public interests and public policy, for the architecture and urban spaces. And in our institution, we have about 11 and - 12 recently - 12 national research centers. And the biggest one that we have here is the National Public Building Center. That sort of mainly to the public buildings, sort of a research policy, things. So mainly our objects are public buildings.

[00:06:29] Vision for the future of work prior to the pandemic

Stéphan Déry: Public buildings, but which influence the private sector at some point. Extremely interesting. Could you talk a little bit to us about the distant future of creating public building policy in South Korea?

Sohyun Park: As I mentioned about that center, the National Public Building Center is the main body of conducting this public policy for the public building. And it's - by law, recently we've passed the law - the name is Act on the Promotion of Building Service Industry. And according to that law, we have this official status of pre-reviewing all the public buildings before it’s designing and also developing plans, and after the building, we have this monitoring system.

So according to that law, the Center runs several steps of improving public buildings, and our research center also runs through these legitimate, robust steps. And the public building funded by the government have to go through our institution's review process about whether its siting is proper or whether its program is proper, that kind of a preview system.

We can utilize it as a way of improving the qualities of public buildings. And so that is one of the main jobs of our research institute is doing, along with the R&D work itself. And recently we passed another law which is still on the parliament, and that's the Special Public Building Act, which even more enhances the quality of this public building status and which perhaps might work better for us to doing the quality of public building. And we are expecting that it be passed in the next session and we'll see how that sort of act would impact the process of conducting the public building in a better way.

[00:08:47] Adjustments due to the pandemic

Stéphan Déry: Let us get right into the heart of the subject. In 2020, the whole world has been, I would say, hit by the pandemic of COVID-19. In America, we experienced it, we're still under curfew in a lot of our regions, I'm sure you experienced it in South Korea. Tell us a little bit what your research brought to you and what was the response to COVID-19 regarding public buildings in South Korea?

Sohyun Park: Let me briefly compare the differences between the 2019's goal and the 2020's. And after 2020's goal of this managing or researching on the public buildings. Before the COVID-19, our main sort of agenda or mission for improving public buildings in a better way would be responding to the climate change and also communication and collaboration in the workplace and also creative space design for more open spaces within the office areas and also better communicating mechanisms through a spatial design. Those kind of things were our main goals.

But after this COVID-19 thing, our sort of researching and implementing public buildings goals include heavily on this social distancing and quarantine and also working at home, such as the tele-office kind of thing, and all these new sort of approaches for working and communicating through online kind of thing is really changing our sort of workplaces and which also influenced our home or this kind of thing to...

So previously, this kind of social distancing or contagious or online sort of a discussion kind of thing is not the main agenda for managing the public buildings, but this became sort of a top priority. And by law, still most government offices and even the private sectors, or at least one half or one third are mandate - its mandated that one third of the workforce should stay at home, if not the most of the work members are at home. So this is really changing the way we think about the public buildings and the spatial requirement is different.

And also the meeting spaces are different. So standards itself are slowly changing, so that eventually will change the guidelines very much. But right now, since it's last year and this year, the workplace changes.

I mean, evidently the main thing is this online discussion like this is a daily chore in the workplaces too, so many sort of spaces are empty as many workers don't work at home. But still, drastic changes in the spatial organization is still there, but eventually it will shrink, I bet. And then we'll see some changes in the near future. But at the same time, it comes from both ways in a workplace that way. But at the same time, in Korea, while we are going through this COVID-19 the familiar terms like the drive-through testing services, you heard about that and (those) drive-through or walk-through testing centers are all in the public buildings parking area.

And that still also changes how we manage the public buildings; is the open space or the recognition is very much different and we sort of evaluate that. It doesn't come from nowhere. When we experienced the MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) sort of a situation and six years ago, that experience helped us prepare for this quarantine system and also this negative pressure sort of hospitals, the facilities, and these kind of things. Sort of we had prepared that response quite well, and that experience helped us quickly change the quarantine system or a testing system in a better way. And suddenly this drive-through thing helped us quite well.

So ordinary workplace has its own agenda, but at the same time, this public health sort of a public buildings, it has other sort of ways of confronting this new virus areas or contagious sort of phenomena. So both ways, we are sort of experiencing some changes, but perhaps next year or in coming years, all these sort of official guidelines will respond to this kind of phenomena. But at this point, we are very much handling the day-to-day management of the spaces accepting this COVID-19 situation.

Stéphan Déry: It is extremely interesting that prior to the pandemic, some of your priorities were research on greening, open space, collaboration space and special design. And from one day to the next, you shift your focus to social distancing, telework and you're mentioning that 30 to 50 percent of the employees are still working from home a year and three months after the beginning of the pandemic.

How hard was it for your organization and for the government to adapt to that working from home? You're mentioning also the - today we're on Zoom and we're 12, 14 hours difference between Canada and South Korea and we're able to see each other and to talk to each other. This is our day to day now. how hard was the transition from what you knew before and how you managed the workplace and the research you were doing in the workplace to all of a sudden moving to this kind of telework was telework and working from home, something that was prominent before in South Korea or most people working, still working in the office, like here in Canada.

We had a little bit of telework, but most I would say close to 90, 95 percent of the population was working in the office. We were highly interested to provide flexibility to our employees, but I think the culture change hadn't happened prior to COVID-19. We knew it existed, we knew the flexibility was there, we knew other countries were doing it, but we were not adopting it, I would say, at large scale here in Canada. So I'm just wondering how hard was that shift? And from your research, you were mentioning that you're managing now - the pandemic, you're managing day to day. How hard was that change for your workforce?

Sohyun Park: Let me break down your questions in a group way. First of all, previously, by theory or by concept, we expect in the future workplace would very much utilize this IT technique. And someday it will come that we do the teleworking and we will do some of that is the smart sort of city office kind of thing. But our culture really appreciated this face to face sort of work. You might see Sejong is very one hour sort of south of Seoul. And when the Sejong city was established, we expected so most of the meetings would be tele-meeting by government officers. But it's only the theory every sort of a government officer has to go to Seoul, do the actual meeting face to face, so, so many people commute between Seoul and Sejong.

But these days it's forcefully forbidden and finally by this sort of a COVID-19 situation, forced us all sort of engage in this teleworking thing now. Previously, face to face with sort of a norm. But these days, online sort of meeting became norm. So we have to accept this situation very much. And if it had not been for the COVID-19 situation, this kind of teleworking would be still in theory. But it became reality. But it's became possible because all this technological sort of a support system was available thanks to this IT industry rather quickly, sort of a service that was available.

Unless all this AURI members are equipped with a teleworking system at home and at work immediately, I don't think we can afford this kind of online teleworking everybody. But now we do it because all this technological support system became real sort of a situation. So this IT service provision was helpful in some ways, which was ready to provide. But culturally, we were sort of a not accepting that, but COVID-19 forced us to accept to do so. That's sort of a one thing; this COVID-19 actually shortened the way we work at home kind of thing.

But at the same time, the other problem (that) comes out of this is not every home is equipped well, it's doing at work because children don't go to school, so they are here and moms are working and fathers are here. So not all home spaces can afford it - this work at home kind of situation. So many companies that provided intermediate workplace, which is not a company or workplace and not home, but smart workstations where some people's home is not good enough to work at home.

But you cannot go to the work because by law, at least half or one third cannot come to the office place, they have to be somewhere like home. So a third place is created. We call it smart workplace where you can go to there, rather than go to your actual office place. It's provided by the institution where those houses are not equipped well enough to work at home. And sometimes these kind of third smart workstation also provide child care system too.

But it should be observing this quarantine sort of or other COVID-19 prevention sort of facilities, too. So it cannot be crowded, social distancing spaces are provided, but then that's a new sort of a work station that is popping up these days. And we are expecting more this kind of thing in coming years, and not just the COVID-19. Many sociologists are predicting that one way or another, we are going to live with this kind of virus thing in the future. So that means continuously we have to (be) evolving into this new kind of workplaces, which we saw with these smart workstations in between home and conventional workplaces. That's sort of another trend that we are seeing in Korea and we are much more researching in these days.

And other part in this line of question is changing the home areas, because now the housing is not just the home, but it's also becoming a workplace or leisure place. And it combines so many functions within home. For example, you cannot go really outdoors. So new sort of a balcony thing is considered differently. So our research is doing some regulation changes or putting the balcony in a more easy way to install that kind of needs in the field. Quickly asking our researchers after COVID kind of housing change guidelines in that kind of thing. So that's another sort of a phenomena that I can put on this kind of discussion.

Stéphan Déry: It's extremely interesting because you're mentioning a little bit what we lived also in Canada. You know, a lot of people worked from home. Some of them doesn't represent a major issue, they needed technology. The technology was not available for everyone. But after a while, we were - after two or three months, we were all equipped with technology in order to do our work. But you raise a point that's extremely interesting, those smart workstations that are not your normal place of work, but are somewhere in between your house and - your home and your normal place of work where you can - if you're not equipped at home to work or don't have enough space or all that, you could go there.

We have a concept here that we started in Canada, was GCcoworking, where we could have a space, let's say, in the neighborhood where, if you work for the government of Canada, you can go work from there, to work. So it's quite similar to what you're saying about those smart workstations. So I think there's a future for those as we want to green our environment, less commuting closer to home and social distancing, as you mention, and living within always the thinking of there could be a potential other virus.

[00:23:23] Which COVID-related measures will be implemented permanently?

I think these smart workstations or location to work not too far from home have a future in the government. It's interesting also when you say that, you know, the pandemic is a terrible thing, but it's also probably an opportunity to drive culture forward. As you were mentioning, you know, we were thinking about telework, but telework was still on paper. It was still academic. We hadn't implemented it. People were in the face to face environment and most meetings were face to face.

Now, a lot of people are saying we've done the largest pilot project on telework around the globe in the last year. And it's true because, you know, here we probably have close to still 70 percent of our people are teleworking and you have 30 to 50 percent that can't come to the office because social distancing and all this. So do you think that's going to continue after the pandemic? Do you foresee that people - there's going to be a tendency of people coming back to meet their friends, meet their coworkers, because, you know, we're social creatures. We like the interaction, the face to face meeting. So do you think it's going to impact the long term vision and your long term research regarding workspace and workplace?

Sohyun Park: According to our experience, we certainly see and experience this merit of working at home through this sort of unhappy and very disastrous, this pandemic. But by that we experience otherwise, which we couldn't have experienced it. But at this point we were forced to work at home. But in the future we expected that there would be choices and people who choose to work at home, then they would choose to work at home. So perhaps our workplace should or could accommodate this kind of choice of where to work. Would be certainly one of the factors that would change our workplaces in the future. So up to that part, we can go.

But another thing would be also, as Dr. Bang here is doing the research of this temporary thing or flexible workplace or public health place, such as by providing these immediate quarantine place or immediate curing place, conventional sort of public facilities for the public health or hospital it's established there. But this kind of new pandemic situation requires us to provide very much immediate and fast facilities for quarantine or curing so such as the public schools' dormitory or institutions, educational facilities. They are required to change into this quarantine or curing facilities when they were asked to do that.

So that kind of arrangements are also very much in big portion while we are going through this pandemic and the public buildings, especially the public health related facilities, are equipped with this temporary changing or when there are demand, they can quickly change into their functions, into another thing, for example, from education, into the hospital situation. So that is also what we see in last year's phenomena. And one way that after the vaccine situation, we changed it quite a bit.

But before the early stages of the pandemic, we were quite good at sort of a testing and tracing and treating. And while we are doing well with this treating, temporary but fast changing into these facilities were very much helpful to accommodate the fast growing sort of infected patients. So that's how we evaluate of this kind of temporary transition, public facilities into pandemic sort of responding facilities, that kind of thing would be in the future, much more researched and put into the official guidelines of how we sort of respond to the pandemic in coming years too.

Stéphan Déry: One word that seems - throughout all of your work that seems extremely important: flexibility. Flexibility for employees of working - in the future - working from - I'm not saying where they want to work from, but working from home or working from the office. Flexibility for the employer, but also flexibility for your workspace that you can convert from one day to the next, from a school to a hospital, and what will be required to be able to do that in the future at a rapid pace, which was extremely difficult around the world of transforming existing space into, you know, a place for isolation, a vulnerable population, or for, as you said, hospital quarantine space.

So all of this, how can we be better equipped and ready in the future to have space that is flexible enough that from one day to the next, it could serve another purpose for the government? You know, we talk about the employee, we talk about the space. We talk about things that you have implemented in the pandemic. And now how did the managers react to all of this? Because we're all managers. Most of us have teams that we have the work, that we have to supervise, and we're working collaboratively to produce something.

How does all of these change to all the processes in place during the pandemic? How was this received by managers and how were managers reacting to that? Was it easy for them to adapt to this new way of work and supervising their employees? And how did they feel about the concept of teleworking? Do they see this as something that's going to continue in the future?

Sohyun Park: I think that's a very serious question that we all should ask ourselves even without this pandemic situation. That question was quite legitimate. And the question that we have to reflect quite seriously. But to me, that question has to do with the topic of technology. I would add we have to accept the big factor that would change how we manage or how we work or how we design or how we sort of monitor the situation. All these activities would be heavily influenced by the new technology and we even talk about these smart cities and all these new phenomena these days.

But while we are going through this pandemic situation, it got really accelerated. I mean, definitely it's not easy and it's sort of a very hard but we realize for the first time, I would say, there is no choice other than accept these huge changes and more willingly and more inevitably, we have to accept this technology thing in a very speedy way.

So I would say if you ask what would be the biggest challenges at the same time, changes that would affect us would be by responding to these social and climate and all this pandemic situation, I would say how we accept this technological changes and then accept that into our daily lives. I think that would be the baseline. And from there on, certainly we experience new technologies.

Every instance it will come to us and we cannot hesitate to willingly accept it and then go from here. So management would be quite different from here on. And to me, young members, they don't have any reservations, but old members we would have some hard time. But I don't think we don't have any other choices to go for it.

Stéphan Déry: Older people find it harder to manage in a in a virtual environment, as you mentioned, but we had no choice. So I think that that culture change has to happen. And today, moving forward, we'll see a mix of in-person meetings with a component of virtual meeting everywhere. So it's going to be interesting as we get out of the pandemic, be ready for other catastrophe that could happen.

[00:32:53] Current vision in the regard of the years ahead and concepts being used or explored

But at the same time, it's going to be interesting, especially for a research organization like yours to look at what are the lessons learned and to look at what will be the long term impact on the workforce and on our public buildings, because that's one of the questions we have here in Canada. How much space will we need in the future? We have done, and I don't know if AURI had done some research in this, but we have done surveys of our employees and across government and we come up with approximately 50 percent of the people post-pandemic would like to continue working in the kind of hybrid model, working from home a couple days a week and working from the office two, three days a week.

So, I mean, this will have a significant impact on our portfolio, because right now we kind of have a workstation for every single employee we have. Now, how do you manage when half of these workstations are empty half of the time and they will be empty all the time? Half of these workstations, if only 50 percent of the population comes into the workplace 50 percent of the time.

So it's going to be interesting to see the impact it could have and maybe free public property for other purpose, as you were mentioning before, that could be converted into emergency shelters, into hospitals, into quarantine sites in the event of a need. Is that something that you're researching in AURI that you're - and I'm sure if you're researching that, it's probably new as it just started with the pandemic, really?

Sohyun Park: Currently, we are doing several COVID-19 related researches in many directions, but sort of responding to your question of future workplaces, sort of a trend or guides or some big changes. So our sort of immediate researches are focusing on this a bit more creative way of organizing the work - interior spaces for many people are working at home. That kind of results should be responded and arrangements and guidelines would be certainly changed. But those are coming slowly. And as you mentioned, also many Korean workers, they also want their own room.

Those will be changed. And we, again, expected that not everyone can have room in the future. That kind of expectation was there. But now we see all these empty places while they are working at home. And now we vividly experience those kind of things. So now it's the time of actually implementing sort of a reshuffling the workspaces so that will be less opposed by the workers. They all agreed by theory, we need to reshuffle our workplaces, but emotionally we couldn't do it.

But now we are a bit more accepting that direction. So in reality, that will happen. So that kind of immediate thing is coming up. But another sort of aspect of researches now we are gearing toward is yes, we are accepting this new technology online sort of communication, teleworking, all these things. But at the same time, we also realize actual places or meeting people and actual experience of going out or sort of open spaces. Those are also very much sort of a focused and we realized we need that kind of thing.

Usage of the actual park are increasing these days. When weather is OK and infected people's rates are slightly go down. People go out to the park and go to the mountain where that's less dangerous. So it's both way online and teleworking system. We push that direction very much, but at the same time, the actual spaces and actual places, it's also very much in need.

So enhancing those kind of actual places, demand is also increasing, too. So it's not just one way, but both ways. We want both of them. So that will also impact the way we do the public building and public spaces sort of policy in the future.

Stéphan Déry: I fully agree with you because I think we are at an opportunity that we can, as you said, people were thinking about it before, but now they're kind of ready and say, OK, I need I don't need my space anymore, but I still need social interaction. I still need to meet people. So how will we propose that in our buildings in the future?

And it as you said, it's a multi-layer problem because we can't, with the existing footprint, we can't do everything, having more collaborative space, more space for each person and more meeting room and all this. So we'll have to come up with what is the best approach. And I don't think it's going to be resolved in a year from now. I think we're in a working still in pandemic. As we come out of the pandemic, we'll see how many people are interested in coming back to the office full time, how many wants to have this hybrid model.

And then we're going to remodel the space based on the trends that we'll see in the population. And how did people like to work? Basically, we think that at some point and you mentioned people are going to parks. People need to get. People need to meet, so we think that as soon as the, you know, it'll be more open and people will be allowed and encouraged to come back to work in person, which we call a pendulum swing. A lot of people will come back to the office and then slowly they're going to see, OK, what are the benefits of being in the office and what are the benefits of teleworking or working at home?

There's going to be an equilibrium that's going to be created between the two. And that's where we're going to be able, in my view, to either permanently transform our real estate footprint or adapt our real estate to what is really needed from a collaborative space, from a meeting space, from an individual workspace. So I don't think we can solve it today. But I think most countries that I had the opportunity, the pleasure of talking to are all in that state of mind. We know it's never going to be as it was before the pandemic. And our technology has evolved rapidly. Our culture has evolved rapidly, and we're kind of waiting to be able to respond to the need of our workers and our different organization in the future. So it's extremely interesting to see that either Indonesia, South Korea, Canada, the United States, we're all - almost all at the same frame of mind of looking at the future and the multi-layered complexity that is facing us of workplace of the future.

[00:40:39] Closing question: what is the biggest priority for South Korea’s public real property sector in the coming years?

Our interview now comes close to an end, but I really like to ask questions. So I would like to conclude on a question. You talked earlier about your priorities prior to the pandemic, greening, open space, collaborative space, spatial design. And you talked about your priorities during the pandemic, social distancing and assuring safety of people, teleworking technology. Could you tell us what are the biggest priorities for your country's public real property sector in the coming years?

Sohyun Park: In the long run, this pandemic situation is consequences of how we treated our environment. So currently in Korea, we have this priority which we also sort of responding to that national trends. The first one is this about the climate crisis or reducing the carbon reduction kind of thing. So this climate crisis and at the same time we are heavily experiencing this population demographic changes, low birthrate and high aging rate. And our demographic situation is so drastically changing.

So that is also a high priority. And the third one would be this fast technology changes. So those are three of the top three priorities that our public building or our public policies are now confronting to have better resolutions in finding some sort of responses or resolutions. But I would say those three things currently in Korea, we are confronting as sort of a priority issues that we have to handle with.

Stéphan Déry: One that comes out on every country that I had the pleasure of speaking to was climate change, definitely technology, implementation of technology, as you mentioned, for some country that demographic change has already happened as an aging population and all this and we have to cope with that.

But it's also we still have to cope with that the shortage of labor in multiple countries where people are aging and there's a shortage of labor. But the climate change, climate resiliency is one of the top of mind of most of the countries I had the opportunity to talk to, and how our change in our work habits, change in our buildings, could help us reduce our GHG emissions as we look towards the future of work and future of the workplace, either by having less buildings or by people commuting less to come to work, then it would help reduce our GHG emissions.

So interesting that climate change is on top of mind of everyone. As you're mentioning, the pandemic has brought many opportunities from a public building perspective and those priorities and what you just explained, create multiple other challenges moving forward for public buildings and how we use them, and how we think about them, and how we envisioned them for the future.

So thank you very much for this time. This concludes today's podcast. Thank you very much, Sohyun Park, for taking the time to discuss with me what the future of work and the workspace modernization may look like for AURI in South Korea. Thank you very much for your time, it's greatly appreciated.

Sohyun Park: Thank you so much.

Interview with Mr. Steven Boyd, Chief Executive Officer, Government Property Agency (United Kingdom)

Length: 49 minutes 02 seconds

Interview date: March 29, 2021

Listen to the interview between Stéphan Déry and Mr. Steven Boyd, Chief Executive Officer, Government Property Agency (United Kingdom)

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Below are the topics covered in this interview. You can manually advance the clip to the time indicated in the brackets to get to the desired segments.

Transcription of interview with Mr. Steven Boyd, Chief Executive Officer, Government Property Agency (United Kingdom)

The Workplace Network—Steven Boyd (United Kingdom)

The Workplace Network, the future of workplaces in the public sector. Welcome to the podcast series all about the public real property services portfolio around the world. In this series, Stéphan Déry, President of the Workplace Network and Assistant Deputy Minister of Real Property Services for the Government of Canada, meets with his international counterparts to discuss progress concerning the future of the workplace and the modernization of office spaces.

Below are the topics covered in this interview. You can skip to the desired section of the transcript.

[00:00:41] Introduction and overview of the United Kingdom’s real estate portfolio

Stéphan Déry: Hello, everyone, I'm Stéphan Déry, and for our podcast series on the future of the workplace and the modernization of office space, it is with great pleasure that I am meeting today with a public sector real estate expert from the United Kingdom, Mr. Steven Boyd, Chief Executive Officer, Government Property Agency. Steven, thank you for accepting our invitation and taking the time to share with us your views on those topics.

Steven Boyd: Good afternoon, Stéphan. Nice to speak to you.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you. As a little bit of background, our audience always likes—always appreciates knowing a little bit more about our guests and their organizations. Could you give us an overview of the public real property portfolio that you are responsible for?

Steven Boyd: Sure. So I'm a chief executive of the United Kingdom (UK)'s Government Property Agency. Our vision is to enable a transformed, shared, and sustainable and value for money government estate that supports civil servants to be productive right across the UK.

We were formed in about 2018, so we're reasonably new, and our responsibility is the general purpose office and warehouse estate—that  estate that can be shared across the various parts of the public sector, primarily the central government part of government. We've been gradually, since then, carrying out due diligence on the office estate, which is our priority, and taking that under our management, so far about a quarter of the way through that process.

That's about just shy of a million square meters. And we're looking forward to getting started next year on the warehouse estate, which totals about 700,000 square meters, and those two items are our priority. There may be other parts of the estate that we come to in the future, but right now, offices first, warehouses second. We've got four strategic objectives.

First of all, supporting economic growth across the UK; secondly, supporting broader civil service transformation focused on productivity and wellbeing and engagement; thirdly, supporting the UK's net zero ambitions, the sustainability ambitions; and fourthly, delivering better value, doing that through providing the service to our client departments, government departments who we primarily serve, providing the value that our departments need and want, supporting reduction in space across the UK and improving the condition of our estate in order to support productivity and wellbeing.

So we've got a pretty big task, we're working through it gradually, it won't be done overnight, but we're beginning to make good progress.

[00:03:26] Vision for the future of work prior to the pandemic

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Steven. I could draw so many parallels between your organization and the organized real property services that I manage in Canada. Size of our portfolio, the primary objective being the office warehousing—we also manage warehousing here in Canada, but also, I would like to talk a little bit about your long-term vision.

Thinking for me, when I look at the UK and I'm going back years, you know, in 2004, when you published Working Without Walls and then two thousand and eight working beyond walls. For me, these documents were like a precedent setting in how the entire world managed office space. When you started looking at these buildings in the suburb, bringing people closer to their home, and that's what we're doing here with the GCworkplace. So, could you tell us what was your long-term vision prior to the global COVID-19 pandemic?

Steven Boyd: So, as you say, Stéphan, in the UK, I've been working on this for some time, and we're continuing that journey. I think the formation of the government property agency is a step along that journey. Prior to that, we were working towards central government departments sharing their space, collaborating, and good progress was made on that basis. But I think we've gone beyond the point where that is the most effective way of taking this state forward, hence the creation of our agency in order to be able to bring some more structure and logic to that.

So we're looking to manage the central government's offices and warehouse estate as a single strategic asset to make it work for the whole of government. So our job is to provide a service to our client departments, but do that for the benefit of all, so everybody gets a good solution at a sensible cost. And we do that in a number of ways. So first of all, we're looking for a good and consistent quality of estate across the space.

And we've already got some excellent quality buildings, some that are not so good, some excellent quality and design of workplaces, some not so good, working towards consistency in terms of look and feel and the way they're approached and maintained and serviced, but also looking to increasingly sharing that space.

So we already have many multi-occupier buildings with multiple departments sharing the same building, but we still have some work to do to make sure that's genuinely interoperable space. So removing the cultural, physical and technological boundaries that sit between departments to allow them to move freely across an office space and therefore get the best value from it all the time.

Of course, the size and shape of government departments changes over time. What I want to do is to be having flexible modular solutions that work best for people and we’ll do that on a regional basis, on a hub and spoke basis. So I have a small number of larger hub buildings, typically in the center of the larger cities, close to transport hubs that allow a large number of people to come together, collaborate, build their career pathways, share with each other, perhaps build their careers as they move from one department to another, and then probably on the periphery of the city or even in the smaller towns around the city, some smaller spoke locations in which people can work, but also from time to time travel to the hubs in the center of the town.

That's broadly our approach. And we're some distance along that journey. Much more to do, and COVID coming along has helped to accelerate that, and it's a terrible tragedy that we all wish hadn't have happened, but now that it has, it has pointed us a little bit along that journey.

[00:07:20] Adjustments due to the pandemic

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Steven. Do you think you can expand a little bit—and I really like—quite a lot of similarity between your future of work or how you see the future of work prior to COVID, to how we see the future of work. I'm also responsible for the total envelope of the government office portfolio, and, you know, we were trying to put the idea of coworking, we call it coworking here in Canada, where you reduce the boundary—security—physical boundary between departments internally, where you allow departments to co-locate.

And then you don't have to have the expansion room for each department, you can make it globally.  And I think that's a little bit where what you're thinking and where you are or where you're aiming to go.

And you talked a little bit about COVID. Could you expand a little bit how COVID, this terrible tragedy, has impacted your vision going forward?

Steven Boyd: It has changed our approach and we're trying to use it to accelerate our vision. But also we're responding to it in a range of different ways. Perhaps just go through a few of those: first of all, from a health and safety point of view, clearly, during the tragedy, we've done a lot of work on making sure that our buildings are safe to occupy, whether that is social distancing or whether it is safe occupancy or whether it is making sure that our Heating, Ventilating, and Air-conditioning (HVAC) systems are on the right level of ventilation and so on.

All of those things are important. So when our people come into our buildings, we want those people, our customers, the people who use our buildings to feel safe and confident about using that space. So quite a lot of work on health and safety and thinking about not only what that means for the return to the workplace as we start to come back into the normal place of work, but also how we can make sure that for the future, should something similar come along, I think we're building in to the design of our workplaces, things that will help us prevent such a thing being such a big issue in the future.

And that's things like thinking about no touch surfaces, one way circulation, surfaces there are comparatively easy to clean and so on. So, that's health and safety. In terms of the actual design of our workplaces, clearly, we've given some thought about what an office is for and why people should come there rather than being at home. And I think about that in terms of "Collaborating, Creativity, Community and Caring (4 C)'s". So I think people should come—want to come to the office for collaboration, for creativity, community and caring. And those things need a different workplace layout than we might have had before.

So before the pandemic, we were very much thinking about a balance of different workplaces, work spaces within the workplace. But we've accelerated that now and we're thinking much more about a greater proportion of collaboration and project space to that which we had before. And as you point out, that has to be supported by appropriate protocols and digital tools and the sort of digital tools we're working on is a common Wi-Fi across government to begin with, and that's largely in place already, but also government print system that allows members of various different central government departments to use each other's printers where people are still using paper.

And in some cases, of course, government servants have to do that, for instance, for legal reasons. Also, our security systems trying to make sure that they are compatible across the board, so there's no reason why an individual from such and such a department can't use another building, they're not forced into some administrative checking of security when they come to the building.

But also really accelerated by the pandemic, good audio-visual systems and also building occupancy systems. So a lot of things that we're doing already, but accelerated, and lots of things that we were doing in a particular type of way, we have adjusted slightly to take account of what we've learned during the pandemic.

[00:11:49] Current vision in the regard of the years ahead and concepts being used or explored

Stéphan Déry: This is fascinating. I think I'm going to have to find a translation for your "4 C's": collaborating, creativity, community and caring. I think this is exactly where we're thinking about going, why (are) we going to need office space in the future? We're thinking and we're talking to our colleagues here in Canada and around the world saying, why would you come to the office if it's to sit at a desk and be on your computer all day and not interact with anybody?

And your "4 C's" really gives a vision of why you would come to the office and why it would be important to come to the office, maybe at a certain point during the week, at a certain point during the month, or, you know, how often you'll need to come to the office to collaborate, to be creative and not to be—and to care for others and be part of a community. So I really like—so we'll have to find—the team is going to have to find a translation mechanism for that.

Steven Boyd: We tried hard on the alliteration there, which might not carry into French, perhaps it does. But you're right, we've got to make a good reason for coming into the office. And we've done quite a lot of research over the period when people have been largely working at home. It hasn't been a particularly good experiment, because that hasn't been a choice to work at home. You know, it's been forced—enforced home working.

But we have listened to what people say, we did one particular survey which looked at nearly 26,000 UK civil servants, and that provided some really good feedback on what working at home is like. Before the pandemic, typically, a civil servant spent a day or a day and a half working from home. That was because their managers encouraged or permitted that and allowed them to have a little bit of a different quality of life.

The feeling from our people is that post-pandemic, they would expect typically to spend three days a week working from home. And I have to say that is self-predicted, it's not the view of the business necessarily, but certainly the direction of travel is more time working at home than before. In our newer buildings, before the pandemic, we typically assumed an attendance rate of 66%, two thirds. In other words, we assumed that two thirds of our people would be in the office, working there rather than somewhere else at any one time.

There's other people, the other third, being perhaps on leave or visiting somewhere else or even all working at home, as we've described, or perhaps on some training intervention. Post the pandemic, where we're assuming as a working assumption that attendance rate will be 50%, half and half, and that may turn out to be right, that may turn out to be not quite right, but that's our planning assumption today.

So one can easily assume from that, that our existing modern design workplaces, those that were aimed at 66% attendance rate, will now have some spare space. And that is something we can take advantage of. Many of our old offices were scaled on an assumption that almost 100% of people might be in the office only one day, which clearly meant that they're oversized.

I should say at this point, I know from our earlier conversations, Stéphan, that on the Canadian estate there is still some specific and individual allocation of desks to people, we don't have that. We've moved away from allocation of desks to people. There are still some in some places, but that's primarily ministers, very senior staff, that kind of thing.

Most people will not have an allocated desk and they will adopt the most appropriate working environment when they're in the office for their work. Of course, that is a cultural journey for some and we're in different places with that in different departments and different parts of the country, but that is broadly our aim.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you very much, Mr. Boyd. I think the parallels, again, I could draw between the UK and Canada are fantastic. I would say earlier before the pandemic, we had an occupancy rate of approximately 65% of our buildings, not because of telework, like you said, people were—in the UK, people were working from home approximately one day a week. In Canada, there was telework—it's sporadic across—depending on the department, a little bit like you were mentioning, but our occupancy in multiple departments I've looked at that was around 65%, holidays, training, as you mentioned, all of this combined to the fact that some people were working at home part of the time, made that the office, which is calculated for 100% of the population of workers was used at about 65%.

So right off the—right at the beginning, we could have said, OK, we're going to plan around 65%, 66%, and now the pandemic at most assumption, my department and other departments are now thinking about post-pandemic, we'll probably have workers and we did a fair amount of research and surveys like you that stayed that about 85 – 84% to 85% of employees would like to see a hybrid model going forward instead of looking at, you know, I like to go into the office probably for the same reason, as you mentioned earlier, the "4 C's"; collaboration, creativity, community and caring.

But I want to work at home when it's more convenient for me, when I have thinking to do, when I have documents to write, especially now that we have all of this technology and we're meeting today on Zoom.

Like—prior to the pandemic, I wouldn't have thought being that I know it was possible, but we were not using all these tools as widely as we are doing now. So some managers have looked at working from home and some have raised concern about productivity, what has been your experience in this type of environment, like you said, that people were forced to work from home. So what's your—and I know we're in the middle of a pandemic, so it's harder to measure—but what's your view on productivity and what's your colleague's view on productivity? Has it increased? Is it lower?

Steven Boyd: So productivity is one of our key aims. As was mentioned right at the beginning, a shared and transformed working environment to allow civil servants to be as productive as possible. So it is something we spend some time thinking about. It's not something necessarily that's easy to measure. You can ask people what they think about how productive they are. You can also ask—measure some proxies in some parts of the business, but generally it's quite a difficult thing to measure.

Our survey work during the period of enforced home working suggests that most civil servants think they are at least as productive, if not a little bit more productive than they were when they were coming regularly to the office. However, our survey did point to quite a large proportion, about 15%, that were really quite struggling with working from home, for a variety of reasons, whether that was just the lack of social contact or whether it was because of other issues that are more related to the pandemic, illness in the family or looking after children or those kind of things.

So we know that it's considered by the majority of our people to work—the opportunity to work in a hybrid model, to be something that is supportive of productivity, but what we're sure on is it doesn't apply equally to everyone. Now, the evidence that we've gathered suggests that this depends on a range of factors. The age of the person is one quite important factor. So those people tend to be younger, might be living in shared flats or in space where there's limited place to work at home or where they can work at home, but if they did so, they'd be working with other people, perhaps working for different employers, and there might be security or confidentiality concerns.

We've also discovered that the ability to work effectively from home depends quite a lot on the complexity of the role. So some individuals, particularly more senior individuals, might have roles that are highly complex, requiring them to change from a range of different subjects and points of view during the course of the day. And those things we've found are much more difficult to carry out at home. The use of these kind of teleworking tools are great, but tends to mean you're dealing with a particular subject at any one time rather than a broader range of subjects. And so both age and also complexity of roles are quite big differences.

But we suspect that productivity for some will have improved working at home, but for others might not be as good. And so we are clear that we do want a hybrid model going forward, whereas people will want to spend a high proportion of their time working from the office, then they can. And those people whose roles allow them to work in a higher proportion of time at home can if they want. But we're pretty clear that most people will need to spend some of their working week in their workplace, in the office, because that's needed, as we said before, for a range of things.

One thing in particular that we seem to have noticed, I want say the evidence is absolutely clear on this, but we seem to have noticed that creativity and innovation is more of a challenge working remotely. And so that's definitely something we don't want to lose. We're always looking for new and better ways to deliver good public services.

Stéphan Déry: I think creativity, as you mentioned, is—we struggle in our home office all by ourselves to be creative and challenging each other on video is more difficult than in a room and brainstorming on how to address a particular challenge or multiple challenges that face government today is more difficult in isolation than having that gray matter all communicating in a boardroom and really sharing ideas and challenging each other.

I think, as you mentioned, this creativity, this collaboration needs space to be effective. And it's a little bit difficult on video and through Zoom or other media that we're using. I think it's important for us also that, as we look to the future, we take into account the employees and their preferences. And I think you highlighted it fairly well when you said, you know, some are more effective at home, some are less effective.

So where do we find that balance? And we think that the hybrid model is probably the best way. Some will spend 50, 60, 70% of their time in the office because either they don't have the place at home or they feel better in the office and more productive, others will spend 60, 70% of their time at home because that's where they're more productive. And they'll come in for collaboration, for creativity and caring and the sense of community that you mentioned earlier. So I think it's a lot to do between the manager and the employee on how this relationship between the office and working from home will progress.

Steven Boyd: I think that's definitely the case. I think what we would like to do is create an environment—clearly we're providing the physical and technological structures in which people work. So it's not for us to decide exactly how they work, but we hope to provide the environment in which our customers, the people who work in our buildings, have the choice of where to work in that building and when it's appropriate to work in the building and when it's appropriate to work elsewhere, and that might be a home or it might be in some third space.

But of course, that has to be done within a boundary with the environment that's constructed by the managers, the leaders of that particular part of the business, who will no doubt have particular reasons why, why they need people to come together on particular days. And at a very simplistic end of that, they might be coming together for team meetings or for collaboration events, or it might be for particular needs to make sure that they've got a certain number of people available on any particular day to deal with public service needs.

Stéphan Déry: I think you're absolutely right, it will progress and there's going to be an evolution of the workplace as post-pandemic, that's going to be quite high tech as you said, at best has accelerated our transformation. And to me, there's an opportunity here that, although the pandemic is a terrible thing that happened to the entire world, I think from a government perspective, there's an opportunity here to seize, to make sure that we can attract talent and retain talent within the government with flexibility of work arrangements, flexibility around where you work, how you work, which hours where you work, and ensuring that this way people are drawn to working for us and they see the benefit of working in the flexible environment.

You talked a little bit about where they work, which space they work within the building, and that caught my attention. So you're removing the barrier within—between government departments. You seem to be removing the barriers from "oh, this is my floor. This is my space. This is our space." You're looking for a collaborative space for government employees, I would say, or civil servants, I should say.

You also talked a little bit earlier about the common Wi-Fi. Could you expand on that a little bit? I mean, that vision—did it come with COVID-19 or was it there before and you were accelerating it? How do you deal with security and Internet or network security and that in this situation like this, when you have common Wi-Fi, is it government Wi-Fi? How does that work?

Steven Boyd: So the pandemic has accelerated our thinking, and to be clear, we'll take as many years to get to this kind of approach across the whole of the estate. And as I mentioned before, we have an approach based on hubs and spokes with the hubs being larger buildings with multiple amenities and the spokes being a little smaller, with probably fewer amenities that might be in smaller towns or on the periphery of larger cities.

But if you look at the hubs as a best example, recognizing that not everybody works in a hub, are designed before then was broadly as follows. So you'd have a building that would be quite a large building that might be designed for, say, two thousand people to work in, a number of floors with each of those floors are similar as possible. Some client departments might have particular needs, but broadly they would try to keep those floors as similar as possible and the design of them would be as modular as we can so that, for instance, we could remove a bank of desks and put in some collaborative space.

But within the building, we'd also have some shared amenities. So we might have a reception area, bicycle storage and showers, a cafe and a floor set out for larger meetings where the meeting spaces might encompass, say, 25 or even 40 people. We typically call that a business events center, it is the sort of thing for a team within a government department might be a reasonably rare event. It might be the monthly big board meeting or it might be some particular event speaking to potential vendors or something of that type.

So our idea would be that it is within the hub that all of their occupying departments can share those shared spaces, the cafe, the business events center and the reception facilities. But they would have their own allocation of space on one of the floors in the building, their own demise and some flexibility within that space to have that laid out and the colour scheme of that selected to suit their particular needs.

But broadly, our solution would be to keep that as similar as possible so that, as you mentioned before, teams tend to grow and contract and make that easy. What we don't want to be in the game of is ripping down internal partitions, changing everything around, reworking all of their air conditioning and electrical supply every time a team grows by 50 people or moves to a different part of town.

To try to make the physical spaces as flexible as possible, and part of that as you indicate technology, so government supplied Wi-Fi. We've got a really canny name of "govwifi" to supply that to the building with the aim that as many people as possible operate from laptops or tablets.

So an individual will come into their workplace with their laptop under their arm, plunk it down on whatever appropriate workspace they have chosen for that day, which might be a desk. It might be a kitchen table, bench seating type solution, it might be a project working area. They open up their machine and it automatically connects to the government Wi-Fi and off they go.

And it being government Wi-Fi, we thought about the security arrangements around that, they can communicate effectively with their colleagues in the office, their colleagues in another office, or the colleagues who might be potentially working at home on that day.

And when they finish that particular task and they no longer need to be sitting at a large table, working with half a dozen colleagues, and they wish to spend now an hour doing something a little bit more focused work, they might move to a different part of the office where they could carry out that work has been designed for that purpose. And then when it comes to coffee time, perhaps go down to the first floor or the top floor, depending where we put the cafe in that particular building, perhaps meet with our colleagues there, do some work in that space perhaps, or perhaps enjoy the coffee and then perhaps on a good day, a cookie as well while they're doing that.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you very much, Steven. Really appreciated sharing your future of the workplace. Knowing that COVID-19 may have changed or accelerated your plans, and I think you said it accelerated your plan, people were working from home one day a week on average.

Now it's going to be two or three days a week working from home, based on the survey. How do you think it's going to impact the future of your portfolio? You talked about 66%, now you're going to 50% on average. Can you explain what your current vision is in this regard as we look at the year ahead?

Steven Boyd: it gives us lots of challenges and lots of opportunities. So I probably should say a little bit about our hubs program before I answer this question, because I will make that a little clearer. So now an aspiration in the UK to reduce the number of civil servants working in central London, and we intend to reduce that by 22,000 civil servants by 2030.

So we already, pre-pandemic, had a plan to reduce the amount of space we need in central London and to create additional space in the nations and regions of the UK. And some of that additional space would be in the form of hubs, as I've described earlier on in this discussion. And that would be a combination of roles moving from London and also some consolidation of existing space in an existing city where we might have a dozen buildings where lease breaks are coming up in a particular year. So that was always our plan.

Post-pandemic, that remains our plan, which we're keen to accelerate that. But things have changed as a result of the pandemic. So in our existing buildings we now need less of the space in those existing buildings in order to accommodate all of the people that we might wish to. This means that we can use some of that space to help with the consolidation or moving roles from London.

It also means second point that our hubs will need to be slightly smaller because we're working on that 50% attendance rate rather than the 66% attendance rate. And it also means that we will need even less space in central London than we thought we would need. So we're working, we were, pre-pandemic, were working towards a core of buildings in Whitehall, around about 20 buildings.

And we're now thinking that it will be less than that and we might only need 17 or 18 buildings in order to accommodate all the people we need, simply because we need less space taking into account the ways of working that we anticipate being adopted across the civil service in future years. And of course, that's a little bit of a crystal ball gazing at the moment, but that's what we expect it to be.

So we're beginning to think about how we can accelerate our release of space in central London while at the same time continue at best pace with delivery of our hubs in the nations and regions of the UK, making sure that they're right sized for the future need. And one last thing I'd say about the hubs in the previously very high demand for space across the regions, and we were envisaging that the majority of our hubs would be new build, designed for us, and indeed a number may still be like that.

But following the pandemic, it may be that there is some available Grade A standing stock in some of those locations that we could take as an opportunity, refurbished that to our requirement and perhaps accelerate the provision of hubs in those areas. We'll see how that works out, my understanding of the market in the UK is that the requirement for city center grade A spaces has not fallen away at the moment and continues to be a focus on that, though we are seeing some reduction in demand for the grade B and grade C space, perhaps in less central locations.

Stéphan Déry: Extremely interesting. Steven, I draw the parallel between your hub and our GCcoworking. We launched about a couple of years ago and we had a chance to talk about that a little bit earlier. GCcoworking, we have nine spaces across the country, a fairly large country which are multi-departmental. So a little bit with your concept, you have your laptop, you want to get to work, you can reserve a space and one of these hubs, these GCcoworking and you have a touchpoint, you work there all like type ABW, activity based workplace.

As you were saying, you can move from one to the other. And we saw—that was a pilot for us, and we see this as in the future, maybe bringing the office closer to where the people lives. And maybe helping to—instead of drawing the employee towards central Ottawa or center to the country, the capital may be having the opportunity to hire people closer to their homes and having them being able to work from there on the permanent basis and having these spaces for multiple departments.

So the parallel we could draw are quite interesting. I'm not sure where we are. And I appreciate when you say it's a little bit of a crystal ball, how much space will we need in the future? But you're seeing an opportunity probably to reuse existing space and less creation of brand new space, probably reducing your inventory.

That—the fact that we're talking about brick and mortar also brings us to say how many years your horizon, looking forward, what do you think—as technology gets better and better, as we get out of the pandemic, I can feel there's maybe a pendulum swing that everybody will want to come back to the office for a couple of months and say, OK, they'll see the advantage of the office. They'll see the advantage of working from home. And then typical, you know, they'll be come back to the office and then the pendulum's going to place itself in the middle.

So what's your timing, your horizon, especially when we talk about brick and mortar, you know, building leases, normally a long-term lease, or—what's your horizon? What horizon do you have in mind?

Steven Boyd: That detail planning is over about five years, but we've got an outline plan over 10 years. That's our broad approach. We do anticipate over the course of this coming year, assuming that the release of lockdown measures goes as planned is in line with the UK's vaccination program, then we do expect to see some of that return to the office. We're not quite sure how that will go.

There might be the enthusiasm initially that might be a little bit constrained by people's view of safety, and one of the reasons why making the spaces as safe as we can. Of course, individuals will need also to take into account the safety of that journey. And that's one of the reasons we like the hub and spoke model.

So as I mentioned before, we will expect to have people who are working some of the time from a main workplace such as a hub, some of the time working from home. And that may be suited to a range of tasks, but they may also choose to work from a third place that might be a smaller spoke office close to where they live. Perhaps they want to go into the office for social connection or even in some cases for mental health reasons.

If people feel better working in an office, that doesn't necessarily have to be the one at the end of the 40 minute commute into town on a particular day. And so providing an opportunity for touchdown space in their spokes is something that we're keen to examine and getting the charging mechanism right for that so that we can afford to support those spaces properly.

So within a particular travel to work area where we have a hub and spoke system working, we hope to provide a degree of choice there within those boundaries set by the businesses we described before. But I think your point as to the wider country, making sure that it is possible to access the best talent from all parts of the UK, we want to make it possible for the civil service to access the best talent in Glasgow or Edinburgh or Cardiff or Belfast or Manchester or Leeds.

We don't want those people to feel to join the civil service and progress to the higher grades or need to travel to London that really shouldn't be necessary. We need to get that cognitive diversity that you can get by drawing from right across the whole country. People who have been brought up in Scotland or the north of England may have a different way of thinking about certain problems than those who have been brought up in the southeast or London, for instance. So it's important for us to have that balance.

And if we've got good quality workplaces with excellent digital connectivity across the whole of the United Kingdom. Then why can't someone progress a great career in the civil service in one of the great cities of the UK like Glasgow or Newcastle, for instance? And as you say, we need to be realistic about—there's a battle for talent going on here and what—we want to recruit the best.

And of course, the civil service is a great place to work. And there are lots of real positives about working in government. But anything we can add to that through workplace and connectivity and opportunity and flexibility and choice within boundaries, then that's got to be a good thing. And so that's part of our job to make that a battle for talent that little bit easier.

Stéphan Déry: That makes me think about increasing diversity, allowing people to grow in their job from where they are and instead of drawing them into a central hub. And I like the central hub and spoke. I kind of—I like that because you're attached to a central hub, but you can work from a distance. You can be part of a team from a distance. You can grow in your career from a distance.

A lot of—and if we compare to that, Canada as being a fairly large country, physically, a fairly large country and, a lot of our assistant deputy minister positions, you know, going up in the government, are located in Ottawa, maybe post-pandemic, people will start thinking, well, why do we need to be in Ottawa to progress to the highest level within the government? And that's a little bit of allowing people from where they're born or where they can contribute to government. And also bringing a different perspectives because of the place where they live, the place where they were—they've grown. So that's extremely interesting.

Increasing diversity, retaining talent. I think that's some of the most important things that we'll face in the future, because we're thinking that the private sector will also adapt to that new reality post-COVID. Do you think it has an impact—the adaptation of the private sector to the new way of working? Do you think it has an impact on how the government will evolve over time?

Steven Boyd: Well, we're seeing the private sector taking many of the same types of decisions that we're taking. We have seen some people being very keen on all of their, people coming back to the office when the pandemic allows. And we've seen some others wanting to adopt a large scale homeworking approach. But I think a lot of large corporates thinking about a hybrid model of a similar type to we're thinking about. And that perhaps amplifies that war for talent that you were describing a moment ago.

I think you're right, Stéphan, to make the point about senior staff. In the UK civil service. We describe the top few bands of the civil service as senior civil servants, senior civil servants (SCS), and a lot of—an awful lot of those currently are based in London. And I know my human resources colleagues are really keen to change that and have many more SCS-based around the UK, partly for that different perception grown of different place that you describe, but also because frankly, senior civil servants tend to grow a team around them. And so that helps me selfishly, to create a good hub in Edinburgh or Newcastle or Leeds.

If there are a number of senior civil servants there with their teams around them, then that helps to anchor that team in that location. And for the individuals in that team demonstrates that, look, I can get to the top of the shop here without having to move somewhere else. It's quite possible to have a career here. And going back to an earlier part of the conversation, if we've got that aspect in several departments adjacent to each other in a single building or perhaps in the larger cities, in a small campus of multiple buildings, three or four buildings within walking distance, for instance, then you really start to get two and two coming together and making five and a half.

Stéphan Déry: Fantastic, I think our conversation could go on for hours and hours and thinking about funding model, you mentioned how you're going to be charging for those little spaces and the hubs. So maybe that'll be a future session or a future podcast on how we can look at our funding model, because when my predecessors started the GCcoworking site, they were not funded. They were unfunded. That's why we called them a pilot project. So we funded them internally just to see if there was an appetite from multiple departments to use them.

And there is and I believe there will be more and more as we get out of COVID. And I really like that. These could become as you mention, maybe a little hub, maybe bigger hub, maybe a little campus where this senior civil servant or in our case, Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM), is in his hometown and grows his team. And some people are talking about the democratization of working for the civil service because now we don't have—and like high tech companies, we don't have to move to a central location to be a senior executive in the public service.

We could do that from our own region or from our own hometown, in fact. So extremely interesting to see how it's going to evolve.

[00:46:13] Closing question: what is the biggest priority for the United Kingdom’s public real property sector in the coming years?

Unfortunately, our interview now comes to an end, and I would like to conclude on a question. You talked about your priority greening, you talked about diversity. You talked about managing more efficiently the portfolio and the space that is for public servants. You talked about flexibility. We talked about recruiting, retaining talent. What is the biggest priority for your country's public real property sector in the coming years?

Steven Boyd: That's a really good question and multi-stranded, I'll come back to where I started and at the government property agency we're about delivering a transformed different to it was before shared across multiple departments, sustainable, i.e. green and value for money, not the cheapest, the right cost to do the thing that we need to do, estate for government that really drives productivity and is in every region of the UK, every nation of the UK.

That's something that we're determined to deliver. And bringing together all the things we've talked about today, our hubs program, the correct, allocation of space, providing choice for our customers. All of those things are going to help us get there.

I would be unfair to pick on any particular one, but if you really twist my arm, then the thing that perhaps we need to work hardest on is the cultural change to get to a genuine shared space. They have the right balance of choice between the employer and the employee so we can win that battle for talent.

Stéphan Déry: I could go on with a question and question. You raised a culture change, which is quite close to my heart, to be honest, to drive these initiatives forward, to drive that vision of a better civil servant that retains—attract and retain talent. That cultural shift is required to implement a great vision like the one you just explained to us.

This was a fantastic interview. Hopefully there'll be more of those podcasts or we get into other subjects that are extremely interesting, interesting to us in Canada that are responsible for real property and I'm sure will be beneficial for our colleagues in the UK when they hear your vision about the state portfolio. So I would like to thank you, Steven, for taking the time to discuss with me what the future of work and workspace modernization may look like in the United Kingdom. Thank you very much.

Steven Boyd: Thank you, Stéphan, I have enjoyed our conversation.

Interview with Mr. Sunjoon Choe, team leader at Public Property Development Planning Division at the Korea Asset Management Corporation (KAMCO)—South Korea

Length: 30 minutes 16 seconds

Interview date: May 18, 2021

Listen to the interview between Stéphan Déry and Mr. Sunjoon Choe, team leader at Public Property Development Planning Division at the Korea Asset Management Corporation (KAMCO)

In this podcast

Below are the topics covered in this interview. You can manually advance the clip to the time indicated in the brackets to get to the desired segments.

Transcription of interview with Mr. Sunjoon Choe, team leader at Public Property Development Planning Division at the Korea Asset Management Corporation (KAMCO)—South Korea

The Workplace Network—South Korea (Korea Asset Management Corporation—KAMCO)

The Workplace Network, the future of workplaces in the public sector. Welcome to the podcast series all about the public real property services portfolio around the world. In this series, Stéphan Déry, President of The Workplace Network and Assistant Deputy Minister of Real Property Services for the Government of Canada, meets with his international counterparts to discuss progress concerning the future of the workplace and the modernization of office spaces.

Below are the topics covered in this interview. You can skip to the desired section of the transcript.

[00:00:41] Introduction and overview of the Korea Asset Management Corporation’s (KAMCO) real estate portfolio—South Korea

Stéphan Déry: Hello, everyone, I am Stéphan Déry, and for our podcast series on the future of work, of the workplace and the modernization of office space, it is with great pleasure that I am meeting today with a real estate expert from South Korea, Mr. Sunjoon Choe, team leader at Public Property Development Planning Division at KAMCO, Mr. Choe, thank you for accepting our invitation and sharing with us your own view on these topics.

Sunjoon Choe: Thank you for having me.

Stéphan Déry: It's a pleasure to have you today. Our audience always likes to hear a little bit more about your organization, what are you responsible for? So before we go into the questions and start talking about the future of work, can you give us an overview of the public real property portfolio that you are responsible for?

Sunjoon Choe: Yes, of course. KAMCO, the Korea Asset Management Corporation, was founded in 1962 as one of the subsidiaries of Korea Development Bank, one of the quasi-government-owned banks in Korea. With this busy portfolio of distressed assets and resolution of the banks and played its instrumental roles of resolving NPLs, non-performing loans, when there was a financial crisis in Asia back in (the) 1990s, by acquiring 120 billion United States of America (U.S.) dollars’ worth of distressed assets.

And as a result of that, KAMCO is probably better known as a lender of last resort outside of Korea. But obviously as a permanent agency with no sunset clauses, KAMCO's role in dealing with economy crises has its own limitation due to its economy, crisis, nature, and we pursued new businesses that are more sustainable. And against this background, Korean government commissioned KAMCO to manage Korea's state-owned properties in mid-1990s.

On the state owned asset business front, we mainly had four business portfolios and those are: first, management and disposal of state owned properties; second, management and operation of state owned Property Management Fund, which is being raised about one billion U.S. dollars every year by disposing and leasing of state owned lands; and third, development of national properties.

And all three of which have aimed to provide, contribute, to monetize state owned properties, and lastly, supporting government policy making by establishing policies related to the management and disposal of state owned properties, preparing measures to improve the management and disposal of state owned properties to improve various Information technology (IT) systems like the state owned asset disposal system, state owned asset management systems, geographic information systems and using drones for doing land surveys and for all those solutions combined with IT are aimed to preparing for amendments for the various state owned Property Acts and guidelines in Korea.

Those are sort of a brief introduction of Korea Asset Management Corporation and the portfolio we are managing and visions and missions we're carrying out, commissioned by our government.

[00:04:28] Vision for the future of work prior to the pandemic

Stéphan Déry: Thank you very much, Mr. Choe. I think there's a lot of parallels I could draw between your country, your responsibility and our responsibility here in Canada. An important one for me, and I'll just focus on this one because it's going to introduce our next subject of today's podcast, is really the management—disposal, acquisition and management of Crown-owned assets. So we are both managing Crown-owned assets in our respective countries.

And, you know, last year, at the same time, about a year ago, the world was turned upside down by the global COVID-19 pandemic. I'm convinced, like many other countries that South Korea had already a long-term vision for the public sector future of the workplace in your country, and all of this was impacted by the pandemic. But could you talk to us a little bit about the impact of the pandemic in your country? But what was your strategy—real property strategy, for the workplace before the pandemic?

Sunjoon Choe: That's a great question. In case of KAMCO, our long-term vision for the state owned property has almost always come down to monetization of properties and increase of social values as public institutions. And to do that, we have aimed to provide comprehensive services on the Public Asset Management front. Comprehensiveness has been implemented by three prolonged tactics: first, legal system and regulations must be innovated continuously and updated to incorporate the emergency situation by COVID, we're currently experiencing now.

In other words, legal framework and governance of state-owned property management need to be improved, the working process and organization structures get rearranged, and laws and regulations related to the lease and sale of public properties and imposition of indemnities must be kept improving. And second, keep developing of state-owned lands and more buildings, apply innovative development methodologies and thereby keep monetizing public land values. And third, to manage the assets more efficiently, we must keep enhancing our IT systems to accommodate sheer size of data and new technologies like mobile related and artificial intelligence and cloud services.

Of course, videoconference platforms available out there in the market. KAMCO currently manages a couple of very important nationwide public function systems, which are represented by state owned property, business process management system and online public asset disposal system, all of which are composed proprietary IT systems now.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you Mr. Choe. I think again, I had the privilege in October 2019 to visit South Korea and I had a tour of the fantastic development when you are talking about development of Crown land. I had the pleasure to visit some of your developments, fantastic architecture, award-winning buildings, really impressive how you are developing those lands and you are providing support to government operations.

Sunjoon Choe: Thank you.

[00:08:16] Adjustments due to the pandemic

Stéphan Déry: You talk about asset disposal. You talk about information management, IT big data. You talk about all artificial intelligence, also all things that our government have to get into in order to better manage their real property in the other order to be able to bring more value out of our property for the government that we serve.

Could you talk a little bit to us about how COVID-19 has impacted your country's workplaces? Did the pandemic change your plan and project and how has KAMCO adjusted to it?

Sunjoon Choe: As I mentioned to you earlier, KAMCO managed to stay on lands and monetizing by executing such functions as identification, rent or disposal. And soon after the break out of the pandemic, we cut the public property we manage rent rate from 2.5% to 1% of the land value. Besides the office building KAMCO owns, KAMCO manages two different types of buildings. Either we developed ourselves, commissioned by the government whose ownership belongs to the government and the buildings that acquired from enterprises suffering from the liquidity under the sales and leaseback mechanism.

After pandemic hit our economy last year, KAMCO lowered rent temporarily until the end of 2020. Under the following scheme, in case of buildings owned by the government, we will reduce the rates by 50% for 10 months while KAMCO-owned buildings were 25% for 6 months, and obviously the beneficiary of which were mainly small business owners.

In addition, KAMCO facilitated advanced payment of forty four million U.S. dollars construction expenses by expanding emergency procurement program for public consignment development projects. And as a result, three development sites under the public consignment constructions were benefited. And upon the breakout of COVID-19, Korean enterprises and the public agencies urgently entered into the remote working mode as early as February 2020, without proper preparation measures put in place.

 And therefore it wasn't as coherent as it should be. And a lot of it was in fluid mode. But as the pandemic gets more serious and the central government come up with a more solid and practical policies, including on lockdown and manuals for working—for remote working in Korea. KAMCO as a public agency, introduced comprehensive measures dealing with the pandemic. In doing so, we encountered a couple of challenges. First, shortage of IT infrastructure. And second, sort of—we had negative internal views on remote working in general. There has been a chronic stereotype against working from home in Korea. And becomes more so after the pandemic.

And to deal with such challenges, we took actions. By first making investment on its Internet, allowing simultaneous number of remote access authorization. From 50 to as many as 900 and also made investment of notebook pieces that can be rented out to employees who choose to work from home and install the videoconference system in headquarters as well as its regional offices and separate meeting rooms accommodating the system facilities were set up. An interesting action we took and turned out to be huge success was we set up a task force team that makes video recording, online lectures, seminars and trainings.

This particular team made an investment when a lot of advanced video recording facilities, in the early part of 2020 slightly before the pandemic break out, and we did make a great use of those facilities on every event after the pandemic break out domestically as well as internationally, serving everything online. And at the same time, in order to tackle down the stereotype on remote working internally, we overhauled company bylaws and disseminated company-wide strategy maps. Promoting remote working and even come up with incentive measures for those who work from home.

Technically, we also promoted internal guidelines on remote working practices which promoted contactless working and flexible hours and carry out assessments and come up with complementary measures to the existing working practices.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you very much Sunjoon for this explanation of the challenge you face with COVID-19. I think you covered a lot of area here where you had to get up to speed like multiple other countries being the mentality against telework or resisting to telework and people being afraid that their employees won't perform, the lack of investment in technology.

You talked about buying laptops for employees. You talked about increasing Internet capacities. You talked about increasing network. I thought at one of your comment that I find extremely interesting is a new way of delivering training, recording classes.

Every country, to some extent had to face the same challenges. So it's quite interesting to see how you overcame these challenges and how you equip your employees to work from home.

[00:14:58] Which COVID-related measures will be implemented permanently?

Stéphan Déry: You have put a lot of measures in place in South Korea through the pandemic, like many other countries have done. And you have successfully put in place initiatives and measures that you may want to continue after the pandemic. Could you tell us some of these initiatives or measures that you're planning to implement permanently?

Sunjoon Choe: Of course, in case of Korea, one of the barriers that have prevented us from remote working is our entire network, so-called intranet and KAMCO intranet is so closely involved with our daily jobs, including company emails, and it is unthinkable to work without it. And as I mentioned to you earlier, video conferencing was quite a new concept for us.

A public company is known as very conservative, like any other similar entities outside of Korea. And to this point, there is no Wi-Fi, in fact, installed in our company due to security reasons. And they are two separate personal computer (PC) terminals provided to each employee's. One is for intranet and the other is for sending out emails outside and access to World Wide Web.

However, as KAMCO, like many other public financial agencies in Korea, moved in, moved its headquarters into another second largest city in Korea in 2014 and in ensuing years, KAMCO made investment and dedicated lines between headquarters and the regional offices, and we were already familiarized with video conferencing. Though it was not the level we are seeing now.

In addition, KAMCO introduced a new way of work prior to the pandemic era and that has called agile team. The concept is pretty simple for the job required for collaboration between teams. We tested setting a team whose members could freely divide dates of the week for working from home and work at the office and carry out their separate jobs separate from their existing jobs. For those who participate in this agile team and naturally shoulder more responsibilities and workload, additionally, the company can go incentivizing them with year-end prices and additional promotional points, and as the pandemic gets prolonged, KAMCO set up a special task force team and hotline dedicated to the pandemic situation.

And by combining it with the Korean government's policy initiative, responding with information, communication and technology, which helped enable social distancing, speedy COVID tests and tracing of COVID patients, KAMCO decided to upgrade its remote working policy from temporarily or Anabasis to permanent basis by setting up a company-wide foundation.

The first test, which was to classify all of these jobs into four different groups depending on their job descriptions. Number one, what we call is once on the side work. Number two, collaborative work. And number three, self-responsible work. And number four, office work.

Let me go into detail a little bit on this whole concept of work. For side workers, the first one may choose work from home or smart workspaces, whereas collaborative workers, the second type of work, may choose between smart work or office work and self-responsible workers, the third one, on the other hand, could work from their homes while office workers whose such job is job, contract signing or execution and reporting to the top management in person may work at their offices.

At the same time, KAMCO converted jobs related to in-person contact with noncontact walks. We using online systems when there is such demand.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Mr. Choe. This is fascinating that you classified the work in your organizations and you build that permanently. Here in Canada, we have developed, it's similar, it's quite similar. We have developed a persona that we call and there's four of them—four or five of them. And we look at what employee needs. Let's say they're an inspector, so most of their work is outside of the office. Another one is workers in the office because they provide essential services that can't be done from home.

So it's really interesting that there's a lot of similarity. And by defining those roles, you're able to provide employees with the choice of working from home or working from the office, depending on the work type, depending on the job type that they have. Extremely, extremely interesting.

[00:20:19] Current vision in the regard of the years ahead and concepts being used or explored

I would like now to talk a little bit about the influence of telework on your real property portfolio, knowing that COVID-19 may have changed or accelerated your plan for the future of your real property portfolio. Could you explain what your current vision is in this regard for the year ahead and how it was impacted by the pandemic?

Sunjoon Choe: That's a great question. As a public developer and an explosive manager of public land commissioned by the government, KAMCO is probably the least COVID-affected public agencies among many public fund agencies in Korea. As our portfolio lies with land development and redevelopment of all government buildings in charge, find rents and land, this whole things.

New development has kept adding, and thanks to the application of upgraded IT solutions and more active communication with the government, we were able to add more parcels of land under our management, which enabled us to enhance our performances. And when the pandemic hit our economies, we not rent preemptively and voluntarily, which did make a negative impact on our bottom figures. But we managed to make up the differences by adding new projects and parcels of land to manage under our management.

And in order for noncontact business methods to be settled, more horizontal and self-directed organization culture needs to be put in place for smoother communications based on mutual trust and prompt response, prompt feedback, and in order for the public sector and enterprises to provide clearer and more transparent work scope, they need to overhaul the current system and change from the absenteeism and tardiness to performance-based work culture.

And to enhance the enterprise performance meeting the new work environment, the company should provide detailed objectives and missions by individuals and it is very, very important to set up a system for performance-based evaluation. And it is also important to draw social consensus and policies tailored to jobs that do still need contact-based working, like manufacturing - some of the manufacturing functions and customer-faced service to sectors.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you Sunjoon, I think an important thing that reacting to the pandemic and helping your small businesses by lowering rent, as we've seen in Canada, we did the same thing in order to support businesses, because in a lot of our government buildings, the pandemic, people were asked to stay home, to work from home. And a lot of these small and medium enterprises that were operating within our building lost their clientele basically in—from one day to the next, they've seen their clientele reduced by 90 to 95%.

So it's quite important your role as the state organization and our role for the—managing the real property to be responsive and to be understanding of the impact of the pandemic on small and medium enterprises operating within our buildings and portfolio.

Now, let's get me to a little bit to the future, where do you see your organization going, which regards the monetization of state owned properties via development, divestment and rent of properties, applying innovative IT solutions?

Sunjoon Choe: OK, we'll keep pursuing three tactics to realize monetization on state-owned lands and increase of social values. By upgrading our IT systems to be used as a tools to carry out more swift and transparent monetization process, we've got further enumerate public lands to be used more wisely.

And indemnify or rent or disposal of public lands more efficiently, and by improving our legal framework and rearranging our work processes, KAMCO could further position itself as an agency that manages the public lands in the most efficient ways.

[00:24:56] Closing question: what is the biggest priority for South Korea’s public real property sector in the coming years, from KAMCO’s perspective?

Stéphan Déry: Thank you very much. Our interview now comes to an end, and I would like to conclude on the question, as you know, Sunjoon, I like to ask question, what is the biggest priority for your country's public real property sector in the coming years?

Sunjoon Choe: Our priority goals can boil down to three main policy tests. Number one is to keep centralized state owned property management. What I mean by that is to keep providing comprehensive survey of state-owned properties and keep getting transfer of unused and administrative properties to KAMCO from the central government. And that will enable us to manage its state-owned properties by achieving greater economies of scale.

And number two is to increase social values, we need to redevelop deteriorated urban development offices into mixed use complexes and innovate land development methodologies for larger scale decades, state-owned lands. KAMCO completed enumeration of survey, over 173 deteriorated government office buildings that are longer than 30 years across to cities with the population of three hundred thousand with development needs.

Also, we supplied thirteen hundred homes for a public rental housing for younger adults and newly married, by transforming old open government facilities into mixed use development of housing and government offices. Though the number is probably small, yet we believe it is quite significant development and really high potential to grow given the shortage of residences in Korea, particularly for people in their 20s, 30s.

Thirdly, the incumbent government announced a Korean version of the New Deal Project for Green and Digital to support rapid recovery of domestic economy in the post-COVID era. Given the New Deal is done, is designed to open a new path for sustainable growth by creating new markets, industries and jobs.

And to this end, public spaces that affect people's daily lives will be remodeled into zero energy buildings, with the government objectives of reaching 70% of all new buildings developed with zero energy by 2030. By maximizing insolation, performance and thereby minimizing the energy load.

While utilizing the renewable energy and minimizing the new energy consumptions, the sum of the energy used and produced can be zero. KAMCO, as one of its top priority, has kept driving the green agenda starting from 2020 when refurbishing and developing the government offices and housing facilities of one thousand square meters of GSA or above.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Mr. Choe, I think, again, I could draw multiple parallels in your greening strategy, your carbon neutral strategy and what we're trying to do here in Canada. This social aspect of social economy and working towards live, work and play in the same area, thinking about this building multiuse facility for house and for government building. This is fascinating.

The parallel that are could be drawn between your strategy in the coming years and our strategy in the coming year and the importance that your government is putting on greening and the importance that our government is also putting on greening. This concludes today's podcast. Thank you very much, Mr. Choe, for taking the time to discuss with me what the future of work and the workspace modernization may look like for South Korea. Your time is really appreciated.

Sunjoon Choe: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.

Interview with Peter Bolmann, Chief Advisor, Property of New Zealand Government Procurement and Property (New Zealand)

Length: 55 minutes 08 seconds

Interview date:  March 7, 2021

Listen to the interview between Stéphan Déry and Peter Bolmann, Chief Advisor, Property of New Zealand Government Procurement and Property (New Zealand).

In this podcast

Below are the topics covered in this interview. You can manually advance the clip to the time indicated in the brackets to get to the desired segments.

Transcription of interview with Peter Bolmann, Chief Advisor, Property of New Zealand Government Procurement and Property (New Zealand)

The Workplace Network—New Zealand

The Workplace Network, the future of workplaces in the public sector. Welcome to the podcast series, all about the public real property services portfolio around the world. In this series, Stéphan Déry, President of the Workplace Network and Assistant Deputy Minister of Real Property Services for the Government of Canada, meets with his international counterparts to discuss progress concerning the future of the workplace and the modernization of office spaces.

Below are the topics covered in this interview. You can skip to the desired section of the transcript.

[00:00:40] Introduction and overview of New Zealand’s real estate portfolio

Stéphan Déry: Hello, everyone, I am Stéphan Déry, and for our podcast series on the future of the workplace and the modernization of office spaces, it is with great pleasure that I am meeting today (with) a public sector real estate expert from New Zealand, Mr. Peter Bolmann, Chief Advisor, Property of New Zealand Government Procurement and Property.

Mr. Bolmann, thank you for accepting our invitation and taking the time to share with us your views on these topics. Before we get to the future of work, our audience is quite interested to understand the size and breadth of the public portfolio under management in the New Zealand government. Can you give us an overview of the public real property portfolio that you are responsible for?

Peter Bolmann: Kia ora tatou, nga mihi o te ata, which essentially means greetings of the day, it's a beautiful day here in New Zealand. I know it's not in Canada and I'm not sure what it's doing in the rest of the world, but the sun is shining here. I'm Chief Advisor Property with the government property group in New Zealand.

And what we do here is we run a system called Property Functional Leadership, which sits right across all the government agencies in New Zealand. So we don't manage the portfolio of property for all the agencies, but what we do is we provide a centralized coordination for that.

The property we deal with is about 900,000 square meters of office space across New Zealand. It's accommodation for the office work, so it's not about the operational space. It's not prisons or courts or defense bases or anything like that. It's just about the office workers.

And what we deal with is the office space for about 67 different agencies across government, and the bulk of our portfolio is contained in Wellington and Auckland, and only about 20% of the portfolio is across the rest of New Zealand, so it's a very intense portfolio in both Wellington and Auckland.

So it's a—each agency in New Zealand, each government department has the responsibility to look after their own property so they buy and sell or lease and give up leases on their own property and they look after their own property needs. What we do is property functional leadership was set up about 2011 to actually make sure that agencies were a lot more coordinated and not competing with each other for space. And so we issue standards and guidelines and we've been helping agencies to actually work together over the years.

And a big part of that was driven out of efficiency. There was a lot of efficiency questions. And what had happened over the last few years is we've reduced the size of the portfolio quite significantly. We've gone from the Matrix, went from over 20, 25 square meters per person down to around 14 square meters per person. And that was the big driver we saved. We took 600 million dollars’ worth of rent avoided out of the portfolio in those first few years.

More recently, we've started to shift our emphasis away from just the efficiency question. But I think the point is that each agency is very autonomous and have their own ability to make their own investment decisions. And our role is to create some standards and guidelines right across the system and actually encourage a lot of efficiency.

Stéphan Déry: Extremely interesting, Mr. Bolmann. Oh, I can call you Peter, if you don't mind. And it's similar here in Canada. My organization is managing, I would say close to six million square meters of space, but we're managing all office space on behalf of the government. We also set accommodation policy, which and the and to you, to your point, a lot of your portfolio is condensed in a few major center.

I'm in Ottawa and we are approximately half of our portfolio is within Ottawa, Gatineau, a little bit like you and two major centers. Half of our portfolio is here. And it's quite interesting talking about efficiency, talking about setting rule and regulation on your side to ensure that department that are buying or renting or are responsible to acquire and sell their own property are respecting some parameter.

[00:05:39] Vision for the future of work prior to the pandemic

Stéphan Déry: You talked about efficiency, which will bring me to my other question, because you'll probably advance because you've reduce your number of square meters by from 25 to 14 and I'm sure we’ll be able to talk a little bit about that. As multiple countries around the world, I am convinced that like Canada, New Zealand was looking at a way to optimize its real estate portfolio prior to the global pandemic.

Can you tell us what was your long-term vision for the public sector future of the workplace in your country prior to COVID-19 when you were talking that you moved away a little bit from efficiency, although you've gained significant efficiency, almost reducing by half the size at the offices, what was your plan, your long term policy question for the future prior to COVID-19 year?

Peter Bolmann: Look, thank you for that. Absolutely. I just want to make a wee small point about both Auckland and Wellington and the commercial property market in those two centers. Prior to COVID, the vacancy rate in Wellington for office space was 0.8%. And in Auckland it was around sitting at around 1% or just over 1%. So our options were becoming extremely limited. And all of the, if you like, the balance was in in favor of landlords. So we felt like we needed to address that in one way, shape or form.

While we've moved away from efficiency as being the driver, we felt we have felt like we've done as much around the efficiency and driving down the excess, if you like, that we’ve had in the portfolio. That doesn't mean we couldn't do more.

What we started to do in 2018, pre-COVID, is we developed a new a new strategy with government and we ended up with four main government expectations out of the property portfolio.

And the first one was to create what we called a citizen focus, and that was around making sure that the public sector was interacting better with the public and so that I don't want to say it was code for. But it meant that we could see at that stage a lot more public servants out in regional New Zealand, because that's the best way to interface with the public, is to be where they are rather than centered and necessarily in Wellington or Auckland. So that was the first one.

The second thing was to actually push for greater colocation and collaboration. In other words, like agencies working together, for example, the social development agencies and housing agencies, because they tend to have the same customers, if you like, the same people they interact with. And it was actually a lot more efficient for them to work together. And we started to think about sectors and how we could get agencies to work together better.

The third one that we were looking at was around creating better workplaces, what we call creating great places to work, and that was to enable staff to come in and do a better job, have a better workplace, have a higher quality workplace. And we were strongly pushing the ABW (activity based workplace)/flexible working, so trying to be a lot more collaborative in the workplaces. And then because we could never get away from it, because we're the public service, we always had to think about value for money, but we started to think about it in terms of what's the public value rather than just cost efficiency.

So that was—that was the approach that we started in 2018, and we were starting to roll out. Bearing in mind that the government property group is one of influence, we influence across the system  rather than telling people what they must or must not do, so it's fairly challenging in that aspect. But there was a lot of if I say intellectual buy-in, it's actually making it work when agencies are having to make investment decisions, that it becomes quite complicated.

Stéphan Déry: Extremely, extremely interesting, Peter, what do you say about ABW—activity based workplace. We like New Zealand. We started to implement activity based workplace in Canada. As I said, we are managing the portfolio of office buildings across the country, but we're kind of.

We have an influence on the user, but every user have their space envelope in Canada, so they have a space envelope and as long as they live within their space. They're within their space envelope, so I don't have a control, although I'm providing the space, it's a little bit like you, I'm an influencer. That's how I see myself more.

[00:11:02] Adjustments due to the pandemic

Stéphan Déry: Can you talk to us a bit, because it did change a lot of things for us, the pandemic in Canada and we were promoting, I would say, since about the same as New Zealand, we were promoting the activity based workplace—ABW, since I would say 2016, 2017, 2018. And we had such I would say about 10% of our portfolio has been modernized, but now we're thinking COVID has changed that for us.

And could you talk a little bit about the impact on COVID-19 in your country's workplace and the mindset that may have changed your clients? Now, and another point you're talking that was quite interesting to me is getting closer to the client, which mean maybe—and now I'm not putting words in your in your mouth—maybe getting closer in suburbs where the population here is instead of being in the big centers. So we'd like to hear you on this.

Peter Bolmann: Yeah, look, thank you for that. And we are very much aligned in terms of where we're going. We did quite a bit of work as a result of the Christchurch earthquakes and Kaikoura earthquakes a few years ago when they rebuilt Christchurch and managed to rebuild buildings and put various agencies together. So we started on that co-location journey.

Then we learned a lot of lessons around how things could be difficult, how things could be done better. So we've been on a continuous journey for quite some time. But you almost need something to happen to allow people to decide to make a significant change.

So with COVID, we went into lockdown fairly early in March 2020, and I think what happened there was that we did a huge collaborative effort. So all of the senior property leaders, we were having very frequent, regular meetings over Zoom—over technology. And what we did was we pulled together very quickly the guidelines and standards for how we would look after the workers and the portfolio based on the different alert levels and how we would transition from one alert level to another.

We have a four tier alert level system here in New Zealand and we went from effectively a couple of days of alert level one to alert level three or four very quickly, which meant everybody went home. And then the team, the only essential workers were allowed in the buildings. So a couple of things happened.

One is (that) we developed very quickly the standards and guidelines for shifting between alert levels, we got consensus across the senior property managers and we worked in with the health response team and the incident management team to the national incident management teams to actually have those published and adopted right across government. So that was a great step for us because that just showed that we could actually work together and we could work together very quickly. One of the—a couple of things that sort of came out of it.

The first one was that the second thing we did was start to think about what the economic impacts would be. And so we issued—and this was odd for us—we issued a direction that all agencies were to continue paying rent under their lease, no matter whether they had out provisions in the lease.

So what we were doing was assuring all landlords that they will continue to get paid. In other words, it's not their fault. It's not our—government would continue to pay that rent and I know that that was a little bit different to what a lot of private sector people were doing. But we felt from a government perspective, that was a very important signal to send that we needed to keep that economic activity going. So we issued that redirection.

We also issued another direction which said that anybody who sub-tenanted, so the cafes, those sorts of things, within government buildings, we stopped requiring them to pay us rent. So government took a bit of a double hit there, if you like, from an economic sense. But we felt that that was the right thing to do. And what was interesting was that we didn't actually have the authority to issue the direction, but everybody accepted it. We had the government say, "Yes, this is the right thing to do," and it went across and it worked reasonably well and worked very well across the public sector.

As I said, we had very close coordination with our health response, so we weren't doing this in isolation. There was a very concerted response across government for doing this. A couple of things, a couple of observations I'd make: the first thing is that there are always some big problems whenever you're trying to make big changes to the portfolio and thinking about ABW and flexible working, and these—the three big issues are always: technology won't support it, security won't allow it to happen, and the leadership management change required won't enable you to actually make those shifts. Well, we found that none of those were a major problem.

Technology stepped up very quickly, people adopted—adapted and adopted very quickly to the new technology. We do have a bit of a—I don't want to call it a quite a digital divide, but parts of New Zealand are not as well served with Internet capacity as other parts of New Zealand. So that is an ongoing issue. Security just didn't become an issue for us in terms of people being secure and the communications being secure, and the leadership, it was a case of "we have no alternative, this is what we have to do," and leadership and management coped so those are some very strong lessons for us in terms of the arguments that are always being put forward previously to making that sort of a change. So we were very, very pleased with that.

So basically, our buildings were emptied; our technology had issues, but they weren't insurmountable; security wasn't an issue; people adapted to working from home, by and large; and management coped. So the public service sort of kept operating remarkably well. It did make some changes to some projects.

So we had some relocation projects and we just put those on hold because we weren't going to be putting people through a change in location while we're all trying to work from home. So we put some of those on hold, we extended some leases that were otherwise due to expire to give us that breathing space. And while I can't talk about the details, but there are some projects that clearly (have) been affected by supply chain issues and by worker issues.

So, you know, the lockdown had some implications, but they are just timing implications, not particularly significant in terms of impacts. So by and large, I think we coped really well, and the issues that we grappled with, or what it did show us was that a lot of these—what are "problem issues" weren't real problems when you got pushed into the situation.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Peter. One of my colleagues was saying not too long ago (that) we were imagining the future of work, (but) we had to live it within a few days (with) no advice. You went home, you, like us, you continued to support the country's businesses, the economy by continuing to pay rent, putting rent relief measures for, you know, the smaller businesses that were operating within your buildings.

We did a similar thing in Canada and government buildings where we had smaller businesses trying to operate, and all of a sudden from one day to the next, buildings were like yours, totally empty or mostly empty. We went from an occupation of 65% to about 10% population, so there's almost nobody in the buildings. And we all went and worked from home.

And we had similar thinking before the pandemic, where security was to be an issue; where telework, yes, it was done, but a little bit; and all of a sudden, we had issues with technology, but really, really fast, our colleagues (in the) technology department ensured that everybody was able to operate.

Since we were forced to adjust quickly to the pandemic, did it make it easier for senior management, managers and employees to buy in to a concept like ABW, accept or even adapt to some of these work practices, (which) already existed before or were not known, applied or accepted by everyone?

You know, you said you were thinking about you were putting in place since 2018 ABW, activity based workplace. Now that everybody has got that flexibility and everybody is working from home, what is the thinking of managers in each of these departments, or the people, the real property experts you were talking to and collaborating with regularly?

Peter Bolmann: Look, that's a really interesting question. I'd love to have an answer that said "it's like this," but the truth is it's not. The—a lot of it depends on what various agencies are trying to do. So I think they, across the agencies and the senior executives, they now understand what they can do and what can happen. But they still need to make investment decisions and they still need it to support their business.

One of the questions I have is around the ‘stickability’ of some of these changes. So for some agencies that were already going down, almost a digital only path, it's proved to them that, actually, the problems aren't insurmountable, they can actually accelerate their growth. But some other agencies have not been able to do that or still believe in almost presentism—people are working when they're there rather than working from home. And so there's still some attitudes to be changed.

I think that's the biggest challenge, is that there's different drivers for different agencies. So some agencies can adopt it really well and some have used it to drive the change, but some agencies can't adopt it.

So we have to have a flexible approach that allows us to respond to what the different agencies are trying to achieve rather than imposing almost a one size fits all type approach. And then it always makes it really complex. And, of course, understanding that the investment decisions on it, on any new space lives with the chief executive of a particular agency. So they still have to make those investment decisions.

When we started to come out of COVID and people started to think about going back to work, at that point there was a real drive to revitalize the economy, you know, the coffee shops, et cetera, in the main centers. So some people were saying, well, that's most important. So let's get everybody back into the office. And of course, a lot of people were saying, well, actually, I can work quite comfortably from home. I don't have to commute. I don't have to get on a train. I can save X amount of dollars and I can do the dishes in my lunch break. And I can actually get a much better work-life balance.

So there's always, always going to be those tensions. And the big question for us is, what are you responding to at a particular point in time? So when we came out of COVID, the question was, how do we keep the economy ticking over and in the main city centers? Because when 30,000 public servants don't go to work in Wellington, that has a big impact on the number of coffees that are bought, if I put it that way. And so it's a real fine balancing act between "are you just returning to what you did before" or "are you moving forward into a different scenario?"

So that's probably some of the biggest challenges. And the opportunity, though, is that I think that people now understand how to work from home, that they can work from home and agencies, or the management culture, now understands that people can actually work by delivering results rather than by clocking in, being in at a certain time in the morning and going home at a certain time in the day. So it really is, but it's that whole combination of having the technology and having the manager and the culture that says you can actually operate like that.

[00:25:10] Specific initiatives that supports the vision of the future of work

Stéphan Déry: It's quite the change (in) management practices. It's quite an event needs a lot of change management. And I think handholding throughout this change, because it's been a big change to covid-19 pandemic has disrupted where and how we work. And it has triggers significant investment, as you mentioned, in technology to support the pandemic response and equipping employees to work from home.

How do you see these investments changing the workplace? You mentioned that a few departments are really almost only digital and a few have a little bit some more difficulty moving to the digital, so that's the change management aspect.

Could you tell us also about some initiatives or measures that you have put in place during the pandemic and our planning to keep those initiatives or measures permanently? Looking after the pandemic and now you're getting out of COVID, do you think some of these measures that you have put in place will stay and will stick?

Peter Bolmann: I sincerely hope so. So you're right, the pandemic has triggered quite an investment and the technology and accelerated the learning and adoption. So a year and a half ago, nobody had heard of Zoom or Microsoft Teams or you know, it was the odd person who came into a meeting via teleconference or video conference. And then all of a sudden everyone was video conferencing. And it actually did change the way people behaved in meetings, and I found out a lot more structured, so I found that personally, I found that really good.

And then when we reverted back, I found it rather difficult to be zooming into a meeting when there's a bunch of people in the room having little side conversations and you're just like, get on with it, get focused. So it was a whole different dynamic. I think—so there were a couple of things that we were really looking at. One is, how do we create alternative places to work? How do we not shut down one building and send 5,000 people home? And how do we actually think about that?

So we did start to look at, if you like, we were looking at the prospect of regional hubs, so a little further out of town to reduce commuting and that that type of activity. But we also looked at what we call what we started to call suburban hubs. Now, because we moved so quickly back out of COVID, the concept of a suburban hub was to actually—it's almost like a wee workspace for the public sector, the whole idea being that it created a place for people to congregate and touch base with other public sector people, not agency specific, that was the intent, but just somewhere where if you needed to have a meeting, if you wanted to have a meeting, you could go to somewhere other than being at home, and other than coming into the central business district, and actually have your meetings and have your actually do some work there. Not everyone is suited to work from home and not every home is suited for people to work.

So that was about providing a backstop. There has never—we didn't get around to implementing that because we went from a lockdown phase to a total return to work fairly quickly. But the one thing that we are still doing is looking at regional hubs, and ultimately, our end game is to spread the public service a lot further around New Zealand rather than having it all concentrated.

So we still have—that vision is still there, but we've started to look at regional hubs that are out of the Wellington, for example, central business sector, way out of the Auckland Central Business District that reduces peoples’ commute times and becomes less agency specific. So it'll be a generic government hub. And that—but this is about the back office workers, not about the public facing. This is about providing an alternative space that people can go and work. They'll be with like agencies, and they will be able to forego that. In my case, it's a 70km commute into Wellington.

So it's able to not have to get on trains and not have to drive and those sorts of things. So that's one of the things that we're working through. Of course, big challenges around that, and that's about funding. Because this requires an investment decision. And we need to centralize that investment decision because one agency isn't going to do that for all government agencies. So we've been working that through with government.

And of course, our big issue at the moment is that government's priorities are not on office accommodation, government's priorities are around the health response and around economic recovery. So there's a whole lot of tension in there, but we're really committed. And I know government is really committed to actually pushing through with the regional hubs, as I say, outside of the main centers, as a stepping stone towards being a lot more regionalized around New Zealand.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Peter. I could draw tons of parallels between New Zealand's portfolio and the Canadian government's portfolio. It's extremely interesting to hear you talking about Regional Hubs and trying to have bringing the offices back—office or administration functions—closer to people's homes and having—we call that in Canada GCcoworking.

We started the pilot project, which is opening closer to home. Across Canada, we have nine of these sites where you—doesn't matter which department you work for or ministry you work for, you could go and use these spaces to have meetings, to talk to people, to work from there if it's closer to your home.

So it makes me think a little bit about your regional hub that you were talking (about) and realizing you have 70km to travel back and forth to work every day. I'm sure you wouldn't mind a regional hub closer to your house. It's extremely interesting how we're thinking about the future. Ours was self-funded, we funded it, but we don't have a mechanism to pay for it over the long term. It was a pilot project to see if there was demand for it, and we said, we'll invest.

And now with the pandemic, people are—we're starting to have calls (asking) when are they going to reopen? Because right now they're still closed. But people are starting to say, OK, that could be interesting, because they've been working from home. And if, let's say they need to go to the office for a special meeting or something, then they would congregate to those hubs and have those collaboration spaces and be able to work from there. So (it's) extremely similar to you.

[00:32:33] Accessibility, greening and other priorities

Stéphan Déry: Quite interesting.(I’m) interested to find out what are the priorities at the center of your modernization effort for existing office space. Does accessibility, greening, how does that impact your government or thinking about your government? Although, as you said, I know that your government, like ours, is investing heavily in fighting COVID and ensuring the health and safety of its citizens. But we'd like to hear about your priorities.

Peter Bolmann: Look, it is really interesting that although we're on other sides, different sides of the world that we're actually thinking in much the same way. I think the biggest approach, the biggest issue for us is around enabling agencies to work together. And that's our biggest focus, is to actually allow the public servants to meet with other public servants that are not necessarily in the same agency, but might be dealing with the same policy issue or the same outcome that they're trying to drive.

So to me, it's very much around the collaboration. And for that, you need that good collaboration space. One of the biggest challenges that we have is that people sometimes view it as—I'll call it double desking. So if you've got space out in the regional hub, then what about—are you giving up space in the center and what are you doing with that? Are we double paying for this is the big question?

And of course, that starts to drive you down the path of trying to tell people where they have to work. And what we're trying to do is enable people to work. One of the one of the things that we've been focused on over the last few years has been in our education system. We are now we have been teaching children, students a different way of learning. And it's very collaborative. And that has been going through.

And those people have been coming out of the school system and the university system for probably about the last five years with a different way of working. And then we try and shove them in a cellular office work pod scenario where that's your desk and that's where you sit. And there's a real disconnect there.

So the thing that we've been trying to do is enable people to be a lot more productive and understand how they can actually do that. We—I mean, I strongly believe in that people come to work to do a good job. And our job from a property perspective is to make sure the environment allows them to do that. So if they need quiet time, they need to have a quiet space. If they need to interact with other people, they have the collaboration space and that you don't try and force them into a particular way of working that works sometimes.

And there are there are times when I'm sure there are management issues that you have to deal with, but all those tools are there. So it's about enabling people to do the best job they possibly can because as I say. Everyone wants to do wants to do a good job, my family, so in amongst all of that, we're very conscious that we're moving to a more energy efficient portfolio.

So we're trying to think about the best way to get energy efficiency and we're trying to think about reducing carbon emissions and that's reducing travel and commuting. All of those things add up to, if you like, the government's agenda right across the board. So we're trying to factor all of those things into how we think about the office and the workplace accessibility, greening of the office space, all of those things that are always there.

But for us, it's about thinking about, so what's the next thing that's coming up—is it sustainability? Is it—in New Zealand, one of the things is around what first—are we starting to think about what happens when we build something? You know, how do we actually do that and reduce the carbon emissions and the construction? Because we tend to lease from private landlords, we don't have as much control over that, but we are starting to get into the reducing or increasing the energy efficiency.

So we're starting to put in place standards for the energy efficiency rating for buildings in New Zealand. And I don't want to preempt any policy decisions, but I'm sure there's going to be a lot of discussion around Greenstar buildings, the sustainability of the office space going forward. So those are the things that I think are going to be driving us as we move forward.

[00:37:30] Current vision in the regard of the years ahead and concepts being used or explored

Stéphan Déry: Thank you very much, Peter. Really enlightening as you're looking forward to the future of your real estate portfolio and how you want to better serve citizens, but also adapt the way you work to the future generation. If I heard you well, from young people in school learning differently but working differently and maybe not being attached to a workstation or a pod, as you call them.

We talked about your plans for the future of the workplace and how the pandemic impacted them moving forward. Could you elaborate that specific initiative that supports your current vision? Let me go straight to the point. Can you explain what are your plans to modernize the public sector workplace in terms of telework, collaborative spaces? You talk a little bit about that. But assigned versus unassigned workstations, I'm thinking that if you talked about having a workplace in that in the, you know, regional hubs and having a space downtown, how can you maintain that?

You talk about efficiency, here, we're thinking in Canada that maybe we should push or promote the unassigned a ABW on the side so you don't have a name on the workstation, but you basically have a clean, clean, clean, disinfected workstation. When you come in the morning, you can reserve it through your app if you come into work downtown or if you work in the suburbs or in the regional hub, you can also reserve a workstation or a place to collaborate.

How do you envision that in the future so that you don't have two spaces for each employee, one in the regional hub and the one in the center?

Peter Bolmann: Look at that. That is the way you've described it, there is exactly what we're thinking and what we'd dearly love to get to. It is a bit of a challenge. All of the ABW environments, and I'm in one at the moment, which is it's (an) absolutely clear desk policy. So there's nothing personal on your desk. You come in in the morning, you go to your locker, you get what you need and you find a desk that works for you.

And because we're changing the way people think about it, we've got some sort of low level rules in place about don't sit at the same desk two days in a row, for example. And that's all about enabling people or getting people used to shifting. So all the desks are set up. We come in with our laptop, we log in and we're operating. We all print. We have follow-me printing.

So all of those tools and things exist.

And if I was to make a general observation, the place is half empty. Most of the time it because we make sure that we have enough desks or collaborative spaces for everyone to be there and the spaces (are) never pushed. And if you implemented some fairly low level policy statements like do not have a meeting where everyone has to be there in any one day, that kind of gets away from that.

You can actually reduce your desking ratio down to quite, quite readily down to 10 people for 8 desks. And the actual—it's about understanding what your actual utilization is, and most agencies would be around about 10 people for 6 desks quite comfortably. And once you start to do that, you start to reduce your footprint. But for me, it's not about being efficient in that sense, it's not about reducing the space, it's about making sure that people have the right spaces to work and that you can have the right spaces in the right places. But of course, there's always people thinking about the investment decisions that they're going to have to make.

So what we're finding, and particularly with the new environment we're in, is that the place seems to be largely empty. The collaborative desks don't get used anywhere near as much. And we have so much spare capacity that I think, you know, we could push it a lot harder and we could push the space.

But I'm not into just driving the space down, I'm interested in making sure that the workplace is better and it supports. So what we do at the moment is when you arrive in the morning, you sanitize the desks. So we've been working in this space for about the last 6 or 8 months. As soon—when we first came out of the first COVID lockdown.

So we get in the morning, we immediately wipe down the desks and we operate from that desk. We tend to at the moment have the desk for the day. And then when you finish up at the end of the day, you disinfect and wipe it down again, and then you put your things away and in your locker and you leave.

So we do tend to be restricted to one level, one floor, because that's where your locker is. But you're quite welcome to go and sit on any other floor in the building. We have two agencies in our particular building, and while some of the space is collaborative and the two agencies work together, it's still more of a location where they have their space than we have out.

So we're still got a ways to go to actually get the true shared workspace environment. But every step along the way, I think is a really positive one. And it's showing that it works. And I think that's really important. You've got to show how it works and you've got to demonstrate through some form of leadership that this works and it's efficient and it helps people to do their best work.

Stéphan Déry: Interesting how you talk about the space utilization. We've (done) some studies here where—before the pandemic, I would say, and we were approximately at 65% space utilization at any given day. And that's—I would say some departments did the same and they got to about 50% on average,(the) maximum utilization that their building was about 59%. There was one or two days, but the rest of the time there were around 50%.

So to your point, we could have better—in my view, we could have better spaces, you know, not necessarily has efficiency, cutting down, cutting down, but have better spaces to ensure the people have the space they need to be effective and maybe a little bit of space closer to their home. You know, like those hubs that you were talking about. Extremely interesting how there's parallels to be drawn between the two countries.

Stéphan Déry: You also talked a little bit about in the building you're in, you have two departments. I don't know if it's the same access card—in ours, even in the same department, I have multiple access cards because I have to go to multiple buildings and I'm dreaming of the day where I have one access card to get me in any federal building. As long as I have the security to get into the space.

I'm dreaming about that because that could be quite efficient. Also, from a security perspective. Do you have other buildings where you have several departments sharing space? You talked about regional hubs you wanted and that would be government building type things, but is that already in motion or mainly each department and their own building, their own space?

Peter Bolmann: So I talked a little bit about the results of the Christchurch earthquake and the rebuild that happened in Christchurch a number of years ago. And we've created a suite of buildings there, that housed several agencies and single buildings, and the whole intent was to have a common technology platform, common security platform, follow me printing. Some of that worked, not all of it. Those agencies have come together, and it's been a learning exercise. What was driving that was the need in Christchurch at that time to bring workers back into the center of town. So that was very important in terms of the rebuild of Christchurch. Lots of lessons have been learned about who takes the investment risk in a particular building, which goes back to chief executives or agencies being very autonomous and almost forcing them to work together.

So in the building that we're in, we took over this we took over this building in Wellington with the intent that it would be shared with two agencies. Now, we do have single access card for the building. We do have an—unfortunately, I have a separate card which gets me into a different building, but also runs my follow me printing. But that technology is coming together. We call it technology enabled shared accommodation (TESA) in New Zealand, which has technology enabled shared accommodation.

We are just—I've just had notification that they are bringing in a single card which will access both buildings and exits the printing in both buildings. So all the steps are there, we're moving in the right direction. It's taking a little bit longer than we'd hoped, but I'm a little like you. I'm dreaming of an environment where I have one card that gets me into whatever building at the appropriate security level. It recognizes who I am and allows me to log on and it prints my printing, although not that I print very much anymore, because it's all available there on your laptop. And that's the dream.

And so in New Zealand, we have property functional leadership, which is within our agency, but we also have the government chief digital officer who runs the digital functional leadership function. So we work very closely with that agency and we also have health and safety and security, so we work very closely with these agencies that run the other aspects that are really important to a workplace at a strategic level so that we understand how we can actually work together, because that's absolutely critical.

We've pulled together a group of chief executives so that we can have the big strategic conversations. Sorry, my chief executive can have the strategic conversations with the chief data steward, with the government communications people, the security people. And they can make sure that everyone is aligned rather than running these different functions that are in on different paths.

So it's been a huge collaborative effort, it's not without its challenges because we have a lot of chief executives, but they are all very, very much aligned in terms of trying to provide a system view right across the public service. And I think the big message that I keep getting is that with 67 agencies and 67 different property units and some of them only do one lease every three or four years, we're trying to get some efficiency and consistency across all those agencies.

But it's the same thing for the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) systems or the information technology (IT) system, same thing for security systems. So trying to get that commonality, that's where the thing we call functional leadership becomes really important. So that's the space that we're driving on and trying to get that those common systems and the common technology, common security platforms.

And the big challenge as I think has come out already is around the people management. And how do you do that change management in such a way that people are on board with it and it doesn't run counter to what you're trying to do right across the public service?

I think the most important thing for me is that what we're not trying to do is be the best property managers in New Zealand or be the best property agency in the world. What we're trying to do is help the public sector to operate better. And I think that's really important. So while I have a strong government property background, the property is there for a purpose and that becomes really important that it's the government's purpose for whatever that agency wants to do. So we're not trying to shoehorn an agency into a solution, we're trying to develop solutions for agencies in terms of their property.

Stéphan Déry: And that makes a lot of sense because we're the real property. The accommodation is a support, is an enabler of (the) delivery of a product either for a citizen or to help government function. So I think you're absolutely right.

We need to be there to listen to our customers and help them achieve their objectives of better service to the citizens and better service to their own employees, and (they) how can equip them and ensuring that the collaborative space we have and the, you know, ABW activity based workplace, we have are the best that they can be to help them be more productive when they decide to come into the workplace and not working from home, as you mentioned.

[00:51:19] Closing question: what is the biggest priority for New Zealand’s public real property sector in the coming years?

Stéphan Déry: Our interview now comes to an end. And I would like to conclude on a question—I like asking questions, Peter, as you know—what is the biggest priority of your country's public real property sector in the coming years with all of this and the opportunity?

Because COVID has also brought from a government operation some opportunities, it looks like all government around the world have gained efficiency either from working from home or changing processes because of the urgency that was in front of them. What would you say that the real property sector priorities in the coming years?

Peter Bolmann: Look, I think the most important thing from our perspective has been the shift that we've taken from being more efficient and to actually turning our property portfolio into something that supports the health, safety and well-being of our staff.

And then it's got to be very staff centric and it's—we've got to think about how do we not have minimum standards for things like air handling, but how do we have optimum standards so that it actually helps the well-being of our staff? Because at the end of the day, the workspace is there for our staff and we need to make sure that it provides them with the best workspace possible for them to do the best work they can do.

The huge investment that the public sector makes in people and staff and the property has to support them. I think the second big thing that we're going to be thinking about is how do we continue to think about, sorry, is how do we redistribute the public sector out into the regions? How do we actually start to spread the public service around? Because that's part of our government's agenda, is to actually have the public service a lot more connected with the citizens.

And so we still have to we still have to take the opportunity as leases expire in the middle of town, in the middle of the central business district, where we have to continue to think about how we actually promote the regionalization of the public service. A lot more in New Zealand. I'm not saying we're going to close buildings and Wellington and shift everybody, but we do need to think and actively work out how that will happen, because I think that's part of our government's agenda. So we're very keen to support that.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you. And I think that's an important point, especially with the pandemic like where you are doesn't really matter today. You could be 75km, 100km from your office. And I don't know that my employees (don't) know where I am and we could do our work this way.

So it almost took the boundary away from government jobs like they were all located within those big city centers, now they could be almost anywhere, could have a lot of benefits for people of New Zealand. Definitely.

This concludes today's podcast. Thank you, Mr. Bolmann, for taking the time to discuss with me what the future of work and the workspace modernization may look like in New Zealand. Your time was greatly appreciated. Thank you very much.

Peter Bolmann: Thank you very much. And thanks for the opportunity and kia kaha, everybody. Stay strong, stay safe, and we'll catch up at some stage in the future.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you.

Interview with Roger Mol, Managing Director for Transaction and Projects within the Dutch Governmental Real Estate Agency (Netherlands)

Length: 45 minutes 00 seconds

Interview date: March 8, 2021

Listen to the interview between Stéphan Déry and Interview with Roger Mol, Managing Director for Transaction and Projects within the Dutch Governmental Real Estate Agency (RVB)

In this podcast

Below are the topics covered in this interview. You can manually advance the clip to the time indicated in the brackets to get to the desired segments.

Transcription of interview with Roger Mol, Managing Director for Transaction and Projects within the Dutch Governmental Real Estate Agency (Netherlands)

The Workplace Network—Netherlands

The Workplace Network, the future of workplaces in the public sector. Welcome to the podcast series all about the public real property services portfolio around the world. In this series, Stéphan Déry, President of the Workplace Network and Assistant Deputy Minister of Real Property Services for the Government of Canada, meets with his international counterparts to discuss progress concerning the future of the workplace and the modernization of office spaces.

Below are the topics covered in this interview. You can skip to the desired section of the transcript.

[00:00:41] Introduction and overview of Netherlands’s real estate portfolio

Stéphan Déry: Hello, everyone, I am Stéphan Déry and for our podcast series on the future of the workplace and the modernization of office space, it is with great pleasure that I am meeting today with Mr. Roger Mol, Managing Director for Transaction and Projects within the Dutch Governmental Real Estate Agency (RVB).

Roger, thank you for accepting our invitation and sharing with us your own views on these topics. Before we get to the future of work, our audience is quite interested to understand the size and breadth of the public portfolio under management in the Netherlands government. Can you give us an overview of the public real property portfolio that you are responsible for?

Roger Mol: Yes Stéphan, of course, at the RVB, as we call the agency you just mentioned, we own and manage state buildings and grounds and they come to a total of approximately 12 million square meters of office buildings, of buildings, and ninety one thousand hectares of land.

Our portfolio includes all of the offices for central government, prisons, court buildings, palaces—we have more than one palace in Holland, some national museums, and we manage and maintain the defense real estate also and we lease out a large number of agriculture grounds and other land types. So it's quite a broad portfolio with a wide variety (of real estate types).

Stéphan Déry: Extremely interesting. If I would compare, you know, my responsibilities, our responsibilities here at public services and procurement, almost stop at the managing offices for central government. If I was comparing, (we) don't have any palaces, we do have court buildings that we manage, prisons are managed by the department responsible for prisons. So there's a fair amount of different responsibilities, but quite interesting, that is.

So it's a broad portfolio of all kinds of different buildings and also of use of buildings and responsibility. So (it) will be quite interesting to understand, how did you respond to COVID-19 with all this breadth of portfolio?

[00:03:14] Vision for the future of work prior to the pandemic

As multiple countries around the world, I am convinced that, like Canada, the Netherlands was also looking at ways to optimize its real estate portfolio prior to the global pandemic. Can you tell us what your long-term vision was for the public sector's future of the workplace in your country prior to the COVID-19?

Roger Mol: Yes, if I focus on the office buildings, because that, I think, is most interesting for now, then for about a decade now we have a framework to regulate the government workplace. In short, that means that most of our offices are multitenant buildings and have a shared desk philosophy.

So this allows us to create flexibility and efficient housing, because it was one of our tasks and goals of the former cabinet in Holland, and it's efficient from the real estate perspective, of course. And it helps to reduce (the) government's office footprint. That's what we did prior to (COVID-19)- and do now for, a decade.

And also in Holland, it was quite normal to work at home one day a week, two days a week. So we had also the IT systems and facilities already for that. So when the pandemic started, we could, not easily, but I think we could efficiently go to work remotely and, as you know, maybe we work now 100% remotely from home.

Stéphan Déry: Extremely interesting, Roger, when you mentioned that you were ready to work from anywhere, there's three, four nuggets here that I feel are quite interesting for us and for our audience. You were already multi-departmental buildings, where you have more than one department. So I would have tons of questions on security, on how do you manage space and how you, you know, you were on unassigned or shared desk, that you're talking, how do you reserve workstations, so how all of this work.

So we may have a chance to get into it a little bit deeper later on. But you said that you were almost ready to work from—to have everybody working from home. So there has to be some challenges, when you went from, let's say, two to three days a week, working from home to 100% working from home. Can you talk to us a little bit of the impact of COVID-19 on your country's workplaces in that mentality of, OK, we're moving all of our employees’ home now?

Roger Mol: Yes, as I said, we work 100% from home, still now after one year, and I think, one of the most challenging things is that although. (as) I said everyone could work at home, not everyone did it. So for those who didn't do it, they had quite a challenge to make an efficient workplace at home and log into the IT systems, which, for instance, I was used to already because I work one day a week at home.

So that was one thing. And I think also that we have now some new challenges and that's how do people divide their private lives, their private time against the working time. For instance, I'm working from my living room now, so after six o'clock in the evening, I have to quit here because otherwise my partner can't watch television.

So for me as a normal border to stop work.

But I must say, I'm quite lucky this time because I only have a partner, no children, so it's more easy for me to divide my (time)—and to make sure that my work time and my private time are separated and I don't have children to look after. [So they don't]—I have a lot of colleagues—and I don't know if you’ve seen this—that  have children running around behind them and we all think it's funny, but the people who have the children don't think it's funny, I think.

And mostly for those people, we have (offered) the possibility to go to office. Also now, if it's too difficult for them to work at home, we have the possibility for them—they can ask me to go to the office to work. So that's the sort of escape for them. So I think that was one of the challenges.

And I think there are still workers and managers who think, they have to see each other every day to work efficiently and to produce something.  I think this big social experiment, which we have now for one year, shows that it's possible to do it online and also to produce something, because we just made our figures of of last year, (and) as an organization and we produced more than in a normal year.

So it is possible (even when) you don't see all the people. I have 770 people working for me. I haven't seen them, for one year now. Maybe some (of them) a few times a year, and they all worked and we produced, what we had to produce. So, I think now this social experiment shows that it's possible to have output without seeing each other.

Stéphan Déry: What you're saying, Roger, is extremely interesting because we went from needing to see the people that work for us every day to ensure that we're there, to think you can't produce if you're not there, makes me think of the 1950s typing pool. You know, you wanted to see them. You didn't know what they were doing behind the typewriter, but as long as they were there, you thought they were delivering to a fully remote workforce.

[00:09:55] Adjustments due to the pandemic

Stéphan Déry: To a complete remote workforce where you're gauging the productivity by the output of the people, by the work that they're doing and what they're producing and demonstrating in this—what I call basically the largest pilot project on telework around the world that has been done in the last year, which is quite interesting.

And when we look from a real property perspective, it may have changed how you look at your portfolio in the Netherlands. So how did the pandemic change your plan or projects and how have you adjusted? Is there any project that you've put on ice because of the pandemic, from a real property perspective?

Roger Mol: Now, we were thinking about our long-term goals already before COVID. And one of the things we saw is that (maybe) as a government, we work too much in silos and we had to accommodate to work as one government. So we were already thinking about how can we make sure that we have an office environment that stimulates co-working, stimulates working together from different departments, and that's one thing we now continue, with the experience we have had last year, (and) this year, from COVID. I think we put it together and the hybrid way of working we have now, so working at home, and now it's not hybrid, we work at home all the time.

But I think after this pandemic, some things will remain. I think we will work at home when it's more suitable. So, if you have to make a report or do some work in silence, a lot of people now prefer to do it at home. But I think that when you have to work together with colleagues for innovation or for doing a project in which you have to meet physically because I understand that that is necessary—then you go to your offices.

So I think our offices will change in a way that they are more facilitating meetings, and see(ing) each other, (innovate) together, (rather) than only to work and have a desk there. So, I think we're going into a hybrid way of working, maybe two days at the office and three days at home.

It's a big challenge because you have to facilitate that also in IT, et cetera. And you have to think about the social aspects of your work and your colleagues because it's also lonely sometimes for some people (at home). For some of our colleagues, office is their social life. So I think that's also one thing you have to keep in mind when you go to hybrid working: how you make sure that (these) aspects (are) also covered.

Stéphan Déry: I think it's extremely interesting, as you say, you're probably thinking about moving to a hybrid model of working a couple of days a week. And it's probably going to be closer to a lot more people will practice this hybrid model than before COVID-19. We had in Canada, some of our department colleagues in the department have canvassed their employees, and from the result we had today, approximately 85% of employees would like to continue working from home, partially—at least partially, some full time, but some partially, most of them say partially.

And to your point, I think it's all really—partially, it's because that collaboration, that innovation, that meeting people, the social aspect of work, is still a need of human beings because we're creatures of—social creatures. So we want to meet people. But on the other hand, if you're working from home for concentration, for work, unless you have kid behind you, so maybe, as you were mentioning earlier, maybe you want to go back to the office a little bit more often.

How did you see, you know, this is a big experiment, how did the public sector adapt to the accelerated transformation of work practices resulting from the pandemic, from a management perspective, how did they adapt to work in this new reality?

Roger Mol: In Holland, when we say you have to work at home, most of our people do it. And in the beginning, it was difficult for some of them, what I said, the technical problems, IT problems, et cetera, but I think a lot of people now see the advantage of working at home now, no travel time between home and work. More possibilities to have your own timeframe, to be more flexible also with children, and I think—I don't know how it is with you, but when I look to my schedule a day, it's more easy to see more people digital. That's not the same as (in) live, but appointments are more easily made.

My secretary now has (a) more easy job because when you—yeah, Canada is much bigger, but when you have to have colleagues from Holland around you, and want to have a meeting with them, and they have to come from all over Holland, it took maybe months, or one and a half months, to have an appointment with them. And now in one or two days, you have an appointment. So, I think a lot of people adapt to it. Also, we have less traffic jams, also important because Holland is very populated… very crowded.

And now I think in the last year, the number of traffic jams has diminished. So that's also a side effect in the broader governmental (view), Looking forward (to) after the pandemic, it's also one of the triggers that we maybe have to have that hybrid working because it also has the(se) side effects you want.

Stéphan Déry: And I think it's extremely interesting when you're talking about the traffic jams or so, it means it has an impact on the Greenhouse Gas (GHG), also reduction in GHG emission when you can have this hybrid model. And maybe if we continue this in the future, it could make it help us reduce the GHG. Help us reduce traffic congestion big centers. So there's a lot of advantages and, I think employees, as I said, employees are getting to that state of how can we make the best of a hybrid model?

And the interesting point that you're raising, since we have in Canada, we didn't have in my department a lot of technology that we're using right now like we had and start using at large this technology. But today, I could be at one end in Canada and talk to somebody at the other end in minutes. And as you say, we go from meeting to meeting with the virtual meeting with the video presence, like Zoom, like Microsoft Teams. And it made it a lot easier to meet people. Most people are working longer days, that's what I'm hearing also from here and away.

So I don't know if it's the same for you and, it's been—for some managers, it's been hard, as you were saying, the presence, they want to see the people. So how do you think managers before—how do you think managers and employees buy—in into the new way of working and adopt some of the work practices giving the current context?

You were pretty advanced already in building, sharing and working from home one day a week or things like that. Do you think that accelerated that and people are really embracing it now and they want it? Or is this something that is seen as the government wants to save money and be efficient, reduce workspace?

Roger Mol: Yeah, they are two sides of the same medal, I think. On your first question, I think the experiments, the social experiments, showed that it's possible, as I said before. It's possible to manage your people, to have a good production, which you have to make sure of. And I think, you have to look after the physical and mental well-being of your people, if you don't see them that much, you have to make sure that you arrange something for that also.

And a lot of the senior management, the secretary generals for every department, work at home now. So from top to bottom, it has shown that it's possible. But there's a "but", and that's what I said, innovation, social encounters, you also need that to reach your goals in the future.

I think there's some talk you have (to have) at the office; when you walk to the coffee machine and you meet someone and you think; oh, what is he working on? Oh, that's interesting. I can use that also. I think that kind of conversations, that kind of social necessity, we have to think about how we can do that in a hybrid situation also.

And the other side of the medal: Yes, it has impact on your office portfolio. So maybe you can reduce square meters at the end. But first you have, I think, to refurbish the whole office portfolio, to have more meeting spaces, to have another kind of office environment.

I see something (that) the people who listen to our podcast won't see it. But behind Stéphan, there's some seating (exemplary to) some innovative office, where you can talk together and I think a lot of offices need those. Not only the cubicles or not only the share the ork desks, but also the meeting space. Especially the meeting space. So first we have to refurbish our offices and maybe at the end it helps in reducing square office meters.

Stéphan Déry: Yes, it's interesting that you mentioned that we have to renovate or, you know, make our workspace more attractive for collaboration, for meeting space and all that, because you're absolutely right. We were known to have—lots of government have cubicle farms and it's all placed where you have an address and you come in, and you work for the day in your office and then you go home.

Now, if we want to create that collaboration, if we want the innovation and when people do the hybrid, as you were mentioning earlier, they'll probably work from home when they need to concentrate and work on their own and come to the office for those particular moments of collaboration.

Then we'll need to rethink our office. And I think that's absolutely right, that it will need an investment before—if there is a reduction in space, but they will need an investment before we can reduce the space.

Roger Mol: There are also people who say after we are all vaccinated, that we are going back to normal. But I think that's a shame. I think you miss something then, an opportunity to keep the good things from the pandemic and make sure that you incorporate that in your way of working in the future. But there are people that say, oh, we go back to normal and that normal is five or four days a week at the office. And I think, we can do better, I think.

Stéphan Déry: Oh, and I think to your point, Roger, I think the new generation will look for better. They won't, you know, like as at a conference not too long ago and the clerk of the Privy Council was telling to us, we stretched the elastic during the pandemic, and the elastic will snap back at a certain point. Hopefully, it's not going to snap back exactly where it was before because we wouldn't have learned if it does.

And to your point, hopefully this is an experiment at the same time, and the pandemic is a terrible thing, but we've learned some good practices that we should try to keep post-pandemic, and it could help the work/life balance also of our employees and of public service.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted where and how we work, and it has triggered significant investment in technology. And you mentioned a little bit earlier that the technology was not all there at the beginning. In order to respond and equip the employees to work from home, obviously we needed to do a significant amount of investment. How do you see these investments changing the workplace?

Roger Mol: I think we were fitted out with everyone having a remote working station (so) that we could all log into our offices from our homes. But, I think when you go to a hybrid situation in the future, we have to invest some more. In some of our meeting spaces already at the office, you can log into Zoom or WebEx or whatever you use. So that the one who is working at home and doesn't come to the office can also join a meeting in a normal way “normal” in brackets, I think.

And that's important because otherwise, it's very difficult to go into a hybrid situation because if you don't have the facilities, for instance, in meeting spaces, to have a hybrid meeting, then everyone has to come to the office at the same time. And how do we manage that? Because, I assume that everyone—when you want everyone to come to a meeting—then our offices are crowded on Tuesday and Thursday and overpopulated,  and empty on the other days.

So I think you have to invest in IT, in facility management also extra, to facilitate the really hybrid ways of working. You understand what I mean?

Stéphan Déry: I think you're absolutely right, you don't want to end up, I think from my perspective, you don't want to end up with two classes of citizens, the ones that are there in person and can participate to the meeting and the ones that have to take it by either video, Zoom or MS Teams, or any other software and don't have the same interaction with the group, or if they want to have the same interaction, they have to come in the office, then you're overpopulated.

So I think one Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a company, Shopify, was telling us, you know, when we go back to the office, I want everybody to have their little square on the screen. Not, you know, not a group in the boardroom and the rest of them by video and they can't talk. It's—what we need is the democratization of conferences where everybody has a chance to raise their hand, I just have a chance to talk. So that could be extremely interesting.

And how are we going to deal with this? And I think you're absolutely right. We will have to deal with this.

[00:27:28] Specific initiatives that supports the vision of the future of work

Now, let's move a little bit into the future of the workplace. We talked about your plans for the future of the workplace and how the pandemic impacted them. Moving forward, can you elaborate on specific initiatives that will support your current vision?

More specifically, can you explain what your plans to modernize the public sector workplaces are in terms of teleworking, collaborative space assigned versus unassigned seating and multi departmental usage space? You're already, I think, far ahead on that direction, even before the pandemic. You think that will accelerate? You think that will help you to move forward with your vision that you had before the pandemic?

Roger Mol: As I said, Stéphan, a lot of the things you mentioned we already had in Holland, so I think we have to tweak now and see if we need, for instance, more collaborative spaces. Maybe we also do some projects on assigned and unassigned seating and counting which seats are assigned or are not assigned, are being occupied and not being occupied.

So on facility management we are going further, we are going ahead. And we are also looking into maybe regional hubs; if we need it or not. I talked about the traffic jams, I talked about maybe (working) close to your home, (and) also have an office space or a collaborative space close to your home. But that's what we are looking into. I don't know for sure if it's going to happen.

Stéphan Déry: This is extremely interesting. I had a chance to meet our colleagues from New Zealand. And they we're thinking about regional hubs and we're looking in Canada. We have started the pilot project, which we call GCcoworking, we have 9 sites across the country, and that's in a way trying to bring the office or our government office closer to where people live.

So if they need to come to the office for something special, they have a place where they can go. So I think your regional hubs, maybe something in the future we could talk together as your thinking evolves and as you probably think about is it something we should do in Holland?

[00:30:05] Accessibility, greening and other priorities

What are the priorities at the center of your modernization efforts for existing office space? I'm thinking here more about accessibility, greening, and you're pretty already trying to achieve greening targets. So is there any priorities that have emerged that will help you to get there?

Roger Mol: Yeah, also accessibility and greening were part of our tasks for the last years and I think the big question now is how to make sure that all the greening, digitalization, accessibility post-COVID… how you put it all in one bowl and make sure that you can steer on all those goals and make them coherent. I think that's the biggest task for the next year.

How to make your future plans with a construction market, because we don't do a lot ourselves, and I think it's the same in Canada. So we have to do that with them and see how we can make it more coherent, all those goals.

And make sure that what we ask our construction market, they also can make it, because we can ask a lot, but it also has to be made. I think that that's one big task for the next year.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you. I think one of the things, you know, like what are the needs of the future? What are the needs of your clients that you talk, you know, you want to bring together all these initiatives and put them together and make sure that you plan address all of them. I don't know if this is the same here, but if we're here in Canada, we are, you know, we're responding to client needs. Really, we're not enforcing our thinking on client departments. You know, we're serving over 100 agencies.

So there needs to be a consultation or what do you need to be able to identify our direction and to identify the future of office. How do you—how did you engage with your partners to ensure that the modernization vision was understood and adopted by all? You've made a reference to everybody working from home and managers are thinking differently. Do you think that affects their thinking on how they need space in the future?

Roger Mol: Yeah, of course that will (affect space needed), but in the Netherlands, maybe it's different from Canada, but we have a directorate generate for the government organization. So that's our counterpart for office buildings. That director general has to make sure that all his or her uses in office buildings are taken into account. when this director general wants to move to a certain way in the future.

So our counterpart is the director general and for instance, with the director general, we made the framework before: the framework for office buildings: the program of requirements. So, we have one program of requirements for all office buildings.

And if a user of an office building wants something else, or wants to tweak maybe, because their primary processes won't fit into thatframework 100%, they have to talk with the directorate general to say; OK, I don't want all my offices shared…, or all my desks shared…. I want maybe 10 desks (more) or 100 desks to use them solely, because of safety reasons—security reasons, they have to talk to the director general. And if that directorate general says that's OK, then we will do it.

So we have one directorate general for the government organization and that is looking ahead with us: What is coming towards us, what do we want with the pandemic and that framework, for instance, and maybe also the after pandemic framework of an office, it's approved by the Council of Ministers. So we do (it), I think, in another way (in the Netherlands).

Stéphan Déry: But there's a cause—like you pointed out, there's a consultation process and then it gets approved by—it makes me—it gets approved by the Council of Ministers. It makes me think a little bit of our portfolio plan, our accommodation policy, standard policy, accommodation standard that we developed in Canada for office buildings. And then we get this approved, and then there's always exceptions to the rule. The majority is working according to the accommodation policy. But there could be exceptions, as you mentioned, for security reasons or things like that.

Do you think there's hesitation or concerns that came up in your consultations, either for the framework or for post-COVID implementation of a vision of a hybrid model? Is there a concern that often comes up from client department?

Roger Mol: I think because of the framework, we don't have a lot of discussions with single clients, mostly. Because we all adapted (to) this framework. But of course, if primary processes of a client ask for something else, it has to be (made) possible in a way. And I think 90% will stay the same way and 10% is tweaked.

So it helps us in our task of having an efficient office portfolio. Ithelps us as overall in the Netherlands. When you look ahead post-COVID…. What we now see, is that we have some plans for what the new office buildings should look like. What a new framework maybe should look like.

And we are now in the process of the consultation with the directorate general and the clients. And I hope in September (we apply the new framework). We also have elections now (=March). So this is something for after the elections. After the elections, I think we (will) have a new framework and what we will work together on that framework and (after) we will adjust the offices in that way.

Stéphan Déry: So quite interesting, Roger, that, what you identify, you know, it's always a balance between a vision and the need of departments and how do we bring them together to identify and build a framework, either build a portfolio plan in our case or in your case, a framework to say here's where we're going.

[00:37:52] Current vision in the regard of the years ahead and concepts being used or explored

Let's talk a little bit about the future of the real property portfolio in the Netherlands, knowing that COVID-19 may have changed or accelerated your plans for the future of your real property portfolio. Can you explain what your current vision is in this regard for the years ahead? Have you already started adjusting your portfolio strategy or your framework that you're consulting departments on?

Roger Mol: We did not start adjusting yet, but we looked at our existing plans for our portfolio and said; is (there) ‘no regrets’ to what we have to do, when we change into a post-pandemic strategy? Or do we have to put it on hold for now, until we know what the new strategy will be?

And as I said, I hope we have the outlines of a new strategy in September, so we would be looking at our list of projects who are upcoming and put th(os)e projects on hold, of which we think: for now it's better to postpone it for a few months. Then look at it again when we have a new strategy.

And also we have to go through our whole portfolio to make sure if, at the end, there's less office space needed, or other office space, of course. What do you have to adjust? What do you not have to adjust? So that's the stage we are in now, at this moment.

Stéphan Déry: I think from my perspective, looking at the Netherlands, I think you were already in a direction of unassigned seating, having multi departmental buildings where people come in and work, you're exploring the concept of regional hubs.

So you're already thinking you were probably, before the pandemic already thinking about a lot of things, or have implemented a lot of things that here in Canada, we were thinking about and starting to implement. The pandemic has accelerated a lot of these concepts here in Canada and the buy in. And I'm expecting that people in the Netherlands and maybe I'm wrong there, but people in the Netherlands get the feel of working from home.

You're mentioning hybrid model and people are getting ability to work from home manager, getting used to manage a remote workforce. So I think a lot of the lessons learned here will be beneficial for all countries that are looking at how can we better manage our portfolio in the future and better serve citizens. Would you agree?

Roger Mol: maybe, that's true. I don't want to put ourselves ahead of the rest of you, but I think we learned a lot in the last years and we also use that for ourselves now into the post-pandemic strategy. And if we can share lessons, we are always helpful to our colleagues to share the lessons with you.

[00:41:21] Closing question: what is the biggest priority for Netherland’s public real property sector in the coming

Stéphan Déry: Thank you very much, Roger. Our interview now comes to an end, and I would like to conclude on a question and you know, I like to ask questions, what is the biggest priority for your country's public real property sector in the coming years?

Roger Mol: I think the integration phase, the integration of the post-COVID policies with the greening and digitalization goals that were already set. And, how do we integrate or combine those things? I mentioned this before. I think that's, a mind-breaking thing that we have to do, and motivate our contractors to do it with us, because we have to include them and the construction sector has to actively participate in the strategy at the end.

So, it was difficult for the greening goal. It was difficult for digitalization goal. And now we combine it with a post-COVID goal. So yeah, it's also a challenge. (But) I think it's a nice challenge for us how to do that and how to do it in (such) a way, because I don't know how it's in Canada, but maybe after these elections in Holland, we have to cut costs in government. The signs are not (pointing) already in that way, but government spent a lot of money in the last year. I think it's everywhere in the world the same.

So if we have to cut costs, if we have if we have to do austerity measures, then we have to think (about), how do you combine that with a new strategy. Which is difficult.

And because our construction industry is one of the driving forces of our economy, we have to put it all in the bowl and think (about) what's the best way to go forward with them—with each other. I think that that's our most strategic goal, and next task for the next year, next two years.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Roger. I think you've highlighted a point here that, you know, a lot of government, most governments around the world have spent a lot of money during the pandemic and they'll probably be looking at it now after the pandemic. How can we stimulate the economy?

Same in Canada, the construction industry is an engine, an economic engine in, you know, across the country, in each province. So how can we stimulate the economy, but on the other hand, also, how can we ensure that we, you know, manage appropriately our spending?

Thank you very much, Roger, this concludes today's podcast. Thank you, Mr. Mol, for taking the time to discuss with me what the future of work and workspace modernization may look like in the Netherlands. Thank you very much.

Roger Mol: Thanks Stéphan.

Interview with Mrs. Allison Azevedo and Mr. Chuck Hardy (United States of America)

Length: 33 minutes and 38 seconds

Interview date: March 5, 2021

Listen to the interview between Stéphan Déry, Mrs. Allison Azevedo, Acting Public Building Service Commissioner, and Mr. Chuck Hardy, Acting Chief Architect and Director of General Services Administration Center for Workplace Strategy, United States of America (U.S.).

In this podcast

Below are the topics covered in this interview. You can manually advance the clip to the time indicated in the brackets to get to the desired segments.

Transcription of interview with Mrs. Allison Azevedo and Mr. Chuck Hardy

The Workplace Network—Allison & Chuck

The Workplace Network; the future of workplaces in the public sector. Welcome to the podcast series all about the public Real Property Services Portfolio around the world. In this series, Stéphan Déry, President of The Workplace Network and Assistant Deputy Minister of Real Property Services for the Government of Canada, meets with his international counterparts to discuss progress concerning the future of the workplace and the modernization of office spaces.

Below are the topics covered in this interview. You can skip to the desired section of the transcript.

[00:00:42] Introduction and overview of General Services Administration’s real estate portfolio

Stéphan Déry: Hello, everyone, my name is Stéphan Déry and for our podcast series on the future of the workplace and the modernization of office space, it is with great pleasure today that I am meeting with 2 public sector real estate experts from the U.S., Mrs. Allison Azevedo, Acting Public Building Service Commissioner, and Mr. Chuck Hardy, Acting Chief Architect and Director of General Services Administration Center for Workplace Strategy. Mrs. Azevedo and Mr. Hardy, thank you for accepting our invitation and taking the time to share with us your views on these interesting topics.

I always like to start these discussions by giving you an opportunity to tell our audience the scope and breadth of your organization’s responsibilities. Can you give us a little bit of an overview of the public real property portfolio that you are responsible for?

Allison Azevedo: Thank you, Stéphan. It’s definitely our pleasure to be with you today and to talk a little bit about our business of real estate within the United States. The Public Building Service, or PBS, is one of 2 main functions within the General Services Administration (GSA). We provide real estate for all 3 branches of the United States Government, the executive branch, the judiciary, and small offices within the legislative branch across the U.S. Territories. With that role, we have responsibility for 371 million square feet of real estate, which exists in over 8,800 assets.

The portfolio is primarily office space, but we do have courthouses, comprised of approximately 9% warehouses, 7% land ports of entry on the northern and southern borders, 1% of the portfolio we have laboratories, and 10% is child care facilities, motor pools, utility and support structures, land and so forth. In simple terms, GSA is the U.S. Government civilian landlord.

We house Federal Government agencies, enabling them to perform their mission, delivering services to the American people. We house approximately a million federal employees and contractors within these facilities. We not only acquire the space, we provide design services, engineering, construction and the property management for the federal agencies that serve the people working in these facilities.

I really think we have one of the most diverse and interesting portfolios in the country and certainly very large. We operate out of 11 geographic areas across the country.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you very much, Allison, for this impressive overview of your portfolio, but also the significant responsibilities that come with this. And there’s a lot of parallel that I could do between our portfolio in Canada, the portfolio I’m responsible for, and the Portfolio, because we have courthouses, warehouses and all that, except that yours is probably, I’m calculating here in my head a little bit, probably ten times bigger than ours.

So from my perspective, you’re like my older brother. You have this immense portfolio and the amount of responsibility that goes with this.

[00:04:17] Vision for the future of work prior to the pandemic

One of today’s subjects is the future of work. So let us dive a little bit into the future of work. I’m sure, like Canada and in many other countries, I am convinced that your organization was already looking at the evolution of work before the pandemic. Could you tell us, a little bit, what was your long-term vision for public sector workplaces in the United States prior to the global pandemic?

Allison Azevedo: Absolutely. As public servants, of course, we’re stewards of taxpayer dollars. So how we manage and oversee a footprint this size involves a lot of dollars. And we’ve always been focused on the best management and oversight of the real estate. And I think that vision has not really changed because of the pandemic.

While the pandemic has impacted all of our lives, personally and professionally, and where our work is accomplished, it really hasn’t changed our long-term vision for the future of real estate. We are focused on providing the real estate and our tenants what they need to deliver their mission.

Before the pandemic, we were setting daily occupancy data within all of our federal spaces to determine where we could find cost savings, where we could densify our facilities to a larger degree, and where we could get the best use of our assets. With only so much capital reinvestment dollars to go around, wanting to make sure that we were making those capital investments in those assets that serve the American people and our federal agencies in the best manner possible.

Now that we’ve been living the pandemic for over a year, we have even more motivation to look at how we want to use real estate in the future. Making those smart real estate investments in our buildings now, so they can be climate resilient in the future. Working with customers now, to look at the federal real estate from a universal perspective as opposed to individual agency workers.

Chuck, would you like to add to any of this?

Chuck Hardy: Thanks, Allison. I’ll give a little bit of history. In the early 2000s, GSA created a project called Workplace 2020 to study the future of work at that time and the way it was accomplished. It was really focused on how the workplace supported health and well-being, attracting and retaining talent, engaging employees, accommodating workplace revolution and change, reducing energy and operational costs, and ensuring flexibility.

All the things we’re looking at now as well. Contrary to popular thought, the name Workplace 2020 did not refer to the year 2020, but rather to looking at the workplace with clear 20/20 vision. Our Workplace 2020 study and subsequent projects of GSA and many partner agencies helped to prepare the Federal Government here for the pandemic.

In the spring of last year, we realized that the manner in which federal employees are now accomplishing work has been challenging preconceived notions of how, when, and where work can be performed, and the pandemic’s provided real-time lessons about how the shift to a more distributor work model, we’re talking about pre-2020, can support the well-being of federal employees—the pursuit of mission—and it fundamentally changes how we start to think about the physical workspace.

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity as we see it, to continue to challenge and change the landscape of the federal workplace and build upon our recent learnings of last year, and currently the rapid adaptations, and continue to rethink the value of the workplace and the workplaces we’re building.

Workplace 2030 is our current initiative; it’s a project designed to re-envision the future of the work for the Federal Government. Using public and private sector input, we are developing a framework and a set of actionable ideas for strategies that support the Federal Government’s near-term and future work practices, and I think as we have this conversation, that we’ll talk a little bit more about this later.

[00:08:21] Adjustments due to the pandemic

Stéphan Déry: Thank you for that great answer, Allison and Chuck. How did the pandemic change your plans and projects and how have you adjusted?

Allison Azevedo: Yeah, that was an interesting time, as we thought about the most important thing was the safety of our employees and the contractors that perform the work on GSA’s behalf. But as we thought through it, we began to explore technologies that might help enable us to continue delivering projects.

There was a lot of skepticism on how we were going to continue delivering these projects that were already in the planning stages and already in the project delivery phase of the project lifecycle. Fortunately, GSA’s always tried to embrace new technology and be forward leaning in terms of how we perform our services. We were able to leverage a couple of key tools, such as virtual site inspections for construction projects and market surveys for our leasing projects through virtual market surveys.

Those two technologies really continue to keep forward momentum with all the projects that we had funded and were underway. These allowed us to avoid costly lease extensions and to still deliver most all of our construction projects on time and on budget.

In terms of our employees executing the work, our Chief Information Officer (CIO), David Shive, is one of the best in the industry, and our CIO team had tools in place so our employees, our workforce, were fully able to really perform their mission from a remote work environment. We had already done a lot of experimenting with tools and we already had a robust telework policy in place, so we hardly missed a beat as we went to a full-time telework posture.

Chuck, is there anything you’d like to add?

Chuck Hardy: Yeah Allison, I think that highlights a couple of things. One, it’s critical the need for adaptability and flexibility is paid attention to and I think that kind of positioned us well. This not only supports the mission and resiliency requirements, but it is also in service of our climate and sustainability priorities where we’re honoring and continue to leverage the investments we put in place, and so it’s all working together positively.

Allison Azevedo: Yeah, and I would just add to that. In this fashion, we were able to ensure the safety of our workforce, again, stressing that that was our number one concern that we did everything we could to ensure our workforce was operating in a safe environment.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you to both of you. I think your organization was ready. I mean, I heard a mini comment on pandemic-proofing our buildings, but I think you had pandemic-proofed your organization and you were ready to jump and to be ready to operate.

In that train of thought, how did the public sector adapt—your clients that you were serving—how did they adapt to this accelerated transformation of work practices resulting from the pandemic?

Allison Azevedo: That’s a great question. I think we’re continuing to learn from each other, and there is no doubt some federal agencies were better prepared for remote work than others. Chuck mentioned the Workplace 2030 initiative that’s currently underway, and I would just say, from the months of October through December, we engaged with 100 federal agency points of contact, 18 different agencies, we were able to talk through some opportunities and challenges that the pandemic has really presented us with this need to do remote outside of commercial real estate facilities.

From these conversations, we’ve gleaned a lot of information in terms of new offerings, which GSA needs to prepare to create and create contract vehicles for federal agencies to buy the new offerings in order to fully adapt to a remote work scenario. I don’t think anyone envisioned this would be going on for this length of time. And for the most part, the conversations with agencies have indicated work is being performed at a very high level. It’s a human contact that people are really missing. So as we start to think about planning for the future of work, taking that human factor into consideration and truly understanding how the mission is delivered and what type of workspace or work settings to federal agencies really need in order for them to most effectively deliver their mission.

Most all of our employees already had telework agreements in place. They had the proper hardware and software, iPhones, iPads, laptops, in order to fully do their jobs remotely. Almost all of our work processes are paperless as well. So even in the hiring of personnel, we were able to do that in a virtual setting.

Stéphan Déry: Wow. I think that’s quite interesting when you raise the fact that you’ve contacted over 100 client departments or agencies and you had discussions with them on the impact of the pandemic on their operation. I’m quite interested to know if it’s the same for you. Here in Canada, you know, when we were trying to move the yardstick to our GCWorkplace—we call it GCWorkplace here in Canada—which is a new way of working, which is based on ABW, activity-based workplace. It was not always received the same way by everybody.

So I’m quite interested to know, since we were forced to adjust quickly to the pandemic, did it make it easier for senior management, managers, and employees to buy in, accept, and even adopt some of these work practices which already existed before but were not known, applied, or accepted by everyone? What was the reception—when you talk to your clients or your department agencies, what was the reception? Was there opportunities and challenges that were introduced given this context, from their perspective?

Allison Azevedo: That’s a really interesting question as I think back on it, I think what made it the (easiest) was we weren’t given an option. We were mandated full-time telework, and for executives who weren’t really accustomed to teleworking at all, we had to quickly adapt. Most of our workforce had already been in some sort of a part time or were equipped to work remotely and had already been in the practice of doing so for probably 5 or 6 years at least. Executives weren’t necessarily used to working in that fashion. So we had to switch very quickly and adapt very quickly. And I have to say we probably engage more and have more face time through video with our colleagues and our employees than what we ever were able to in the past.

The other key component of how we perform our work is through project management principles. We take a global project management (GPM) approach to everything we do. So that’s all about assigning a project manager and a project sponsor, having the right core team members involved, being clear on what the goals and the outcomes of the project are. So whether you’re sitting in meeting rooms doing that kind of project, organization and planning and meeting, whether we’re sitting together, virtually as long as we have a common understanding of how the work gets accomplished through executing project management practices, I think that really has enabled us to be very successful in completing the ongoing work of the agency.

One thing I should really mention too, the thing that brought us together quickly was we were focused on the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) guidance in terms of stopping the spread of the pandemic. CDC guidance gave us the direction and how we would clean our facilities, and that was really important too. There weren’t a lot of flexibilities there. We developed that new guidance. We amended all of our contracts. We gave direction to our contractors through our contracting officer representatives, and we just went forward doing all of that work that I’m sure you’re familiar with as well in trying to stop the spread within our facilities and ensuring that the workers in the building were safe, the contractors and our employees, our number one priority continues to be the health of the employees, the tenants and the public that visit the facilities.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Allison. I think we went through some of the (same)—we were closely working with Health Canada here on health guidance, how do we clean buildings, how do we prepare our buildings, as you mentioned, to welcome customers, to welcome employees, to welcome clients, in fact, in the facilities. So that’s extremely important that we ensure because it is our responsibility to ensure that our buildings are safe.

[00:17:45] Specific initiatives that supports the vision of the future of work

We talked a little bit about your plans for the future and the workplace and how the pandemic has impacted them. Moving forward, could you elaborate on specific initiatives that will support your current vision? Let me get straight to the point, and I know none of us have a crystal ball, but our audience would like to know, what are your plans to modernize the public sector workplace in terms of teleworking, in terms of collaborative space? And I think, Allison, you mentioned a couple of points that would fit, you know, the interaction between employees. You talked about teleworking agreements. So our audience would like to know, what are your plans for that assigned workplace versus unassigned seating, shared space, (and) multi-departmental space usage?

Allison Azevedo: Sure. Happy to talk about that. As we mentioned before, GSA has had the robust telework policies pre pandemic. Our office standards are already set to activity-based design, free address, (and) hoteling seating arrangements. I’m sure you’re all familiar with those, which is essentially workspace sharing and shared space across divisions, departments and groups. What we’ve started to experiment with is sharing space with external agencies. So it’s really about a more of a universal setting where federal agencies can all come to work. Like I said, this is just in the very preliminary stage, but we do see great opportunity here. As we learned, we don’t necessarily need all the customization which traditionally has gone into the design and the build out of individual agency spaces.

Pre-pandemic, the Federal Government was focusing on the Office of Management and Budget to reduce the footprint policy. So GSA was working to provide tailored solutions to help each individual agency achieve this base reduction. Now we’re working more collectively to envision how we can share space and how we could all function at a reduced footprint. This to me is a really interesting exercise. And we learned through the workshops how we really have a common need for space and tools in order to perform our mission, with very few exceptions, except for that specialized space need.

Chuck Hardy: Yeah, also, I think it’s important to note at the start of 2020, work was primarily accomplished at the office and telework that was considered individual employee benefit. Now work from home is an integral part of real estate strategy for many of the agencies we’re working with, GSA included. And this provides the Federal Government with a sharpened focus on how the federal footprint can be right-sized. And through our Workplace 2030 project that we’ve mentioned, we’re partnering with agencies to co-create a vision for the future of federal work in the workplaces they use, emphasizing the value of shared seating arrangements, the technology needed to support all of this and putting the tools in place to make it happen. So shared facilities and resources have the potential to provide cost savings while freeing up the funding that can be used to invest directly to an agency’s missions, and so that’s all the good that’s coming out of this and making this happen right now.

[00:21:03] Accessibility, greening and other priorities

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Chuck. Thank you, Allison. I think that the point you raise is extremely interesting. Moving from a departmental space in some, where feasible, where possible, to government space, Federal Government space, and sharing space between departments. I have a dream that one day I’ll have an access card that will let me in. And today I have probably 75 of them. I have an access card that will let me in a government because I have the security clearance and I have all of what I need, you know, that will let me in into a government building. And it’s not going to be this department or this agency, but it’s going to be the building of the government where I could go work, and it brings me to a subject that’s really close to my heart in, you know, priorities, in giving us our organization, we both have at the center of our modernization priority, effort of existing office space, you know.

(Are) accessibility, and we talked about greening, (are) accessibility and greening a part of your plan? When you talk about government space, I’m thinking, you know, people traveling less, going to a government building closer to their home. So how does that impact your effort to modernize existing space, accessibility, (and) greening?

Chuck Hardy: Kind of a major priority for the Biden-Harris administration and specific to telework, and GSA has always valued the environmental benefit that telework provides. The year 2020 was a natural experiment in switching to remote work across the whole of government, and we’re focusing on why we need the physical office space and why people will need to want to come to the office, and looking carefully at the deliberate commute, the choice to come to the office. And what value would that bring? Could that meeting or task be accomplished from the home office or elsewhere? It will be more than likely that that conversation is going to expand and drive us to new solutions.

Allison Azevedo: In terms of the future approach, I think it really comes down to relationships, talking to our agency partners, building that trust, understanding what tools and technology our customers need to deliver their mission, and then us figuring out how we can support them. Utilizing a wide range of tools and contract resources to conduct these workplace engagements is also very important. Having industry partners that are well equipped to meet the challenging needs of the future workforce.

Chuck Hardy: Yeah, as we move forward to kind of ensure that the vision understood and adopted, our Workplace 2030 project is not just trying to solve the current moment and what we’re experiencing today, but using this kind of once-in-a-generation opportunity to look forward toward the future of the workplace, using lessons learned from the pandemic that shaped the evolution of the federal space.

Over the course of Workplace 2030, we’ve engaged with 18 different agencies to understand their workplace challenges, what their opportunities are that they see, what barriers exist, and look at the future ways of working for the next decade and beyond, realizing that change is constant. Through partnerships with these agencies, we’re co-creating a future that’s inclusive, transformative, based on research and resilience. So it’s getting it where we need to go. And as we move forward, there’s always going to be some hesitations and some advantages. And as we look at hesitations, the requirements for document retention and managing secure documents and secure workflows, which is linked to the way we previously worked, is being revisited. Some services, however, can’t be delivered digitally. We have court proceedings, materials, and some agencies still have less access to the full technology needs for digital collaboration, and we have to work through that and becoming more virtual, and then pre-COVID policy and management culture that I think is experienced by many governments may cause pushback against future telework and new modes of work. And hopefully our shared experiences can ease this conversation. And cost—it costs to make change and it takes money to save money. So those are some of those hesitancies.

Allison Azevedo: While it’s important that we listen to what the hesitations are and the challenges that lie before us, but we believe that it’s truly worth solving these issues because the advantages are so positive. In terms of a federal workforce, the ability to attract higher (talent) and retain talent from a much wider workforce pool in unserved markets, we see as a huge opportunity. Better supporting the individuals and increasing flexibility for employees, for that better work life balance is super important, and we have that opportunity to save costs for the American taxpayer. So we’re making a conscious effort to really listen to what the hesitations are and work hard to try to resolve these issues so we can take full advantage of the future of federal work.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you to the both of you. I think you raise quite interesting points

[00:26:16] Current vision in the regard of the years ahead and concepts being used or explored

So all of this has to have an impact on your portfolio and your three hundred and thirty million square feet under management—that you are managing, knowing that COVID-19 may have changed or accelerated your plans for the future of your real property portfolio, can you explain to us what are your current vision in the regard of the years ahead? Where do you think all of this will lead you?

Allison Azevedo: That’s a great question, and I think there are so many opportunities here to look at how we plan for our portfolio in the future and plan with our customer agencies. So we have not necessarily started adjusting our portfolio, but we have shifted the conversation, so the initial conversation isn’t based on what is your real estate demand, it’s more about your mission, how people perform the work of the mission and then arriving at a real estate solution, leveraging all the tools and technologies that we’re trying to bring more into the public sector.

Pre-pandemic, we were studying the daily occupancy rates of the federal spaces, and as you had mentioned, we had good data on how those spaces were being occupied. Absences were due to telework, leave or alternate work schedules and travel where we are only seeing that spaces were occupied on average 60% to 75%, and at the time and during the pandemic, our occupancy rates dropped to 15% on average. So in the future, we’ll definitely continue to work with our agency partners to see if their workspace needs are also changing and to see what the appetite is to more of a flexible work environment for their employees as well.

Stéphan Déry: Is the tendency to reduce physical space by encouraging some of the concepts discussed earlier on, such as the use of collaborative workspaces and the more extended part-time return to the workplace?

Allison Azevedo: Yes, but we don’t want to make this just simply a math exercise. We want to make sure we are thinking about the human factors. Why would people want to go into the office and ensuring that our federal footprint supports the ways that people will perform their work and the way that they will utilize the workspace in the future?

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Allison. I’m curious here to see if you have explored or implemented the concept of regional hubs. We talked about multi departmental or multiagency building, but have you started looking at regional hubs and how that could be utilized in your portfolio?

Chuck Hardy: Yeah, great question. We’re looking for ways, as always, to honor our investments and maximize the use of our assets. And this conversation comes up in the Workplace 2030 project. We’re exploring that idea of shared federal co-working spaces to use a term of the day. Those shared spaces could function as an alternative work site for GSA or agency employees to utilize this data, rather than to commute into a central or regional office location to get a sustainable solution. And these co-working spaces could be used to provide support and collaborative space for staff who generally telework but need an alternative site with additional resources or technology to meet with the public or to do other functions that they cannot do with telework, at home kind of thing. So all those things are being looked at as we explore how we address the new opportunities in front of us.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Chuck. What other measures do you take or have you implemented or are implementing right now to optimize office space in your building? Do you have several departments, public services, located in a single building with such a large portfolio? Is it a common practice?

Chuck Hardy: Pre-pandemic, we were looking at utilization rates and doing that, that gave us some insight into that. And now we’re looking at those assets that we have. How do we position them for the need of the offices as we move forward? So we’re looking at work patterns and styles and making sure that our offices have the space to address that. And then overarching, the employee has the spaces and the tools to address it, whether it’s at home, in one of those in-between spaces, or in an office space that we provide. So all those kind of things feed into the concept of optimizing the use of that office.

Stéphan Déry: Great, fantastic answer. To raise a few points that you mentioned in your answer that are quite interesting to me, maximum flexibility for the employee, either from home, from an in-between space, or from the office and maximizing and utilizing your portfolio as much as possible, that investment that taxpayers are making in the federal portfolio using it as much as possible.

[00:31:20] Closing question: what is the biggest priority for United States of America’s public real property sector in the coming years?

Our interview now comes to an end, and I would like to conclude on a question: what is the biggest priority for your country’s public real property sector in the coming years?

Allison Azevedo: Well, we’re really excited about the major priorities we have before us. Those 4 major priorities that GSA is primarily focused on in the federal real estate realm, is managing the COVID-19 response and recovery, and that will be ongoing for quite some time. Building a bridge to economic recovery. We have a lot to offer in terms of jobs and economic catalyst in reinvesting in our assets, advancing diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility as we talk about leveraging our recruiting efforts and talent management across our workforce and tackling climate change, which dovetails well with our real property strategies and focus, at densifying our assets and reinvesting in those assets to ensure those assets are high performing for years to come.

So as we look to a potentially smaller, more agile and accessible portfolio, it opens doors to under serviced areas and communities, opportunities for more choice in determining an individual’s own work life balance and so much more. The health and the safety, however, of our employees, our tenants, and the public will continue to remain our top priority as the government’s landlord.

Stéphan Déry: I know we’re neighbor countries, and we could draw a lot of parallels between your priorities and our priorities. This concludes today’s podcast. I really want to thank you, Mrs. Azevedo and Mr. Hardy for taking the time to discuss with me what the future of work and the workspace modernization may look like in the U.S.. Thank you very much. Thank you for your time. Greatly appreciated.

Allison Azevedo: Thank you, Stéphan.

Chuck Hardy: Thank you

Correction: at [00:26:16] Stéphan Déry mentions “three hundred and thirty million square feet” the correct number is three hundred and seventy one million.

Interview with Mr. Isa Rachmatarwata (Indonesia)

Length: 35 minutes and 59 seconds

Interview date: March 5, 2021

Listen to the interview between Stéphan Déry and Mr. Isa Rachmatarwata—Director General of State Asset Management under the Ministry of Finance, Indonesia.

In this podcast

Below are the topics covered in this interview. You can manually advance the clip to the time indicated in the brackets to get to the desired segments.

Transcription of interview with Mr. Isa Rachmatarwata

The Workplace Network—Indonesia

The Workplace Network; the future of workplaces in the public sector. Welcome to the podcast series all about the public Real Property Services Portfolio around the world. In this series, Stéphan Déry, President of The Workplace Network and Assistant Deputy Minister of Real Property Services for the Government of Canada, meets with his international counterparts to discuss progress concerning the future of the workplace and the modernization of office spaces.

Below are the topics covered in this interview. You can skip to the desired section of the transcript.

[00:00:39] Introduction and overview of Indonesia’s real estate portfolio

Stéphan Déry: Hello everyone, I am Stéphan Déry, and for our podcast series on the future of the workplace and the modernization of office spaces, it is with great pleasure that I am meeting today with a real estate expert from Indonesia, Mr. Isa Rachmatarwata. Hello, Mr. Rachmatarwata, and thank you for accepting our invitation and taking the time to share with us your views on these topics.

Isa Rachmatarwata: Hello Stéphan.

Stéphan Déry: Prior to getting right into the subject of today's podcast on the future of work, our audience would like to understand a little bit more on the breadth and scope of your organization. Can you give us an overview of the public real property portfolio that you are responsible for?

Isa Rachmatarwata: First of all, I would like to thank you for inviting me to join your podcast series. It's a good opportunity for me to explain about how Indonesia manages public assets and also good for us to learn from others—how they manage their public assets as well, and this is really a good mutual collaboration. Thank you.

Well, related to your questions about our scope of work, let me introduce my unit. (I am the) Director General of State Asset Management under the Ministry of Finance. We provide policies, we provide regulations on how to manage state assets and the users, which are our ministries, work to manage their assets based on the regulations that we set up. We also provide approval for the use of public assets for functions other than providing government services. Nowadays, we manage (the) assets of the government of the value of six thousand two hundred ninety trillion Rupiah, at approximately four hundred and twenty billion United States dollar (USD). The type of assets include land, building, machinery, infrastructure, construction, construction in progress and several other types of assets. I think that would explain my organization and hopefully also my scope of work.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you. Thank you very much, Isa. (It's) a large portfolio and quite a significant value of four hundred and eighty billion USD—significant portfolio and quite a lot of responsibility. So building infrastructure and assets under construction.

If I do a parallel to Canada, I manage approximately 6 million—my organization manages approximately 6 million square meters of office space. We also have engineering assets, dams, bridges across the country. Similar to you, we are responsible for policy of accommodation policy, but we're not with the Department of Finance, which could be a benefit for you, definitely. We're in a department that is called a common service provider department and we're providing acquisition services and also real property services and a lot of other services to the whole of government. So (it's) quite interesting, the parallel we can make between our 2 organizations and how we can learn, as you mentioned, from each other.

[00:04:38] Vision for the future of work prior to the pandemic

Stéphan Déry: Like many other countries, including Canada, I am sure that maximizing the use of your real property assets was at the center of your operation. Can you tell us a little bit (about) what your long term vision was for the public sector's future of the workplace in your country, prior to COVID-19, prior to the pandemic?

Isa Rachmatarwata: Well, I'll try to explain this in a short way. Basically, we were directed by our Finance Minister to make our assets work harder, harder than the people that manages them. So this is something that was new to us 2 or 3 years ago. And we like to have the efficient use of our assets for providing government services, including delivering communications and services to (the) public, as well as for other functions of the government. And if our assets are underutilized, we should think (of) how to maximize the use of these assets to provide other benefits to the public or directly to the government.

Basically, we are thinking about deriving revenue from these underutilized assets or providing some activities, preferably economic or social activities for the public. So that's basically (what the idea was) before the pandemic, that we have to make more efficient use of our assets, and if they are underutilized, perhaps we want to have more optimal benefits from them, either in financial revenue or other social or economic activities on the assets. I think that's the idea.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you very much, Isa. I think as many other countries, and all the countries that have participated in (these) podcasts, we are always—government is always looking to drive efficiency out of their assets. And I think that's a common thread around the world that we're trying to increase the efficiency, increase either the revenue—revenue meaning in dollars, but revenue and benefit to the public in benefit to the user and the public we serve.

[00:07:32] Adjustments due to the pandemic

Stéphan Déry: Could you tell us a little bit if there was any impact of COVID-19 on your country's workplaces?

Isa Rachmatarwata: Yes, generally speaking, the pandemic has disrupted public services deliveries for some types of services or works that have to be conducted in person or face to face, they were basically stopped or discontinued, at least for some time last year. (It’s) cumbersome, (the) services of works, document authorization, for example, field surveys for asset evaluation and several others. These activities require physical mobilization that is not in line with the policy of social distancing. So there was a period of time in last year where delays happened as we try to adapt the way we deliver the services to better suit the situation.

Stéphan Déry: So, as you say, with all been impacted by COVID-19 and we had every country had to look at how we can reinvent our services to the public, but also reinvent the way we work. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted where and how we work and it has triggered significant investment in technology to support the pandemic response and equipping employees to work from home.

How do you see these investments changing the workplace? Tell us also a little bit about successful initiatives and measures you have put in place in the midst of the pandemic. Is there any of those that you're thinking you would continue permanently after the pandemic, when we finally get through—everybody gets vaccinated and we get through this pandemic?

Isa Rachmatarwata: Well, before the pandemic, we started to think about remote working, for example, and also flexible working times, and the pandemic actually makes us (start this thinking earlier) actually. We suddenly had to work from home, we could not come to the office as frequently or as what we like to do in the past. So we basically had to invest on information technology (I.T). We suddenly had to do videoconferencing from home. We suddenly had to work on our documents remotely and basically electronically. We never touch the hardcopy anymore since the pandemic. So these are really a big change in our situation because we suddenly had to change the practice in our work, although it had been thought before.

Still, this change was quite significant for us. But this is something that now we enjoy and we think that now we should perhaps do the same thing more permanently rather than just as a reaction to this pandemic. And this is something that we are really seriously thinking now that we should change our way of working. We should allow more people to work from home or from other places where they like to do, (it is) not necessary that they have to come to the office. We should do more electronic based documentation and we can give approval or something else, not by putting our signature on the paper or something like that. So this is really a significant change, although we thought before, but this comes to us much, much earlier and much, much faster. I think that would describe our situation, Stéphan.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Isa. And you are absolutely right when you say we've been, I would say, (propelled) into maybe 10 years ahead of time. We were thinking about electronic signatures, we were thinking about only paperless environment. But, you know, it was moving at a slow pace, I would say, in our country anyway. Some people adopted it, some others didn't. And if I make a parallel, it was a little bit the same in Indonesia, (where) all of a sudden you're pushed to use technology more than before. At the beginning, we were struggling a little bit with IT, but really fast, about 2, 3 months, everything was up and running. And just the fact that we're meeting today on Zoom; it's eight o'clock in the morning, you're sitting, you're in Indonesia, in Jakarta. I'm here in Ottawa at eight o'clock at night, and we're seeing each other and we're talking together. It's something I wouldn't have thought, you know, I would have thought possible, but not that’s easy to do. And now we can do that from around the world.

We had (a) conference together in December where we could, you know, 12 countries around the world, other than for the difference of hours, difference in time in the day, we were all able to come together.

[00:13:54] Specific initiatives that supports the vision of the future of work

So I think we've got to learn a lot from the pandemic. It's a disaster that hit the whole planet. But I mean, there's some from an office perspective, from a way of working, there may (be some) benefits that we can carry in the future.

I think that's what you're wanting to do in Indonesia, is bring those benefits, this new way of working forward, which brings me to the future of the workplace. And that's something you just talked about, flexible work arrangements, we talked about your plan for the future of the workplace and how the pandemic impacted them. Moving forward, can you elaborate on the specific initiatives that you will support and that will help and support your current vision?

Isa Rachmatarwata: Well, isn't that amazing, Stéphan, that the pandemic, on one side was not good, but the other side provided us (with) an opportunity to change and to hopefully deliver better services and faster services too, for the public. And I think this is something that we should see the both sides of the results of this pandemic. And for the current situation, we plan to reconsider some changes that we made in the last year to be more permanent. And as we discuss about the remote working, you know, in Indonesia, we have many islands and my colleagues have to be in different islands for months before they can come back to see their families, for example.

And now, because of the policy, we introduced what we call "work from home base," for example, so they can spend like 2 weeks with their families while they are still working. They are still getting paid for working because they can do the remote working without really interruption or making a disruption and a significant (effort) for the things that he or she has to do (normally) in the office. So we introduced this policy of "working from home base" and they can meet (their families) maybe every 3 months. And they're, of course, energized with that opportunity to work with their families, around their families. But they can still deliver the products or the services that will be needed in their original office. And for so, we will also introduced a space in many offices that were used before just for the people working (in) that office.

Now, we also provide space for those who came back to their hometown and that need some space to connect their office in the remote area or in other islands because, you know, Internet and the connection (is) perhaps better provided in the government offices rather than at home or something, because at home they also have to compete with their children because the children are also doing school from home, something like that. So they go to (a) close office, to their home, and they can work there. Of course, the space available has to be checked before they come. But basically they can use the government facilities to "work from home base" to provide services in their original regional office, in other islands or in other places around Indonesia. So this is something that we want to sustain, I guess. And we also try to see whether we can have more flexible working time, more flexible working place so that we can really optimize the use of our assets. And then, of course, we will face the situation where suddenly we have some surplus assets, surplus spaces. So this is something that we have to work on as well. And this is something that will challenge us on how we will optimize these surplus assets. But I think it's something that will come soon. I cannot explain to you the details, because it's really early, but I guess a year from now, perhaps I can tell you some stories about how we optimize the surplus assets.

Stéphan Déry: Isa, it's extremely interesting when you talk about having space, first of all, having space closer to the home, or the islands, their home, their island where they live and having government space where they can reserve a space or go and check if there's availability and work from there and they need better Internet and all this.

We call that, here, (a) co-working space where we started that (as) a pilot about, I would say, 3 years ago, when we opened across the country, sites like this. But there's only there's 9 sites that we've opened across the country where people—if you were civil servants, you can access to the space you need to reserve a space and then you can go work from there. And that makes me—sounds a little bit (like) what you're doing and the flexibility providing to employees working closer to home, still delivering the services, doesn't have to be on holiday, could stay home and go to these, what we call GCco-working, but those government space and work from there in order to be productive. So that's quite the flexibility you are providing your employees. And that's all started, I believe, from the pandemic as a beginning, from the pandemic evolution of how we can be more flexible. Quite interesting, the parallel we can make between our 2 countries, although you were on the other side of the globe, basically. But there's still a lot of parallel we can draw between how we manage space and how we want to give our employees more and more flexibility, especially because of the pandemic to start, but probably after the pandemic ends, we can continue to provide them (with) that flexibility because they are still productive and it didn't affect productivity. We have to give them the right tools. As you said, invest in IT, the right, the right tools, the right thing, electronic signature, and provide them space where they can work and be productive.

Can you explain how you plan to modernize public sector workplaces in terms of telework, you talk a little bit about that collaborative space. Do you see more and more need for collaborative space while people are working from home? And we didn't talk about that at length, but you talk about reserving space in the government space where they live, assigned or unassigned seating. You know, people go to the office, they have their desk and they live—they stay at their desk or in an environment like you see behind me, where it's unassigned seating and you go in in the morning, you either reserve a space and you go into work, you work there for the day and then you go home. Could you talk to a little bit about that then? Also, multi-departmental space usage. You talk, I think that your government spaces on these islands is multi-departmental, if I understand you well.

Isa Rachmatarwata: Well, I think that's what we are going to see in Indonesia, Stéphan. And as I said earlier, we try to see our employees to have a better working environment and (the) pandemic suddenly showed us what the ideal or more preferable working environment (is). We did a little survey in around September, October. Our Inspector General did a survey on our employees and they asked about how they see this change and how they like this change to be implemented in the future, whether they like it to be more permanent or something else. And of course, we can see that people are happier to have this opportunity to work more flexibly. And especially those are assigned in this remote area or in other islands. They really thank the government for the policy to allow them to work from home for a certain period. Or, of course, they understand that they have to return to their original office because some services have to be delivered in person or face to face.

But the chance to have this "work from home base" is really giving them some new energy to when they go back to the office. And in terms of modernization of our offices, I guess the IT is one thing. But we also have to see that the environment of this office or the design of this office have to be fit with the needs of the employees that will use the office. Of course, this is something that may need some change as well in Indonesia, because in the past, the design of government offices, you know, almost standard, based on cubicles and, you know, very standard desks and chairs or something like that. And you have some allowance, but it's very boring loans or something like that. Now we have to change. We see that different interiors, different designs might give some positive effects of the employees and may energize them to work better and (be) even more efficient. And I think this is something that we are going to apply in the future to our offices so that we will see our office will be more, you know, very active, more, you know, with different interior designs or something like that, that hopefully will give a very good effect for the employees, and for the IT. I remember one thing: that we use IT more and more frequently. And this also reminds us to address the security issue.

This is something that really important, especially if we allow our employees, for example, (to work) from other places. We have to make sure that they use a secure line, secure Internet connection or something like that. Otherwise, we may breach the security policies, and this is not something that we like to experience, of course. And this is something that (is) also a big worry (for us). And we like to address this more and more closely on how we utilize the IP, the Internet connection, safely and securely. This is perhaps also part of the modernization of our offices.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Isa. I think that's quite interesting that the way you're thinking about redesigning your office is although the one that's behind me looks really, really good, I think in the government here, it's probably not the majority of our office that looked like the one I have right now—that's in behind me right now. It's more like we're the same as you, like normal cubicles. But we moved—we started to move a little bit about, I would say, 3 (or) 4 years ago to what they call the activity-based workplace, where it's more geared towards supporting employees and what they need in an office. And I believe the pandemic, just like you, has accelerated that transformation, and people are more and more thinking, well, there may be other ways of working and they're more open to the change, to embrace the change now.

[00:28:35] Current vision in the regard of the years ahead and concepts being used or explored

Stéphan Déry: Now, we'd like to talk a little bit more about your real estate, real property portfolio, knowing that COVID-19 may have changed, or did accelerate your plans for the future of your real property portfolio, can you explain what your current vision is in this regard for the years ahead? Do you talk a little bit (on) potentially a reduction of the portfolio or new use of the portfolio? Can you elaborate a little bit on that? Is it something that you see already shaping, although you don't have the full direction, but do you see it shaping in the future?

Isa Rachmatarwata: Well, Stéphan, you know, during the crisis, we changed the use of some of our buildings quite significantly, we changed our training centers, for example, suddenly for places to help people (with) isolation, doing the isolation, self-isolation to, you know, to react to the virus infection or something like that. And we changed a lot of these places to become a more health purpose rather than, you know, education or training purpose when they (were) used in the past. I guess the idea of having flexibility in utilizing our assets will be one of the important (things we think about) that will be in place in the future. We should see that our property can be repurposed or reused for different purposes quite easily. This is something that we have to check whether our buildings are suitable with this thinking. Well, of course, we will continue to recalculate, to reconsider whether our buildings, our lands have been utilized efficiently. And then if we introduce flexible working spaces, "working from home base" concept, something like that, then we will see very soon, I guess, that we have some spaces are underutilized or maybe have to be optimized very, very dramatically. And this is something that we will see in the near future in Indonesia.

We may want to, you know, to move units to join another unit in the same building and then we can use or repurpose the building that they used to work for and then perhaps hope to have financial revenue or even other social and economic benefits generating in the building that (is now) deserted because we moved the unit to another building. Something also will happen, I believe, to the way we design the new office or the new places that we want to work. As I said earlier, we may want to install the very good IT. Internet connection and all those things to make people to connect to each other without having to meet face to face and also to make our work more digitalized rather than, you know, based on paper. And this is also (how we) save the world, by the way. So this is something that we envision now, perhaps some of them not really due to (the) pandemic, but really (the) pandemic has made us think faster and more dramatically to see a different situation in our estate assets in the future.

[00:33:04] Closing question: what is the biggest priority for Indonesia’s public real property sector in the coming years?

Stéphan Déry: Thank you very much, Isa. Our interview now comes to an end, and I would like to conclude on a question, as you know, I like asking questions. What is the biggest priority for your country's public real property sector in the coming years, your biggest priority that you will be focusing on?

Isa Rachmatarwata: Well, I think I will put how to make efficient use of the property first. This is still the first thing because we have so many properties that now we believe are inefficient and we like, as I said, to see them work harder, harder than the people that manages them. And this will start if we can make them more (for) efficient use. Otherwise, we cannot think of other use of them either to generate revenue or to provide social or economic activities that will be beneficial for the economy other than, you know, doing the government services in the same building inefficiently. So that's one thing. And then to start thinking more creatively on how we optimize the assets is perhaps the second one, the most important thing, the second most important thing that we have to put in place on how we manage our estate assets.

Stéphan Déry: I think (there's) a lot of a lot of work ahead of you, a lot of work and optimizing your portfolio and gaining more efficiency out of your assets. Although that was your objective before, I think you have new ways of thinking about it through the pandemic. And that, I think, brings you new ideas on how you can get there like many of us in other countries. That concludes today's podcast. Thank you, Terima Kasih, Mr. Isa Rachmatarwata, for taking the time to discuss with me what the future of work and the workspace modernization may look like in Indonesia. Goodbye, Selemat tinggal.

Isa Rachmatarwata: Terima Kasih Stéphan. Thank you very much. Thank you.

Stéphan Déry: Merci beaucoup. Thank you very much.

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