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 Mr. Sunny Dhaliwal, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Ministry of Citizen Services of British Columbia (Canada)

Length: 49 minutes 25 seconds

Interview date: November 26, 2021

Listen to the interview between Stéphan Déry and Mr. Sunny Dhaliwal, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Ministry of Citizen Services of British Columbia (Canada)

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. Sunny Dhaliwal, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Ministry of Citizen Services of British Columbia (Canada)

The Workplace Network—British Columbia

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 (GC), meets with his international counterparts to discuss progress concerning the future of the workplace and the modernization of office spaces.

[00:00:40] Introduction and overview of British Columbia’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 today that I am meeting with public sector real estate expert from British Columbia, Canada, Mr. Sunny Dhaliwal, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Ministry of Citizen Services. Mr. Dhaliwal, thank you for accepting our invitation and taking the time to share with us your views on these topics.

Sunny Dhaliwal: My pleasure, Stéphan. Thank you.

Stéphan Déry: Before we get into the conversation, our audience (would) really like to hear from you, get a little bit of an overview of your portfolio responsibility as it relates to the public real estate portfolio that you are managing in British Columbia (BC).

Sunny Dhaliwal: Stéphan, as you mentioned, I am with the Government of British Columbia and part of Ministry of Citizens’ Services. This ministry is a shared services agency that supports government operations across the BC Public Service and some of our broader public sector clients. So, the real property provides everything which is needed to design, set up and manage a government workplace in BC, which includes workspace planning and design strategies, operations, maintenance, acquisition and disposal of government real estate assets, furniture procurement, project and construction management and implementation of government priorities such as greenhouse gas emission reductions and enabling universal access.

Our real estate portfolio primarily includes leased and owned office space, and also has special purpose facilities such as courthouses, laboratories, correction centers. Schools and post-secondary institutions and hospitals are not part of the portfolio; they are managed by separate ministries. And in terms of the total volume, we manage almost 14 million square feet of space. Out of this, about 55%, or roughly 7.7 million square feet, is owned assets and remainder is leases assets—about 600 leased assets. Also, within the ministry is the office of the Chief Information Officer that leads the strategy, policy and standards for telecommunication information technology, information technology (IT) security and management of IT assets for the province. And why I'm mentioning the Office of the Chief Information Officer is that it is very relevant to our topic today and we work very closely with them to create modern workplaces. So that, Stéphan, is the portfolio that I manage.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you very much, Sunny. It's extremely interesting and I think I could draw a lot of parallels because while you were talking and saying "here's what I manage, here's what we don't manage," it's quite similar to what we're doing in PSPC and the portfolio that we're managing in real property services and my colleagues of parliamentary precinct. So I mean, it's going to be an interesting discussion. Lately, there's been an election and Shared Services Canada, who's the service provider of IT services for the Government of Canada, is now with the same minister. And there's a lot of links. You mentioned that the Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the government was in your department and there's a lot of synergy to look at and work to be done on the future of work together. So I think that alignment is quite important as we move forward.

[00:04:25] Vision for the future of work prior to the pandemic

As I know, I'm sure nobody was planning for COVID-19. So could you tell us a little bit about your long-term vision prior to COVID-19 for the future of the workplace? Were you advancing some? Were you piloting some initiatives in British Columbia? And how were you envisioning the future of the workplace prior to COVID-19?

Sunny Dhaliwal: Stéphan, that's an excellent question, which I'm sure all of us get asked quite often, and I think we'll come to that later. The vision for many organizations like mine and yours has changed a little bit pre- and post-COVID. So your question related to pretty much pre-COVID. So at that time, the vision of our ministry and my department specifically was to bring innovation, value and service excellence to the Public Service and citizens of BC, and we had started on a journey for creating more mobile and hybrid work arrangements through something what we call “Leading Workplace Strategies.” So, this was in simple terms, a more flexible model that we had created where there would not be any assigned desks in a certain work area.

And we looked at providing more flexibility and mobility to support for employees. This model was supported by the Office of the Chief Information Officer. And more and more of our employees were being given laptops and mobile devices that were enabling them to move anywhere. So, the policies were there and gradually we were moving in that direction. But still primarily while we were creating modern offices, working within the office space as compared to working remotely was still the generally adopted model. So, what I'm trying to say is, though gradually we were trying to create spaces in the workplace to enable that kind of flexibility, but we were still working in an office environment with 90%+ of our work force still working from the office. But gradually, we had started moving in that direction where we would be able to support some kind of a hybrid environment. So that was what was happening pre-COVID.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Sunny. Extremely interesting as we can draw again parallels between your organization and our organization how we were trying to. And maybe because it was the trend around the world, we were trying to incrementally increase the mobility of workers. We called our initial initiative, GC Workplace, which is based on activity based working, which, similar to your leading workplace strategy that you were trying to or I wouldn't say trying that you were establishing in British Columbia. We calculated how many telework agreements we have. We would say about, at the Canadian level, we would say about probably 15-16% where you're mentioning that 90% of the workers were still doing their work in the office. How did the pandemic change that? How did people react? But how did it change the workplace in British Columbia at the beginning of the pandemic?

Sunny Dhaliwal: Stéphan, I think it was, as we call it, a very big disruption in the workplace and sometimes good things come out of disruptions. So in March 2020, when I think the second wave hit or it was maybe the first wave, all of a sudden, majority of our employees—I would say 90%+ of our employees were asked to work remotely, and this was in response to an order from the Provincial Health Officer, where a lot of things were shut down across the British Columbia. So, from 90% of our employees generally working in the office, we were certainly at a place within a matter of weeks where that 90% of our employees but asked to work from home. So that was a big change that happened. Fortunately for us, as I mentioned, we had started on our journey towards more hybrid workplaces about 10 years ago, and that was the reason that most of the employees had laptops and other mobile devices like cell phones, which enabled a very quick switch.

Of course, within the office of the Chief Information Officer, we had to make some changes to the technology- for example, to increase the capacity of our network and infrastructure and upgrade our virtual private networks. Those kinds of changes had to be made. But the big change was that suddenly from 10% of our employees working from home, within a matter of months, 90% of us were working from home. he reactions were mixed, there were some leaders, even at the very senior level, who found this change really challenging. Who found it challenging managing a remote work, there were challenges from the supervisors. Many supervisors, especially who were more used to working in the traditional work environment and managing employees by observation, found it difficult to manage employees by objectives, as they say.

So, there were some adjustments which have to be made. Overall, the employees took this change very well, and most of them felt very supported that we did the right thing by taking instructions from the Provincial Health Officer and quickly pivoting to enable them to work in a much more safe environment where they don't have to come in contact with other people. Also, there were mixed reactions, but by and large it was seen as a very positive development. To oversee this work, we started a cross-Government committee, headed by the Deputy Minister as it was called the Deputy Ministers’ Committee on Public Service Renewal, and the pandemic just highlighted and accelerated the government's interest in public service renewal, including moving towards a hybrid model. So those were some of the initial reactions and how we pivoted to working remotely as the majority of our workforce.

[00:10:34] Adjustments due to the pandemic

Stéphan Déry: Thank you. I mean, you had a vision before the pandemic, and I'll ask you that question. You think your vision has accelerated through the pandemic, probably as 90% were working from the office, and now you move to close to 90% working from home. We've seen at the federal level that some departments had to catch up a little bit on the mobility that you were mentioning, the buying, you know, thousands of laptops to equip their people. Well, once that was done and getting MS Teams and getting the, you know, the tools that we need to work virtually and still continue to collaborate, the only thing that was left—and in my perspective and I would like to hear yours on that - was all the people aspect. You talked a little bit about supervision. You talked about people that were not used to manage by objectives. That's difficult to adapt.

We've been working this way for close to 20 months. Do you think that that has improved over the last 20 months, and people are getting into the rhythm of remote supervision - because I'm thinking about that because from our initial vision pre-pandemic, which your leading workplace strategy and us with our GCworkplace, we can almost see the pandemic. And I think you mentioned that work as a catalyst. It came with a lot of bad things and I don't want to diminish those, but on the other side, I mean, it's been a catalyst, I think, to change the way we work and maybe a catalyst is that we see once in a generation, like the industrialization of the 1800s and these kind of the, you know, the computer age that came in the 1990s. And it's almost as a Big Bang approach. The pandemic has done the Big Bang as these industrializations and these other things have impacted the economy, but have also impacted the future, and I'm thinking now it may impact the future of real estate. Do you think people are waiting to come back, all the 90% waiting to come back, the supervisor or are they getting used to that method of functioning?

Sunny Dhaliwal: A good question, and I’ll answer in two or three different parts. But the first part you had briefly touched about was the technology part. I did mention that because we had started moving on this path, we were generally ready from the technology perspective, from the workspace perspective. But obviously a disruption of this size required us to make some changes. So, the planned transformation of government's digital network infrastructure was accelerated to enable public service to pivot quickly and work primarily from home. I briefly mentioned earlier we had to increase some of our capacity, so the capacity of the network and infrastructure. In other words, the digital hardware and software was upgraded by almost 450% to support 35,000 virtual private network users. And previously, even on a weekend, we never saw more than 8,000 to 10,000 people on virtual private networks, which suddenly had to be in place to put 35,000. Then policy, privacy and security interest associated with this technology had to be improved.

We, though a large majority of our employees were working with laptops, but significantly more laptop devices and remote access technologies also were deployed. And in addition, for some of the offices that were still functioning, which are public facing offices, we also had to put in some additional technologies and make sure that each of our systems work and are well-maintained so that everybody felt safe. So that was one big piece that happened from the technology point of view. The second part you mentioned about the culture and the people. So that was something very interesting that, though we were embarking on this journey for almost 10 years. But at the senior level, especially, there was a mix buy-in; some of our deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers and other senior leaders had really bought into the remote working model, whether other people were still not very comfortable with it. But what happened is when everybody started working remotely, people had no choice but to adapt to this model and now two years down the road, I see the uptake on hybrid work model much more than what was previously existing.

Last part of this was you spoke about whether it was easier to get senior management managers and employees buy in. So by and large, if you look at the employees they are, I would say 90%+ of the employees are very happy with being able to work remotely and being able to have more control over their time and being able to have the flexibility. One unique feature was that during this last almost two years, our offices were always open. So the direction was that you have a choice to work from home. But that direction was also that you are welcome to come and work from the office and office spaces opened. So at this time, we did not make any changes to our workspace. We did not lock down any offices, we did not consolidate our portfolio. So employees knew that if they have a choice, they can work from home, but the way they can come and work from office or that was really a very big reason why we got such a big buy-in.

As I mentioned earlier, some supervisors are still struggling, how to manage remote teams. But by and large, everyone has provided strong leadership, clear and consistent guidelines, and by and large, everybody in leadership roles had to make a bit of a switch on how to connect with their team outward, feel the team working remotely, so that part is still ongoing. But by and large, there's a good buy-in, there's a good support from the technology, there's a good support from the policy and the HR folks and the very good support from the real estate people to support this model.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you. It brings a lot of questions to my head. It's fascinating and extremely interesting when you say that at senior ranks of the civil servant somewhere behind the initiative and were behind the hybrid model of work and the flexibility provides. Others were a little bit more reluctant to it or did not adapt to it. You know, a colleague of mine was saying we stretched the elastic during the pandemic on all kinds of fronts: on the technology front, today we're meeting on Zoom and I'm doing town halls, we did town halls with 2,000 people. The deputy was doing town halls with 2,000 people connected through Zoom or MS Teams or another function. We never did that before. You know, we were in the physical world a lot more than we are now in the virtual world. And I think there's a happy medium in the future.

And my question to you is, do you think, do you see that the elastic that we stretched, and almost went to the extreme, mainly people working from home, do you think that there's a tendency that it's going to snap back and will come back to where we were before and people will take their same approach that they had before? Do you think we're beyond that and that we can aim to implement, you know that your strategy, the leading workplace strategy that you had in mind before the pandemic?

Sunny Dhaliwal: Stéphan, this is a question again that has been in the front and center of the minds for most of people like you and me who are managing the real estate. And so to answer your question, in short, I don't think that either we or anyone else is likely to go back to the workplace model that existed pre-pandemic. However, we have all seen some changes to how people are looking at the remote workplace model in the last two years. Say, if I take my mind back to early 2020, there was a very large number of employees and a large number of employers who were very comfortable working from home. Then the pendulum gradually started swinging to the other side because people did realize that there's a human element to it as a social element to come into the workplace, and more and more people started thinking of coming back to the work. But ultimately, I think where everyone is going to land is somewhere in the middle.

There was a recent survey done by CBRE (Coldwell Banker Richard Ellis Ltd.), and I was being told that hybrid work policy is believed to be the new normal by 87% of the large companies that were surveyed. And that does not mean that 87% of the large companies’ employees are going to be working remotely. But what they say is that it's going to be hybrid work this model. So, employees may be asked to come to the workplace once or twice a week, sometimes three times a week. But generally, hybrid model looks like the model that is going to be staying. Now, I also see that there is going to be some asymmetry on the hybrid work [model] among the companies. Some companies would lean more towards office. I hear companies like Netflix and Apple leaning more towards the office. Other companies like Microsoft and Amazon and Google leaning more towards hybrid. And same is true for many of the public sector and the public service employers. Some would be leaning more towards working from office, some from home, but ultimately, it seems to me that if you are not going back to the previous way of working, and it will definitely be a hybrid model.

The bigger question is how much of that is going to be hybrid, whether it is going to be one day a week, whether it is going to be three days a week, four days a week, five days a week. And also then that is a different dimension of working hybrid. Say, for example, if you are in Ottawa and Gatineau and I'm in Victoria and majority of offices out here, one model is that employees living in and around Victoria can work from home. Another model is that they can live anywhere in British Columbia or anywhere in Canada, and that's a stretch as well. So those would be the shades that we'll have to see, but I definitely believe we're not going back to a previous way of working.

[00:21:07] Specific initiatives that supports the vision of the future of work

Stéphan Déry: I probably read the same study as you because I feel we're in the same place and I'm sure you have some priorities and you'll have a chance to talk to me about the priorities, your priorities right now, what they are. But I think that's giving us a chance, if we think that the elastic will not come back, it will come back a little bit, but it will not come back completely to where we were before. And we think that hybrid is the future. What does that mean for the workplace? And I don't know, you've talked that you launched that program, leading workplace and equipped your people and how many workplaces? Were all your workplaces renovated, according to a new hybrid model before the pandemic? Or do you see that as requiring investments in the future to get the office there? And would that have an impact on your footprint? I would be curious at what are you know, if you have two or three priorities? What would they be in terms of what are your department's priority moving forward? But also, do you see this as what's happening right now, COVID and going back to the office, as an opportunity to accelerate modernization of your space, to accelerate some of the large priorities of your government?

Sunny Dhaliwal: Stéphan, yes. To answer the first part of your question when you asked what part of the portfolio was the modernization where we you go with that? So through this initiative, which I was telling you earlier, we are calling it the “Leading Workplace Strategy”. British Columbia, as you know, is a large province. But we started targeting some of our major areas and we implemented this “Leading Workplace Strategy” in about 12 cities, 16 ministries, and we did about close to 50 projects. So in this process, we dropped about 55 big leases and almost 65,000 square meters of our office space was redesigned. I know this is had a lot of benefits, a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions reduced the footprint portfolio and all those things. But in a building in terms of financial savings, we saved close to $68 million in the last 10 years, which is a huge saving.

As of now, this is I'm talking about pre-COVID, about 5,000 employees, we have in the public services close to about 30,000 employees, so about 5,000 employees were working at a leading workspace environment, so we still have a long way to go. But those were the big statistics there. And after the second part of your question, when you talk about opportunities, of course, this pandemic has brought a lot of opportunities, like giving employees more choices, more control over their time, recruitment and retention, positive impact on morale and motivation, reduced requirement of real estate. And over the time, I can see some savings there. So better work-life balance, a lot of positives coming from that. So in terms of priorities, Stéphan, what we are doing is it will be our priority to start consolidating our real estate portfolio based on the number of employees that are working remotely. But none of that work is happening immediately. And why I say that, is we as a workforce hasn't still implemented our hybrid work model.

So, for example, even today, I would say 90% of our workforce is still working remotely. We have given directions to our employees to start coming back to work. We would implement this a few months ago, then the fourth wave of the pandemic hit. And then we wanted to get all the employees back just a few weeks ago. And then we had a few natural disasters here. So 1st of December is the date when about asking our employees to start going back to work and some kind of a hybrid model. For this, we have implemented what we're calling telework agreements. So every employee has had an agreement with their employer, which basically provides some kind of a direction about how many days that employees are going to come back to work. So that work is going to be starting on 1st of December, which means from 1st of December, if I have an agreement with my employer that I'll be coming back to the workplace two days a week, I'm going to be implementing that 1st of December. So for the next about six months to a year, we would really be collecting data about what our workplaces are looking like and why I'm giving six months to a year is because, as of now, all the employees have the daily work agreements in place, but the employees and the ministries and the divisions and all the workforces will need some time to adjust. Somebody may have thought that okay, after working from home for two years, I want to continue working for one day a week.

But now, once they actually start coming back to work, they may want to come back to work more or less. So I'm thinking the next six months would be quite crucial, where people would gradually adjust to where they want to work based on their experiences and based on what they've done in the last two years. So after about six months when that situation stabilizes, that'll give us a bit of a better idea that which ministries, which buildings, what is the occupancy and how can we start consolidating spaces? So that'll be our first priority to look at the data and start on a journey of consolidating spaces. When we start consolidating spaces, that will also be an opportunity when we can then start modernizing our workplaces.

As I mentioned earlier, some of our offices are still very traditional. But if we have to consolidate and create spaces where employees can be more flexible, where they don't have to come to the dedicated work part every time, then that'll be the next step that we will be able to about major office to create more flexibility. You spoke about investments, though many of these projects will come with a huge cost if we have to cut the traditional office and create a more modern, flexible workplace. It would definitely need investments. And now, as we know, there's only so much money to go around. So what is going to be the pace of modernization or creating flexible workspaces would depend on the kind of investment and the kind of money we have.

I know that by consolidating spaces, we'll be able to drop leases, we'll be able to save money, but much of that money is sometimes operating dollars for these kind of investments, you need capital dollars, so we'll have to see how much money is available, how much money we're able to save. And then as a priority, we will be implementing a more modern and a flexible workplace. Related to that would be other things, like I say, having booking softwares providing remote access, that same providing a single guard access to most of our employees. So there'll be those kind of other things that will be required as we implement a modern hybrid workplace.

Stéphan Déry: Oh, you talked about a few of the things that are extremely interesting to me and let me know if I'm going too much into detail, but I thought it was extremely interesting that you had telework agreements with most of your employees across the Government of B.C. that's happening on December 1, so people are starting to come back to work according to a set agreement with their supervisor and I agree with you. You know, it's pretty hard to predict the future based on the past two years, so we have to give us some time to collect data. And there's many things you said that were interesting to me, like single access card, right? That right now I have four access cards just to access the buildings in my own department, not anything else. So imagine trying to access other spaces. I probably would have 20, 30, 40 access cards and the security that goes behind that. So just that is a dream for me. Having one access card. You're an employee of the provincial or federal government? You have access on this card to all space across government. How do you think you can collect the data for knowing how much occupancy you have in your building to a reservation system to how do you take over the next six months to a year? You'll be able to assess the occupancy of the building because in my view, as we move and we're, I would say we're fairly in the same space. You know, we had about 14%, 14%-15% of our space modernized.

So obviously a long way to go. So if we know how much space we need to modernize because we won't need as much space in the future, because implementation of the hybrid model, it's going to cost less and we'll probably be able to take some of the savings and reinvest them into modernizing our workplace. But what comes to my mind is we have agreements also here. It's most departments are working in agreements with their employees, but how do we measure which space gets use and how much it gets you. So I don't know if you have something in place or you're thinking about the reservation system to give you an idea that building A as an example, or this region gets to see about 2,000 employees a day coming into the workplace.

Sunny Dhaliwal: Stéphan, primarily at this time, the data would be collected, I would say manually and when I say manually, we're not using any technology at the moment because we don't have it as part of the telework agreement. The BC Public Service Agency had put a system in place that all the ministries would be required to submit reports to a central agency, which basically is telling them that what percentage of their employees are working from home or what days and how many of them are in the office. So that data as of now is available, for example, I know that out of my division of about 270 people, how many people on what day are required to come back to the workplace say, for example, in Victoria, I know that on Tuesdays they're going to be 160 people on Wednesday, about 150 people. So that data is all available and then simply, it is being collected through the public service agency.

So that is going to be my first point of contact that I will be using that data as one input. Then in addition to that, just like your system, we have ministry facilities management units and I work very closely with them. So once I get that data, my next step would be to work with the Ministry Facilities Management Unit to do a bit of a deeper dove that will get one ministry could be in four, five or six different buildings and then, through working closely with the facilities management units, will be able to collect data on how many employees are working with each ministry and what makes sense from a consolidation point of view, at some places, we may drop a few leases and move a few ministries together. At other places where there's a larger building, we may even move few ministries together so that be one way of how we would be doing. There are few buildings where we had started implementing smart technologies and those are more in the pilot phase as of now. For example, there's one ministry here where that through smart technologies, we want to measure how many employees are coming in the building at any given time. And the reason for that was so that we can automatically adjust the lighting system, the heating, ventilation air conditioning system. So that was a long-term plan to basically save energy, but it can also make it hard when people are coming back to the workplace. So as of now, this is what is going to happen. But then down the road, once we have more data, then we are looking at implementing some kind of a reservation system.

There are a number of reservation systems that are available. One is already being piloted and then to our service provider, CBRE. We already have the capability through something called Archibus that we can implement a reservation system. I think the federal government is also using got capacity some of their facilities so that. The system most likely will be using, and once we implement that, then we'll have a better idea about how many employees are working, which looks best, but to at this stage, it'll be more of a manual report getting the coming from a number of different sources.

Stéphan Déry: Well, extremely interesting. And I think you're well-advanced because you already know how many people are coming in each day in your department and every department and ministry have to report the same thing so you're fairly advanced. What's going to be interesting is, as you mentioned earlier, is the fluctuation in the desire of the people. I've been working full-time at home. I want to stay at home for the next, you know, forever. I want to work from home. And all of a sudden people miss that, you know, community, that sense of community, that sense of they want it, they want to be with other people. Then they may come back to the office or how that's going to settle over time is going to be extremely interesting. And you mentioned Archibus, we did launch a pilot and we're using Archibus for space reservation for about 600 of our workstations. And it's working well. I don't know did the user experience I've tried it myself because I'm going in the office also and I reserve my workstation, but that's also another point of access of data that you can know how many people are working.

[00:34:56] Accessibility, greening and other priorities

Interesting enough talking to colleagues globally and colleagues in the UK always mentioned to me in an interview that the workplace use going to change the relationships we have as civil servants with the workplace will change. And he calls it the four C's: collaboration, community, creativity and caring. And he said that's the reason why we're going to come into the workplace in the future. And the more I think about it, and again, I find it interesting that your offices were open. If people wanted to come and work in the office, they could. But I see less and less in the office, and that's my perception, my personal perception. Then you could disagree with me, I see less and less of an office with the individual work point where somebody comes in, types all day, stays in their workstation. I see more and a lot of studies are talking about more of collaborating space, space for innovation, creativity, space for caring and building sense of community. Now, I mean, you talked about probably consolidation of the footprint. Do you think it's going to change also how we use the footprint that we have and what kind of offices that we build in that footprint?

Sunny Dhaliwal: Well, Stéphan, that's an excellent point. And I had not heard about these four C's, but they resonate with me very well. And I think that is definitely the direction that we all would need to work on. Employees are going to question that if they're working from home and they come to the office and they sit all day in an office and work by themselves, then why come to the office? Why spend 30, 40, 50 minutes in commute if they had to do the same? So what you're trying to say here, and I absolutely agree with you that we have to give employees a reason to come to the work and if they come into work for either collaboration, or to feel a sense of community, or to connect with other people, we definitely would need to change our workplaces. The challenge is that especially the public sector where we have limited public funds to be used for modernizing our workplaces, the pace of change may be slow.

So employees, especially in the initial stage, may question the need to come to the office, especially if you're not able to create more collaborative spaces. We will have to move away from what I call "me spaces" to "we spaces." And we keep hearing that we'll have to create more huddle rooms, more open collaboration spaces, breakout spaces like from my military background, I would use the term something like "war rooms" where you would want to get together to brainstorm ideas, those kind of things, whiteboards and enough spaces, the focus room say, for example, even if somebody wants to come in the office, obviously we need to give the flexibility to be having collaborative spaces and places to connect. But at the same time, if someone needs to work on some project, at least for a few hours or take a phone call, which is confidential, creating quiet rooms, creating focus rooms, so those kind of things would be there. You spoke about caring, that would also be very important because we have to give employees a reason to come [to the] workplace and with all the challenges they need to feel care, so focus on maybe natural light, enhanced videoconferencing rooms. What I really mean by that is if we are really moving for a hybrid work model, we need to give the employees, whether they are working from home or they're in the office, the same kind of experience.

If as an organization, I'm adopting a flexible work model that I think it is my responsibility that the employee who is joining a video call with me remotely get the same experience as the person who's in office. Otherwise, it just seems it is not fair. So I think we have to move in that direction. Then, you know, things like smart building systems, touchless technology, occupancy sensors, employee experience apps. We spoke about the booking software and air quality sensors. So basically a lot of investments would be made, I think would be required to be made in technology, especially related to wellness and connectivity. So absolutely agree with your four C's model that you mentioned.

[00:39:28] Current vision in the regard of the years ahead and concepts being used or explored

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Sunny. It's not my—it's the model of a colleague. And now I got another model, we have to move from "me space" to "we space." So thank you, Sunny, because I mean, I think that's going to stay with me if it does resonate with me. Moving from "me space" to "we space" because I agree with you and I'm talking about, you know, I've seen people saying all you have to come two days a week to the office and some employees telling their supervisor, what's going to be different from in my office? If I go two days a week, will I do the same as I'm doing from home? To your point, you know, there has to be a purpose, and us managing real estate for the government. You know, we have to create that space that brings people together and that creates that sense of community and allows them to have that communion basically and working together. So I think there's a lot of change in the real estate coming up in the next decade we'll have to do to our building. Private sector, I'm sure are thinking about the same so that they keep bringing people to their building. From a priority perspective, what would be some of the key priorities of your department in the near future?

Sunny Dhaliwal: Stéphan, we spoke about a few of them earlier. So as of now. In the next few months, the priority is just to get employees back to the workplace. As per their desire so to say, and then be able to support them through that change management. It doesn't seem like something very tangible, but if you really see there are some employees out there who have never come to the workplace in the last two years. Right.

Some people like you and me have been working from office more often than others, but their employees do not come to the workplace, and I was reading a research article. What they were saying is that some of those employees may find it even very awkward socially interacting with someone. And though one doesn't realize it, but it'll be a very big, I think, responsibility of all the leaders to support all the employees from the change management perspective, from the consumer's perspective, to support them coming back to work. So that would be a first one. Second one, as I mentioned, to support employees in creating these two separate workplaces for themselves. What I really mean by that is all of the employees who are working from home or from another location may not have a height adjustable desk, may not have an ergonomic chair, may not have two monitors.

These are simple things, but they're also required to be an efficient worker. At the same time, many organizations may not be able to have all this equipment at home for an employee and all the same equipment in the office. So we'll see how best we can help our employees be very efficient in both places, whether from work or from office, or that'll be another priority. And then the next one, as I mentioned earlier, is just collecting data and planning about what would lie ahead in terms of consolidating space and then moving employees into, say, a workplace where we can draw up other releases and make an efficient use of space simultaneously. Another of our priority is to be looking at some big policy questions. And when I say big policy questions, they are policy questions about: would we allow an employee whose primary workspace is in Victoria to go and work from some other part of the province? A policy question to be answered. Another policy question is: can we start putting different ministries together in one space? Another policy question is: when does real property division have the authority to go stop harvesting places? Another policy question is: do we give any targets to the ministries that they will draw up 30%-40% of the space and save this bunch of money going forward?

So that's about how to frame some of those policy questions and get the right direction on that. And then as we move ahead, as I mentioned earlier, Stéphan, and then it'll be the actual work of modernizing spaces, moving people into consolidated spaces, helping them with tools like the booking software or the centralized access. So that is what I think would be some of our priorities going forward. And as we implement some of these priorities,  along the way, it would be a very big consideration how we can modernize those workspaces in terms of what we just discussed in the previous question creating more jobs, creating more collaborative spaces. So I think that would be part of the process as well.

Stéphan Déry: I find it extremely interesting, Sunny when you talk about the policy questions because I have a lot of these same in my head for what we have to do, and I think that's something we could share on the future podcasts. What kind of policy questions, where our employees are allowed to live and be able to work for us that that brings into my mind the hub and spoke model that we hear and we see in research where—and that some governments, European governments have implemented, where they have hubs that are open to government workers.

As long as you work for the province, you can work or the country, you can work in that building that you're from Department X or Ministry Y, it doesn't matter. So I think these are all questions that as we get out of the pandemic and hopefully soon and as the, you know, we get to a new normal of the hybrid workplace, as you mentioned, we'll be able to see how we can incorporate those and how we can make progress on those.

[00:45:07] Closing question: what is the biggest priority for British Columbia’s public real property sector in the coming years?

I'm quite interested by the merging departments together into the same building, into the sharing the space of a couple departments, especially in smaller cities where we don't have much footprint, but each department has their own footprints, which makes inefficiency, to be honest, harder for us to green that inventory and do all the work we would like to do. In closing, any final comments, you would like to tell the audience, Sunny?

Sunny Dhaliwal: Stéphan, one to two things come to mind. Just based on some of the comments that you made. Another thing, I think which is happening, which is very important, especially in some of the places of Canada, is how expensive the real estate is becoming in some of our metro communities and how much employers are struggling to attract the right workforce just because of unaffordability there. We heard about places like a Toronto, Vancouver and a new young employee starting work in these places, Victoria, Vancouver, Toronto. If that employee is not able to live here, it would be very difficult for us to attract the right kind of employees. So I think this disruption caused by COVID and move towards hybrid work model is also a very good opportunity for enabling people moving away from big urban centers, live in smaller communities where it's more affordable, where they have more work-life balance and yet be able to work for big companies or the chosen employers because now they have the ability to work remotely. I think that is one spin-off or unintended positive consequence that may also come as a result of the hybrid work model. So that'll be one interesting part.

Second, the thing you mentioned is the hub and spoke model again. That is biggest day of people working in these remote small communities would be working, potentially on a hub and spoke model. Another thing that we are doing, and this will be my last comment that is gradually moving to hybrid work models. I spoke about culture earlier. When I saw some resistance in some of the departments of the leadership who were not so open to hybrid work model, we had started implementing what we called leading workplace strategy nodes. So I explained to you the leading workplace strategy is complete modernization of the workplace. But what we also started doing was, where some people were not ready for that, we created a small node within that workplace, which was kind of more like a modern workplace, which became more like a cultural incubator.

So within the traditional workspace people saw that, OK, you know, this is how a flexible work model will look like and people are adopting more and more to that. So we have started a system of creating some nodes around the province. Secondly, again, anticipating that many of our employees are invested mainly to work together, we have also started a pilot, two pilots in fact, what we calling share space. Again, areas where we see growth, for example, the rest of the communities of Victoria that we have started a share space office, which is open to all the public servants of the province, belong to any ministry, and we have given them access to central access through a booking software and the app they can use on their computer so that solve the problem, how to give access to 30,000 employees. So anyone who's part of busy public service can go to work in that office. So those kind of offices are something I see are going to be happening in the future, but definitely a very interesting topic, Stéphan, and I look forward to talking more about you in the future about how this journey unfolds for many of us.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you very much, Sunny. This concludes today's podcast. Thank you, Mr. Dhaliwal, for taking the time to discuss with me what the future of work and the workspace modernization may look like for the province of British Columbia, Canada. Thank you.

Sunny Dhaliwal: Thank you so much.

Interview with Mr. Martin Bourke, Head of Estate Management, Office of Public Works (Ireland)

Length: 43 minutes 56 seconds

Interview date: May 7, 2021

Listen to the interview between Stéphan Déry and Mr. Martin Bourke, Head of Estate Management, Office of Public Works (Ireland)

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Transcription of interview with Mr. Martin Bourke, Head of Estate Management, Office of Public Works (Ireland)

The Workplace Network—Ireland

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.

[00:00:39] Introduction and overview of Ireland’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 public sector real estate experts from Ireland, Mr. Martin Bourke, Office of Public Works, Head of Estate Management. Mr. Bourke, thank you for accepting our invitation and taking the time to share with us your views on those topics.

Martin Bourke: Thanks very much, Stéphan. It's a pleasure.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you. Before we go in the subject of the new place of work and the future of work, our audience really likes to understand the breadth and scope of your job, but also the portfolio you manage of the - portfolio of real property assets that you manage. Could you give us an overview of the portfolio you're responsible for?

Martin Bourke: Certainly. Stéphan, it's a pleasure to meet you and all the audience. The Office of Public Works is a central government entity, reporting directly into government to do with property and real estate. So we have approximately two and a half thousand properties, very extensive portfolio, a very dispersed portfolio. It includes offices, which I think the audience here will be particularly interested in, offices for civil servants, police stations and Garda Síochána, our police force. So we have all of their police stations. We have laboratories, warehouses, Coast Guard stations, workshops, depots, et cetera.

We also, where we diverge from other stakeholders in the country, we also have charge of in excess of seven hundred national monuments right around the country. We have heritage sites, historic properties, the sort of properties that if you come as a visitor to Ireland, that we'd love to see you visiting their income generating properties, famous buildings, etc., we also have extensive parklands and gardens. So an overall portfolio valued at the moment at about three and a half billion euro. We also, interestingly, but not totally relevant to this particular audience, I suspect, is we also have responsibility for flood relief schemes in Ireland.

So, again, it's a quite a different engineering aspect to our work. So we operate right throughout Ireland because of the portfolio and we're responsible to government for how we actually manage that portfolio. So that's a very brief overview for you, Stéphan.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you very much, Martin. I mean, I can make a lot of parallels between Canada and Ireland. Our portfolio here in Canada, me and my colleagues at PSPC, we manage roughly from 6.9 million square meters of space across the country, which is office space.

As you mentioned, we have warehouses, we are managing sometimes on behalf of other custodians, we're not the only custodian, though, my colleagues, our managing parliament, laboratories. So there's a lot of parallels that we can make between Ireland and Canada. Extremely interesting, especially on the historical property that you mention and income generating property.

So that's something we won't go in today, but that's something we can take on for a future podcast series. So thank you very much. You know, we talk - COVID has made a lot of changes in our life, has made a lot of changes in everyone's life. But most of the people I talk to from a real property perspective, all have planned before COVID-19 to renew their portfolio. And most of us had a long-term vision and how we wanted to manage the portfolio before the pandemic.

[00:04:25] Vision for the future of work prior to the pandemic

Could you tell us a little bit more about what was your vision in Ireland to manage your office portfolio prior to the pandemic?

Martin Bourke: Sure, Stéphan. I suppose a very important trend in the portfolio in Ireland was that there was an ever-increasing demand for workstations in the office portfolio, and that was beginning to cause some concern for me and for others in terms of funding and whether we were really utilizing the space that we had to best effect. So I had projected in the last 3 years that, at the rate things were going, our actual rental bill, because we lease and we own property like most portfolios, and our rental bill was due to increase by around about 30% if the trajectory was to continue.

That was from a decreased pace since the economic crash worldwide in 2008. We had to rationalize, but it was beginning to come back up again. So that was a concern. And very much the vision for the portfolio was to introduce greater flexibility, greater agility into the workplace, but in order to do that, I was very aware that we actually had to start thinking about modernizing the thinking of our clients, like our central government departments, how they viewed property and how they wanted to utilize property. So we were already, pre-COVID, going down quite a difficult journey, a difficult route around rationalization, utilization issues. For instance, reducing cellular offices in buildings was a big, big issue for us. We had way too much cellular offices, not efficient in terms of space utilization, not agile, not flexible. So that was a big area for us.

We were also trying to reduce the square meter inch for workstations and our targets were set at around about 12 square meters per workstation. That includes obviously circulation area and circulation space. And we were on quite a hard journey on that to try and get people to really concentrate on efficiency and to see property as a real cost.

And also, primarily I'm talking about the office portfolio now, there was a hard drive to get clients to think wider than just they had to be geographically placed in the central business district of Dublin, which is the capital, and not just of the central business district, both the small government sector. So because everybody automatically said we need accommodation, it has to be in the central business district, it has to be near what you call the parliament building.

And we were on a journey of questioning. Well, why? So that was very much utilization, agility, flexible spaces in a more diverse geographic spread. It was really the vision and then very much the modernization of the buildings. We have a lot of old buildings, a lot of historic buildings. So bringing them up to fourth generation sustainable, urban-friendly sort of buildings. It was a long journey that we were embarking on, but that was where we were heading.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you very much, Martin. This is fascinating of the hard journey you said you were getting into. I'll make a few parallels with us. So, because it's interesting before COVID-19, I think a lot of us were at the same place in Canada and I'm talking more office, as you were mentioning, the office portfolio was used approximately at 65% of capacity. So we have almost 100% assigned workstations. But people are on course, people on holiday, people are on training. So people are at meetings and they don't come to their office so, about anywhere between 50 to 65%. And there was a strong demand for additional offices because the government was growing, because the government needs more offices. And that's interesting.

We thought, at the time, we were about an average of 18 square meters per employee, so a little bit more than you. And we were trying to introduce activity based workplace. We're trying to introduce what we call here GCworkplace, where you go to move to unassigned seating and then you can maximize and we were aiming to have 75% usage of the portfolio instead of 60 to 65, and I should say 50 to 65, going to 75. And that was a hard sell to be honest. It wasn't an easy sell. And to date we had about 2% of the portfolio converted to activity based workplace or GCworkplace that we call, only 2%.

And our offices are in the same situation; they need recapitalization because they haven't been invested in a fair amount of time. So at the same time, we were thinking, well, let's reinvest and let's renovate, recapitalize, but then having a more useful portfolio. But COVID has changed a lot of that, right? I'm sure for you, and that's what I would like to move on to into the pandemic, which is a really bad thing, has disrupted the way we work, how and where we work. And you were talking about working downtown in Dublin, needed to be in Dublin. So I would like to hear from you.

[00:10:11] Adjustments due to the pandemic

Most countries, the ones that I talked to, have invested significant amount of money in technology because a lot of people start working from home. How do you see these investments changing the workplace? Can you tell us a little bit about some of the initiatives you have put in place that have been successful measures and that you believe that will continue after the pandemic? Or is there some of them that you're planning to keep to help you achieve your goal, your objective?

Martin Bourke: Sure, yeah, well, I suppose COVID, as you say Stéphan, has really changed everybody's lives dramatically. And for us, like other places around the world, March 2020, right near St. Patrick's Day, was when we shut down. And when I say we shut down, civil servants literally were sent home. And that situation since March 2020 has persisted to today in that we have approximately 90 or 95% of civil servants at home continuously since the shutdown this time last year.

So by and large, with some exceptions, that has not changed. They are still at home. OK, so what happened was a revolution. It wasn't an evolution of thought, but it was a revolution. And I suppose the big thing was that there wasn't any real option. And sometimes change is best brought about when the platform is burning and this platform was burning and collapsing. And as a result of that, the civil service had to roll up its sleeves and do what's best in very short and pretty quick time. So I think it would be fair to say that different government departments and different offices and agencies were prepared for this. Nobody could be absolutely prepared, but they were prepared to different levels.

If I could speak about the Office of Public Works with my organization, we had invested probably from a low base 3, 4 years ago. We have actually invested quite heavily in technology. So we were on a journey to upgrade technology anyway. And as part of that, video conferencing facilities had been introduced into the office. Now, interesting, one of the reasons why they were introduced into the office was because of our diverse nature of our organization anyway.

So like I'm in the headquarters building, which is in a rural part of Ireland, but I have to communicate all the time, every day with Dublin, the capital. So it's commutable. But we saw that there was a lot of efficiencies in terms of video conferencing. So we were quite lucky. We didn't see the COVID coming, but we were quite lucky that we had such facilities so we actually could send our staff home and by and large, they could operate. Those who didn't have laptops, got laptops, but we had a very good video conferencing system. So literally within a week we had people connected. So that was very good. It became very apparent, however, that when you started talking to clients and colleagues in other government departments, that some were even better than us, but some were significantly behind us. And I could see how they were really challenged with how they were going to actually be able to operate in this new environment.

So we were lucky - I can't say we predicted anything, but we were a little bit lucky and it has stood to us. And I think as the COVID situation hopefully dissipates and moves on, certainly the video conferencing and that technology will play a permanent part in the way we do business. Now, it won't be the only way because we do miss face to face quite a lot, particularly in meetings and I would say particularly in meetings that might be somewhat fraught or tense meetings.

So, for instance, if you're dealing with contractors or commercial negotiation, we would feel that the video conferencing type technology isn't ideal and you're better face to face. See the whites of their eyes, as they say.

So like other things that we actually had to do because of the COVID and because of the new system, the whole informality of meetings, when you're in an open plan work environment is extremely valuable thing to be able to walk down the corridor and meet somebody in a corridor and meet somebody over a cup of tea or whatever. And what I have found myself personally is that I have really missed those informal meetings. So what I now have is a much more rigorous structure of diary meetings, particularly with my direct reports that I wouldn't necessarily have had before, like they happened. They happened naturally, but now like it is every Wednesday morning or every Monday morning, and that's the way we have to kind of play things out.

Other things may be a slightly quirkier initiative that we have brought in is one of the things that we have really missed, Stéphan, has been, as I say, that informal meetings with staff where literally I meet them, walk, and say, "did you see the football match last night? Where are you going on holidays?" et cetera, and we have noticed, I think, like all our international colleagues, that that lack of contact is beginning to cause some concern in terms of we probably undervalue that and staff are feeling quite isolated.

So what I've introduced in my own division in the Office of Public Works is a monthly kind of morning session of casual speakers on different subjects. It is designed with one thing only in mind, and it is to make sure that staff around my division, I might have 130 or 150 staff, that those people hear my voice, see my managers faces, we see their faces, the actual subject material of what we're talking about, it's not necessarily business focused at all, but it is purely a platform. It is purely a vehicle so that we can maintain even some form of casual contact.

So, for instance, we have one of these monthly sessions next Monday and that will cover cybersecurity issues. But as they relate to your computers at home, your children, bad use of technology where the office is going with technology in case you're interested in that sort of thing. So we will cover that. And then we will also cover - we have a very good speaker who talk about media and how the public service interacts with media and the national media and the press and television and bad news stories and how they try and portray people and all of that.

Previously, we have had sessions on pension entitlements for staff because we hear them asking about it. We have had sessions on personality testing. And if you're interested, you have the wonderful Simpsons over your side of the world. But the whole presentation was built around hot personality type as Homer Simpson or Marge or whoever. But again, I've been a bit lighthearted with this. The intention is very serious and it is to make sure that there is a continuity of contact with the staff, because what we're trying to do is plug holes and gaps that have appeared because of COVID. So, it's just a few things we're doing.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Martin. I think you're absolutely right. And I could go, you know, like I think a lot of countries lived COVID (in a) similar way. I wouldn't say we're close to 90 to 95% of our staff working from home. In some departments it is from the whole of government, like 260 roughly thousand civil servants in our offices. There's probably between anywhere between 80 and 95%, as you said, since March 2020, had to go home.

We had issues at the beginning, the first few months, our colleagues from Shared Services Canada, which is our people that deal with network and all that, did miracles. You know, the network, the bandwidth was not strong enough to use those videos and other departments had no laptops. There were still with towers. We saw like buying 14,000 laptops to equip their people at home. But once this was done, we saw that the government was able to operate.

They launched programs to support businesses in COVID. They launched all kinds of things. And it happened remotely only the people that had to come in and for safety reasons, because they couldn't work from home, were coming in. And we saw a little bit, as you're mentioning, we saw what you're seeing. You know, it's great that created flexibility, that created the safe space for employees and not having to transit to the office, you know, reduce the impact of COVID and reduce the propagation of COVID. But on the other hand, we also felt that the collaboration was here, that this photocopier discussion that we have with our colleagues, the fact that I used to see my direct report almost daily.

Now, as you say, I kind of have to and my schedule's fairly busy, so I kind of have to take time to say "oh no, I have to call them. I have to talk with them." And we also find hard onboarding new staff. How do you do that on a virtual environment? It's a little bit more difficult. So I think we talked about your plans for the future prior to COVID and how they were impacted by the pandemic.

Moving forward, now that you have 90 to 95% of your people working from home - because you said there was a revolution, you had a lot of people resisting and I'm saying this. But correct me if I'm wrong, but you have a fair amount of people resisting going into the direction that your vision was before COVID. Now you had a revolution and I say to my colleagues, this is the largest pilot project on telework the world has ever done. And it's not the Government of Canada, Ireland Government. It's the world.

Martin Bourke: Correct.

[00:20:57] Specific initiatives that supports the vision of the future of work

Stéphan Déry: And how does this impact your vision moving forward? And what is the readiness of multiple departments now to embrace the vision that you had? I feel that we've been propulsed about 10 years ahead, 10 to 15 years ahead of where we were prior to the pandemic from a real estate perspective, from an I.T. (information technology) perspective, from a video conference - saying, you know, you're in Ireland in the afternoon, I'm here in Ottawa in the morning, we're seeing each other on the Zoom. It could be MS Teams. You know, all of this. I don't know if we would have thought about it before the pandemic. We had the meeting a couple months ago, 10 countries from around the world with all kinds of time zones all seeing each other in MS Teams.

That didn't happen before, we were thinking about meeting in person. So how do you think that's going to help you move forward with the vision and does that affect your vision, your plan moving forward?

Martin Bourke: It's the last bits that you're spot on with, Stéphan, and that is what is the vision now? Like you asked me earlier, what's the vision? And I spoke about agility and flexibility and 12 square meters per person, et cetera, et cetera. But now I'm asking myself, why should I be talking about 12 square meters per person? Do they need to be in the office at all? Is there a need for an office at all? So I think there are strands and themes from my original vision that will still persist. But I think we have moved, as you say, 10, 20 years ahead now. We have leapfrogged.

So when I was trying to persuade and talk to people about, well, why do you need the cellular office? Now it is why do you need an office block at all? And if you do need an office building, forget about the cellular. Where should it be? So I think all of our thoughts have now leaped forward and where Ireland is now, is probably a little bit behind, Stéphan. What you describe is happening in Canada because the workers are still at home. So what is very much the hot topic in Ireland at the moment is how do we want to bring our staff back to work. What is that going to look like, what is it going to feel like?

OK, now to assist us in our thoughts, we have a quite good advanced thinking by our government who had actually such a target that there should be 20% remote working for all public service workers by the end of 2021. OK, so there is a metric for your listeners here. OK, 20%. So from an organization like the Irish Civil Service who really didn't do remote working except in exceptional circumstances, remote working wasn't something that we really dealt with to now a government target of 20%. And I know I've been at meetings with senior government ministers on this issue in the last few weeks and they actually qualified. Some of them will actually qualify that target by saying a minimum of 20% of remote work by the end of 2021.

So the Irish Civil Service is in a very - and my colleagues across the system are in a very interesting situation now from where they wanted to be very much in the central business district in Dublin, right alongside the parliament building, the dole, as we would call it, to now a situation where there is a hard target for them of minimum 20% remote working, and most of, if not all of the workers are already actually working at home. So this is the revolution. This is the huge change that has come about. So a really key point that I made to my own chairman and I say to other people are not all property or real estate people will agree with me on what I'm about to say.

But I firmly believe that property people should not be the ones driving the issue around the workplace of the future. And the reason that I say that is that I know when I sit down with my colleagues of other disciplines across the civil service and government's people, when I speak about property, they'll say, well, Martin, you would say that, wouldn't you? Because you want to save buildings and you want to lessen the footprint of the estate and you want to cut back on the amount of friends that you're paying. And certainly I do want to do all of that.

But I think that's the wrong motivation for changing into the workplace of the future. I believe much more important in this whole discussion is that the work, what is the optimum workplace that would support productivity with support and motivated staff? What that kind of workplace or space or combination of spaces actually look like, because all of this must be driven by the efficiency of the service as a public servant that we provide to our clients and the public, and indeed the international public and some departments. So I have consistently taken the line that it's essential that property people understand the client needs and are there to support them. For property people I don't believe should dictate what the workplace of the future should look like.

We should try and influence people, maybe even persuade people, but we should definitely hold up to the lines. Some possibilities that they mightn't have thought about. But I think it is wrong for me as a property person to go in and actually say to our tax people, well, you need to change your business model to suit the shape of the building. If the Department of Foreign Affairs, you need to change how you deliver to your international diplomats your business because the building needs to be relocated to X, Y location. And not everybody agrees with me on this. And I'm happy enough that they don't.

But I think it's important that we provoke people into thinking about this, that really there needs to be a partnership model evolving out of this that takes property people in human resources people in, and I.T., people in to say that's a triumph for us and anybody else, money people, etc, can come in. And now where are we going, folks? And we all have to be business partners to support our clients because that's what we're there for.

Stéphan Déry: Martin, unfortunately, I won't disagree with you. I think you were hoping that I would disagree with so we can have a little bit of - a little bit of an argument on the air now. Well it's extremely interesting that you're saying that because in Canada we've been working - I've been working with my colleagues, the employers, or we call OCHRO here, or the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer, working with our colleague in I.T. Shared Services Canada and ourselves to say, OK, what does the future of work look like and how can we respond to client needs?

A lot of our colleagues at the Revenue - Canada Revenue Agency service, the Canadian department that provide service to Canadians are rethinking what do they need as office space because it's not driven by us. We're there as a service provider. You know, I know that space is the second cost after salary in most governments. So it is a big cost. So there's - a lot of people are looking for savings out of this.

But really, what's going to drive us, as you said, it's how are we going to provide service to Canadians? How do we want to attract talent to work for us and retain that talent? Because if we're - if we don't provide that flexibility that people are now thinking of and that even your government says we need to have 20 and some said a minimum of 20% working on telework. Now, the vision is already there. And I don't know if you had the opportunity to survey your employees and the employees of the government.

We did a little bit in Canada, like multiple - as I said, we're like a confederation of multiple departments. And all of these departments are headed by deputy ministers, and deputy ministers surveyed their employees. So a fair amount of departments survey their employees. And what came back was quite interesting from a real estate perspective, but from also from a people perspective and a workforce perspective. We've seen so far that about close to 80% of employees and I would say anywhere between 75 and 85, depending on which departments you're talking about, have said we would like to have the flexibility of coming in the office a couple days a week, could be one to 3 days a week and working from home a couple days a week, depending on what we're doing and what type of work we'll be doing, so that's a little bit interesting.

So - and the private sector is hearing the same thing also, we've done a fair amount of consultation. So you can see that trend, that thinking in the employees. When I want to work and concentrate on something, I may work home for a couple of days. When I need to collaborate, brainstorm, negotiate contracts, as you were mentioning, I may need to come to the office and with that office will be an assigned workstation?

Probably not, because I won't come to sit down and look at my divider all day and type. I'll come in to collaborate with people and to work on the team. So I think a lot of the elements now are there to implement the vision we had before COVID. It's the forces that brought us forward, as you said, you know, 10 to 15 years ahead.

The private sector is probably asking you the same question, what the future look like since you're leasing a fair amount of buildings. That's happening also in Canada, they're seeing private sector is driving. They have different drivers.

Martin Bourke: That's right.

Stéphan Déry: And what's going to happen to the portfolio? So in your vision with people wanting to work from home, do you see a portfolio more, and I'll use the word collaboration, we still have to define what it means, Martin. But I think you have a fairly good definition. Small room, 2, 3 people meeting, collaborating, brainstorming in a subject, blue skying, a larger room for team meeting, maybe town hall meeting room, which we don't have a place right now to do in our offices to have, you know, like having 300 or 400 people. We have to rent space. Maybe it's going to be something that's going to be necessary when you bring teams together and to build that culture and continue building that culture if people are working from home regularly.

[00:32:40] Accessibility, greening and other priorities

[00:32:40] Current vision in the regard of the years ahead and concepts being used or explored

So do you see a smaller portfolio at the end of all of this? Definitely a changed portfolio. What do you see? And you talked a little bit about GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions. Is there any concern from your government? Is there any push to reduce GHG emissions within your portfolio of leased and owned assets?

Martin Bourke: Yeah, absolutely. We have to split between leased to owned. We have about 60% of our office space owned and 40% leased. I'd pay about 100 million euro per annum on leased office accommodation. Where do I see the portfolio when this all begins to unravel? It is I think it has to be more streamlined. It has to be more efficient, and I believe it should be smaller. Yeah, I do. And what I would like to achieve, I think there's a lot of challenges emanating from COVID and remote working, but I think there are huge opportunities as well.

So what I would like to see is a rationalization of the office space where I can actually schedule non-performing buildings, buildings that are carbon-spewing buildings that are not called to serve the whole nearly zero carbon agenda. Morally, they are not going to do what we should be doing as public servants, as citizens of the globe. So we need to shed those buildings off.

So what I have been saying to my people in some real big challenges in this step on what I've been saying to my clients around is if you're repurposing or if you think when you answer the question of interactivity, if you think that that requires repurposing of your floor spaces, I'm the man that can do that for you. But part of the repurposing might be that you will have to shed off a building down the block and bring the staff from that building into this building, and then we release a non-performing building down the block.

Overall, I think logic dictates that a portfolio, if we held with exactly the same number of public servants, our clients, if we held with that, like forget about expansion, but if we held with that, logic dictates that, yes, it has to be a more streamlined, smaller portfolio into the future, but critical of that, that's absolutely critical.

And you touched on it, Stéphan is so very basic, but hard questions about assigned desks, unassigned desks, we say in my team that a critical decision, and there's a ways to travel with unions on this as well, is that if somebody is remote working, at least if they're remote working, maybe even if they're not. People can't have assigned desks. We have to get flexibility into those desks, and you're one of the few that that's actually quoted that I was glad to hear you quoting it.

You quoted earlier that your studies in Canada have shown around about 65% utilization of desks anyway. Now, I think that is a really critical figure because it's exactly the figure that we have in Ireland. It is exactly the figure that the British Counsil for Offices of which I'm a member will say that if you measure desk utilization, you're around about 60 to 65%.

So even if our listeners even think about that for a moment, forgetting about COVID, forgetting about remote working, you have actually got 35% of your desks that are not being used all the time. Thirty five percent of your desks. So forgetting about COVID and all of that and remote working, if you didn't have assigned desks, if you had the villages or if you had hot desking or whatever, and I know they all bring problems with them, but if you had those, your spend on your portfolio would be significantly reduced.

Anyway, now this is why I said earlier, I'm a bit careful on some of this stuff because it is easy for property people to save these things. Or if you go to your HR people, your human resources people, and your organizational design people, they'll say, yeah, but hang on a minute. You're really impacting on the motivation of staff. You're interfering with workflows. That's serious ramifications. And I do understand that. But that's why we have to have this collaborative partnership arrangement where we all discuss these things and all of these items can't be just left on the road.

So I think that 65% figure is a very important figure, utilization of desks and offices. I'm in my own personal office here. Is there a need for it? Probably not. Probably not. And we've got to grasp the nettle if we are to get the proper streamlining efficiency and utilization that we need.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Martin. I think you're absolutely true. And I would go even further. I think it's around the world. My colleagues in the states are saying it's about 60, 65% utilization and that's even before COVID-19. So imagine what it's going to be after when you say your government's minimum 20% working from home, telework. Imagine what it's going to be when 85% of the people say I want to go back one, 2, 3 days a week.

So we're not sure yet right now that in Canada developing of office portfolio plan, long term portfolio plan, we're thinking - we're going to have to amend that plan every year for the next five years, probably in order to make sure that we evolve with the thinking, because when HR, real property, office portfolio work together, we're going to have to evolve and think, OK, that's now what it looks like in the future.

So it's extremely interesting to see that although we're totally different, we're a different continents, we're still at the same place from a real property perspective for work and thinking of the future, what it's going to look like now.

[00:39:03] Closing question: what is the biggest priority for Ireland’s public real property sector in the coming years?

Unfortunately, our interview now comes to an end because well, all good things have to have an end. But I would like to conclude on the question, what is the biggest priority for your country's public real property sector in the coming years? We talked about GHG, we talked the portfolio of all of these. What is the top priority that you've been given by the government for your real estate portfolio?

Martin Bourke: Yeah, and I'm going to cheat a little bit on that question, if you don't mind Stephan. That's what I would actually say is that the biggest priority for me as head of estates, for the Irish government is that the portfolio must be an enabler for our clients to deliver their services in a more efficient way and that it must be able to facilitate a change in behavior. So the portfolio must be a facilitator and an enabler. And in whatever changes, we take this very, very seriously.

The Office of Public Works, in whatever portfolio we put in place, whatever buildings we put in place, they must be sustainable. We must recognize our position as a global, as a small widget on the global stage. So sustainability, a responsibility for future generations. We hold that very dear in the Office of Public Works because we look after heritage buildings that are hundreds of years old. And they must be available to future generations of visitors such as you and your listeners, so we hold that very, very dear.

But again, the property must be an enabler for efficiency and good and the best business practice for the citizens. So that to me is the biggest priority but obviously within that there are many, many things that we have to achieve to make sure that we deliver on that.

Stéphan Déry: Extremely interesting, Martin, of an enabler being there to serve, because really we're not leading, although there's a lot of cost going with attached to real property and office portfolio and all of the portfolio of government. We're still there to support the department to deliver their mandate for our citizens.

So I think that's a good priority to me. I think if we were to do the same and I think that when you talk about working with HR, working with IT, I think that's where we are. We want to support our customers to see what kind of space do you need. We'll deliver for you. And do you really need all that space? If you do, how can we deliver it more efficiently for you?

So I think and, you know, at the same time, you mentioned at the previous question something extremely interesting of that may give us an opportunity to dispose of assets that are not performing as we work with our clients to fulfill their needs. You know, we're going to look from a portfolio perspective and reduce the amount of assets that are either not the best performing assets within our portfolio, or big GHG emissions producers.

So extremely interesting, Martin, it's been a pleasure. As I said, every good thing has to come to an end as this podcast. So this concludes today's podcast. I would really like to thank you, Mr. Burke, for taking the time to discuss with me what the future of work and workspace modernization may look like in Ireland. It was an extremely interesting discussion.

And again, Martin, thank you for taking the time to talk with me.

Martin Bourke: Been an absolute pleasure. Thank you, Stéphan.

Interview with Mr. Bruce Singbush, Assistant Deputy Minister at the Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services (Canada)

Length: 39 minutes 51 seconds

Interview date: July 20, 2021

Listen to the interview between Stéphan Déry and Mr. Bruce Singbush, Assistant Deputy Minister at the Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services (Canada)

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. Bruce Singbush, Assistant Deputy Minister at the Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services (Canada)

The Workplace Network—Ontario

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.

[00:00:40] Introduction and overview of Ontario’s real property 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 public sector real estate expert from Ontario, Canada, Mr. Bruce Singbush, Assistant Deputy Minister at the Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services. Mr. Singbush, thank you for accepting our invitation and taking the time to share with us your views on these topics.

Bruce Singbush: Great. Thank you so much, Stéphan. I'm happy to be here.

Stéphan Déry: When we start these interviews, our audience really likes to understand a little bit your responsibility and, you know, the portfolio that you manage. So could you give us a little bit of an overview of your responsibility and the public real property portfolio that you are responsible for?

Bruce Singbush: Great question. Thank you so much. So I'm responsible for the policy, strategy and oversight of the Ontario government's real estate holdings. It covers all corners of Ontario. We have approximately 70 million square feet of buildings and those range in size from large office towers of over twenty-five, thirty feet—stories high to small courthouses, to police station detachments.

In addition, we have over two and a half million acres of lands that we actively look after on behalf of the government servicing our clients in the Ontario Public Service (OPS), which is over 60 thousand people, as well as numerous agencies of the crown as well, which are over a couple hundred as well.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Bruce, I can make a lot of parallels, like when you said 70 million square feet of space, I made a parallel to our portfolio at the federal level, which is about the same size, 70 million, 6.19 million square meters, which is about 74 million square feet. So—and it goes from coast to coast to coast. And you also in Ontario, the entire province, managing courthouses, police detachments, that's a fair amount of responsibility and varied responsibility.

[00:02:54] Vision for the future of work before the pandemic

So I'm sure the pandemic brought in terrible things. But I'm sure with a portfolio like this and being responsible for policy, I see you almost as the owner-investor and maybe I'm wrong on this, or you can correct me. But before the pandemic, I'm sure you had a plan, a long-term vision for that portfolio and how you intended to manage it. Could you talk to us a little bit about that?

Bruce Singbush: Yeah, great question. Absolutely. So I'm sure we definitely had a plan. And you're right, we act as kind of an owner and visionary and strategy for that portfolio. Our plan, we had a four-point plan to modernize our portfolio as we were looking at it going forward. Part of that plan was to really have a critical look at our office portfolio and look at opportunities that we had to create a more modern work environment for our clients, the staff who work in those buildings, at the same time managing our significant cost structure for taxpayers.

Additionally, we had other programs under way which aren't really directly to the office. But we were looking at unlocking a lot of value from the assets that we hold, whether for policy outcomes, offering affordable housing or long-term care or for fiscal and revenue generation, as well as critical looks at modernizing our overall governance and delivery model with our outsourced service partners across Ontario.

So pre-pandemic focus specifically on office, Stéphan, because I know that's a key kind of focus of this conversation. The strategy that we would put in place was really to start to optimize our existing owned assets with a particular focus on our six regional centres that we have across Ontario. And that includes a significant focus and a significant presence in the city of Toronto, which is where the Ontario legislature is located, as well as our—we have five kind of dividing the province into five other main regions.

Our focus was really to modernize a lot of those buildings, bringing them up into a better state of capital repair, as well as increasing the density of staff that were in those buildings, using kind of what we thought as pre-pandemic, more aggressive assumptions around sharing ratios and around specific office layouts and designs we had assumed at the point in time from our modeling purposes.

Occupancy, loads of staff coming into the office on average, 70% of a given work week. And so we had a 1.3:1 sharing ratio and then the pandemic hit, and that totally changed the way in which we were thinking about our portfolio.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Bruce. This is fascinating when you think about the future of your portfolio, when you talk about the occupancy ratio in the federal government, we've looked at, as you did and all countries around the world, provinces, everyone is looking at how can they maximize the use of their footprint for multiple reasons, cost efficiency, as you mentioned, also greening, basically reducing the carbon footprint because having empty buildings and heating them and cooling them is not necessarily the best use of energy. And it's interesting when you say we've done at the federal level, an analysis of occupancy of buildings prior to COVID and on any given day we were about 60% to 65% occupancy, which means really that prior to COVID-19 we could have had reduced our portfolio to 70%—by 30%, let's say.

And that's what was our plan before, reducing our portfolio overall by doing exactly what you were saying and recapitalizing our assets, making them more modern and making the office space more accessible and moving to what we call here GCworkplace, but in fact, is activity based workplace where people go and work in the space that they need for the day, for the week or for the month and also—but free it up and let others use it. It's quite interesting because we're all aligned.

[00:07:11] Adjustments due to the pandemic

Our portfolio plan here for office space was exactly like yours or quite similar to yours and we were hoping to move to a one—30% basically reduction over the life cycle of our recapitalization, which was probably around twenty-five years, but for you, now that you had all of this mapped out, you have your plan established, how did the pandemic impact that and what new reality did that bring for you?

Bruce Singbush: It's a great question because, as I said, our original vision, to your point, there's this idea of more collaborative—how are people working, how are clients working and this desire for more collaboration, more shared spaces? What is probably thinking about it as individual business units or ministries that are clients that we serve?

That was enabled by our flexible kind of work, human resources (HR) policies and our mobile technology that have been adopted across the Ontario Public Service. It's interesting because on the flexible work piece of this, touching on the HR policies, because I always characterize realty as part of a three legged stool, there's an information technology (IT) component that enables how the staff are able to work using that technology.

There's a human resource policy component of how the culture of the organization and the policies that we're enabling and the realty strategy in creating that virtuous alignment that occurs. Prior to the pandemic, we were aggressively trying to promote sharing ratios and enabling more and more flex work. The OPS has approximately 30,000 individuals who would work in a typical office type of settings on average in terms of their hybrid or work at home versus work in the office ratios pre-pandemic, we were right around 15% to 20% of staff would actually embrace that opportunity, which is good, but not tremendous.

And there was nothing negative to anybody. But there was change required to embrace more flexible work arrangements because of technology and a familiarity with using different platforms as well as management practices. So we were having good conversations with our partners about moving more and more and more and adopting that shared work environment. And there was concerns about what it meant to their productivity, what it meant to their culture or the organization. The pandemic happened and it—overnight, those 30,000 office-based employees started to work at home and have worked at home basically ever since.

Using the mobile technology, which we were very fortunate in the Ontario case, that we had adopted a lot of platforms that people are using today, in our case, it was through Microsoft Teams or Zoom platforms to create that work culture. And that was a great enabler. And it's actually proof is in the pudding. Right. As the analogy goes, what we have seen in terms of the productivity measurements that have been used since the start of the pandemic until now, staff are actually more productive and happier when they're working at home and when they're working remotely.

That's not to say that there's not learnings and other challenges, but that's very insightful from an Ontario perspective as we're thinking about what is the future of our portfolio? What can we learn and take away from that, because it's clear the evidence is suggesting the adoption of more hybrid work styles of people coming into the office a couple of days a week and working at home or remotely for the balance of the time is much higher than we had anticipated.

It really challenges our planning assumption, which had been a 1.3:1 person sharing ratio, and is this suggesting actually we can go as high as maybe even a 2:1 ratio? We haven't landed on those, but we're assessing all those options. That significantly transforms three things in my way of thinking.

The first is, how are we designing our spaces? Are we designing them now as a much more shared space where individuals, if it is going to these higher sharing ratios, it changes why people come into the office, meaning more collaborative designs and spaces, the types of workstations that we would create, as well as how we manage the occupancy loads in a way that people have that line of transparency, sort of questions around more booking systems and other technologies which we have embraced. With the last piece I mentioned, our original vision and thought process was really designed and tailored more around managing our clients individually.

So as a ministry, we would design the spaces for them. We wouldn't necessarily look at sharing across the broader enterprise. I think that's the next kind of conversation that we need to have with our clients about those opportunities.

Because if we move to where individuals are only coming into the office two days a week for their collaboration, productive meetings, etc, we need to look at how the clients we are serving in a different lens, meaning much more shared across the entire government enterprise versus by individual functionality. I think you laid it out on your initiative, which is really changing our activity based planning assumptions, quite significantly.

Stéphan Déry: This is fascinating because I think it shows that even in the same country, we think alike, because I'm listening to you and I thought we invented the three legged stool in the Government of Canada, but I guess we did not. What I really like the fact that, you know, these three respective and enablers have to work together to do the future of work, really, the information technology (IT), the H.R., the policy—H.R. policy, and the real estate, I think are influenced by if you don't have the IT, there's no point of having a need, a policy that provides flexibility to employees because they're not able to work from home or work from almost anywhere.

And the real estate is really responding to your clients' needs. And at the Government of Canada level, we've been working with those three, you know, the employer, the enabler, the IT infrastructure and ourselves to really take also what's going to be the future.

Having land, we know we're moving to a hybrid workplace and it's a big change. But as you mention, in a day or a few weeks, you know, we went around the world to the biggest telework pilot project we ever done, and it was quite successful. And in the Government of Canada at the beginning, we had a little bit of an IT challenge. But then the IT challenge, the team and our Shared Services colleagues worked extremely hard to provide us the MS Teams, all of these tools. And at some point, you know, people got used to that and they're used to seeing each other. Our clients got used to that.

And at some point they said, well, why? Why do I need to go back to an office? So for my ratio of 1:3, we are now thinking maybe as you were thinking, we may as well go as far as 2:1. We haven't landed, but we're working with our clients to see what the future is going to look like.

Interesting that that change, that mentality in HR policy, flexibility, you were at 15% to 20% teleworking.

[00:14:56] Specific initiatives that support the vision of the future of work

Now you've—through the pandemic, you've seen these 30,000 civil servants almost working from home exclusively, almost, I'm saying. Do you feel was there a change in managers and your clients saying it's working well, you talked about productivity. A lot of managers, I'm not 100% sure of the productivity have increased. Could you elaborate on this?

Bruce Singbush: It's a very good question. It has been a dramatic change. And we've as an employer over the course of a pandemic, obviously engaged with our employees and on surveys just to understand how are their experiences going? What are they liking? What are they not liking? And that really influences and it's quite interesting. The staff and even at the management level have really found the ability and the flexibility offered by technology to work has really helped them in a lot of ways, connect better.

In fact, when we look at the engagement of our employees through the surveys that we have done at this stage, the employee engagement is higher. They're feeling more connected to their managers. They're feeling more involved in critical decision making. And the managers equally are saying they really have found greater ways to connect with their teams rather than what had been in the traditional type of office settings.

We think that that is very, very important to think through. The other thing that I think is to find that, just so you know where we're thinking about, I do this as a three-phase thought process and it's a question of how quickly do we go, because the first phase, we now, as we're all contemplating with the great success that Ontario and Canada has in terms of vaccinations moving towards reopening. So we know we're starting to going to be inviting staff back in to come into the office space.

So part of the thought process is, to my mind, is entering two immediate questions. Immediate question number one, is demonstrating to our clients that it's safe to come back into the office environment, and that is really changing the way we're thinking about the services that we're providing from cleaning through the questions around air circulation and air filtration systems.

But it's also about what is it that they're coming into the workplace to do? Is it just to work and to produce the analyses and the reports we have, or is it about more of connecting and the cultural connections with their colleagues that they have. And really understanding and creating that safe space and really understanding that that's critically important, I think, for us in the near term to get that right, to create that sense of comfort and stability, of coming back and then adjusting at the same point in time towards the more medium term and longer term of understanding the changing cultural mindset of how staff are wanting to work and how, as an organization, we're supporting them, whether it is collaborative meetings, breaking down the kind of artificial barriers amongst and between different business units and ministries to moving towards the full scale adoption.

To give you a specific example of one of the things that we're doing in Ontario, we had tried in the past a little bit of regional touch down spaces. In particular, we focused in and around the Toronto area, which, of course is Canada's largest city and has very high commute times. It's not atypical to find staff who commute over two hours one way a day and back.

So bringing introducing regional touch down spaces, which we have the centres set up right now, ready to go, ready for that reopening. So individuals don't necessarily have to go on to the regional transit system, but can actually check in to a space closer to their geography. We had done small scale pilots of those about eight years ago, but they weren't overly successful for a variety of reasons, management practices that comfort. But now we're hearing a strong demand for that. So that's a total shift in the way in which we're thinking geographically about our portfolio.

I talked about earlier originally we were thinking of this content—we maximize our own assets, which in the Toronto sense, tended to be more in the downtown core. Are we looking at a shifting of our model? And so we're using a lot of these opportunities as we're thinking about that transition of bringing people in towards the longer term and adjusting our longer term strategy from a geographic presence point of view, as well as a design point of view on, you know, is it collaborative spaces? Is it about how they're using their spaces? How do they have that comfort—that I'm sharing this other this desk or going into these shared spaces and that they're at the appropriate levels to give staff the comfort that they're clean, they're ready, they're supported and when they come into those office spaces.

And I think that those are key elements of where we're learning to go, but critically enabled, as I talked about the great success story of the IT adoption and the shift and the learnings that have happened have been transformative.

It rethinks how we're going to use our boardrooms. We had boardrooms, of course, like all organizations weren't as equipped yet for the technology that we're all now using, whether it is our MS Teams platform or Zoom platform, where you can have a couple of individuals in a boardroom in a meeting, meeting with their colleagues who may be either in a similar geography or in Ontario's case, as with all public sector jurisdictions, they may be hundreds and hundreds of kilometers away from them, but at the same time they're feeling engaged in a meeting because they have that visual connection.

So we're having to relook at our infrastructure, our IT infrastructure that we've enabled within our boardrooms as a whole to create that and sustain the momentum that we have achieved thus far.

Stéphan Déry: It is extremely interesting when you—and there's so many parallel I could do with how we're managing portfolios and where we would like to go. I think you're absolutely right when you say that the engagement with employees, through the technologies that are now available and probably were available before but we were not using them to their maximum ability—capacity. You know, we had town halls where we had 2,000 participants, 2,500 participants.

We could have never done that before. Never dream about having a town hall in the physical space where you could bring two thousand employees together. We've opened these doors and people have probably more meetings, visual meetings that they had before, especially with regional colleagues, especially with, as you said, you're a few hundred kilometers away and we're talking as if we were in the same room. We're doing that right now. So it's quite the benefit.

[00:21:54] Accessibility, greening and other priorities

So I really like your point, you know, bringing back people, reopening safely and showing that the space is safe. And I'll have a question about the safety of this space in a few seconds.

Ensuring that the space is safe, but not losing what we've gained from being completely remote for the last year and a half almost, and bringing the two together and trying to ensure that we maximize the use of technology in our boardrooms, and that would facilitate that and ensuring that people are coming to the office for a reason. I'm just thinking about the person two hours commuting each way. That's four hours commuting every single day of the week. Wow. That's—they're saving four hours a day.

So would that person come back to sit at the desk all day working by themselves and don't talk to anybody, just sit at the desk and maybe there's some reason for that. They have a personal reasons, but if they're fully productive working from home, would they be open to come back for collaboration, and I think that's where your thinking is.

So I have a two part question on this one. First of all, safety of buildings. How do you see and what change have you done throughout the pandemic that you think you're going to keep moving forward? And my other question has nothing to do with safety of buildings. It's more because I'm also extremely interested by these hubs that you're talking about, which is similar to our coworking. But you've talked about those silos. You talk about breaking down the silo between business units, but even between departments.

And I'm extremely interested because we see at the federal level, there's a lot of interest, even departments, our clients are telling us, please use my space, I'll give you a floor, I'll give you two floors so you can make it a hub for any people from the department to come and work from there on the reservation system, collaborate in our space and use that space because we don't need as much space as before. And we would like to have a network of smaller spaces that we could use across the country. So I would like to hear you a little bit on those hubs, as we seen also that other countries are thinking that way.

Bruce Singbush: So let me start with the cleaning and then I'll move to the hub. So the cleaning is a great question, because at the start of the pandemic, when the science wasn't clear, in part why staff were working at home and there were stay at home orders, et cetera, we really took a critical look at our cleaning protocols and our practices, and they changed dramatically. And we see that even in our cost structures, that they have changed and gone up. But it's a really a strong focus on increasing the frequency of the cleaning of those high touch points. Right.

In terms of elevator buttons as an example, or door handles. And so we see sustaining that now and into the future, even though the science around those connections, COVID has been proven to be more of an airborne transmission. But nonetheless, it's an important element, again, of creating the experience and the culture for people when they come back to work to know that it is a safe place.

So we're going to sustain that as we look going forward, because that is very, very important. And as we think through shared spaces where we're asking staff to use a workstation that may have been used by one to three other people over the course of a week, that's a natural question that they're going to want comfort around that. So that's important. And that, as I said, translates to the hubs.

The hubs is a very important, although a geographic specific concept, but it's very important because it's really changing how we think as an employer about our talent pools and where are we drawing our talent pools. Historically, like many other organizations, you would tend to hire staff within a defined geographic catchment area because you would want their ability to come from where they lived and into an office on a regular basis.

I think the pandemic has taught us that we can draw our talent pools from a much broader search area, which could include the headquarters, might be in Toronto, but will draw staff from northern Ontario and some of those communities because you can expand your talent pool to grab the best available talent in a broader geography. So that's an important consideration from a technology point of view, from the hubs point of view. It really is.

And we have heard from some of our clients about the importance of bringing groups together when they're working on initiatives that cross through the kind of ministerial silos of looking through big public policy problems that may have an economic development lens, that may have an environmental lens, that may have social policy implications in allowing those teams to work together.

Historically, my observation was some of those areas were more about individual management styles. I like to see my employees to know that their working teams in particular has broken down, that the pandemic has proven that we have an ability to manage. So we're seeing that demand increasing.

So it's a really important test of that idea. It's critically important for us, Stéphan, I could have mentioned this at the outset, but we're in the process right now of recapitalizing and rebuilding. The major office headquarters for the Ontario Public Service is called the Macdonald Block in downtown Toronto.

We vacated the complex are in the process right now of a thorough rebuild and eventually leading to thinking through in this current context about how are we going to fit out that space infrastructure as we know, and buildings, they have a long lifecycle, right? They're designed for over 50 years.

And the structural component and the component pieces, but the interior leasehold improvements in the fixed rate adapt and evolve, and so we have to think quite creatively now about how are we going to reprogram in that case, over a million square feet of office space spread across five different building complexes in a different way to accommodate where we think the organization is going and where we would like it to go as well.

And I think we're going to see a lot more of our thought processes now are driven by this idea of collaboration and thinking about who may actually come to downtown Toronto versus our work colleagues who may actually take more advantage of the hubs that we're setting out and the kind of ring, if you will, of the Greater Toronto Area.

Stéphan Déry: I think one of the points that you're raising is flexibility. Do we know exactly how it's going to work out? What's going to be the future of office space? It has to be as flexible as possible in order to prepare for how our clients will decide to work in the future. And to your point, I think these hubs are extremely interesting and our portfolio is a little bit different across Ontario, but it's the same principle.

I see a series of hubs across the country for public servants and they could draw talent from where they live. Before, and as you said, it's it was the same thing in the Ontario government you hired from a defined area because they need to travel to the office and you would never see somebody traveling five hours in the morning, 500 kilometers to come to the office. But today, do you really need that?

I talk to a private sector company that said before the pandemic, they had a concept in place where we can hire from anywhere in the country as long as you're within a two to three hour drive of an office. We can hire because if we want you to come in, we want it to be feasible to get to one of the companies office and work.

So you can imagine the same thing for the federal or the provincial government, where you can draw your talent pool from where they live and if they want to continue living in that area, you could definitely do it as long as you have this hub of office space across the province.

It brings a few questions on security. And that's also interesting because today, you know, and I don't know if it's the same in the Ontario government, but security for passes and all of this is by department and it's fairly segregated where if you would go to a space like this, you would kind of need to have a pass that accesses all government spaces. Do you have any views, Bruce, on this?

Bruce Singbush: Well, you know, Stéphan, there's a great parallel, right? There's kind of a couple of considerations—our security is a big one, like your organization. Ours is a very highly segmented. I'll give you a specific example for myself personally. I have a set of pass cards for specific buildings that I'm allowed to access given my role and only to specific floors that I'm allowed to access. And yet when I meet with my colleagues, we tend to move all around.

So we really have to rethink our overall way in which we manage our security envelopes, maintain the integrity of the security envelopes, but providing staff more flexible passes. And that's why I speak to the idea of booking systems and other support that allow the secure perimeter, but at the same time gives more flexibility for staff to move within. We have some of those ongoing now in some of our buildings that we're using where they have flexibility to move throughout the entire building, or at least all main segments of the entire building.

But there is always going to be some very specialized, secure areas. But that's really more of a specific business unit of government that requires a higher level of security controls. So that's an important consideration that we've worked through and that we've got to continue to work through, because I don't think we've solved that yet to be transparent. But it's a critical element on the to do list.

The other dimension that's critical, I'm sure, like other major organizations, recognizing the fact that we both have a big portfolio of owned assets and then we have a big partnership with the private sector on a whole lot of leased assets, which are held by a number of different private sector corporations. As we rebalance our portfolio, the role of leases and the role of the leased marketplace, I think it's going to change our original strategy was more to optimize owned, which makes sense. But maybe there is some more flexibility that we need to rethink about our lease partnership.

But it also transcends when we talk about security, about their operational practices. I mentioned about thinking through the short term thing, creating a safe cleaning. We have to work on cleaning across a number of different sectors and different partners who deliver those services both to owned buildings and in our leased portfolio as well. I mean, I think if this is a very interesting and significant change in the public sector's relationship with our private sector service providers, be the tenants or landlords as well as service providers, because we're asking different things of them now and higher levels of services at one level, more flexibility in our services, but also in much more flexible terms, business terms, I would argue, because we know the nature of work has dramatically shifted and we want that flexibility to do that rather than being locked into a longer term arrangement.

Because I think our assumptions that we have right now in our learnings that are coming through this experience are going to set us on a different trajectory than we're able to envision right now.

Stéphan Déry: You're absolutely right on multiple fronts here on the cleaning, changing the relationship. Like you, our portfolio, it may be not exactly the same, but we have a 50% owned, 50% leased with multiple private sector companies.

And they had to adapt during the pandemic to enhance cleaning and services to our client. And we'll want this to continue as we get out of the pandemic. But it will have an impact on our long-term relationship. We often say that real estate is about brick and mortar, and the typical lease is 15 years. Sometimes it's 25 years lease of a building. Will we go into long-term lease in the near future? I'm not sure.

That's a really good question that you're raising, because I think the relationship may need to change also because how are you going to use this space will change. We're working on an instrument, a procurement instrument at the federal level to acquire space as a service. And it's, you know, doing expansion. You need expansion in real property. You need expansion, unfortunately. OK, well, we'll talk with you. And it's used to take—it's one specific department, their space takes a year or two, if you're lucky, because brick and mortar takes a long time.

Now if we go multiple departments, we go hubs and all that, that may be faster because you may have expansion space in the portfolio. And if we go to space as a service, that's going to open another market in the private sector where it's going to change the dynamic and the relationship we have with the private sector.

[00:35:49] Current vision for the years to come and the used or explored concepts

Now that we've talked about your portfolio, your strategy before, the impact of COVID, what do you think when we're in the brick and mortar relationship with the private sector, what do you think the overall change on your footprint is going to be after all of this? How do you see the future from a real estate perspective?

Bruce Singbush: So it's a great question from a real estate perspective. My prediction at this point in time is, is that we're going to see a dramatic increase in the rationalization of our space, of our footprint, because I think what we're seeing is a strong employee desire to continue the hybrid, working from home and coming into office. I think we can see a geographic shift in that so I can reasonably see our portfolio, which we were planning for a bit of a reduction.

But that reduction is going to happen faster and it's going to happen at a greater scale than we had anticipated in our initial projections in terms of the overall size of the footprint and its geographic distribution. I also predict that we're going to see a dramatic shift in the way in which we were thinking about our interior fit outs of different floors where we had been still planning a little bit of planning for individual business units and not necessarily breaking down the artificial kind of drywall divides that accommodate one business enterprise, which is the Ontario Public Service.

I think we're going to dramatically change the way in which we're picturing our buildings to look at much more open, much more collaborative spaces and spaces that allow for a lot more of really in-person concentrated meetings where people can come meet and break when they need that in-person contact. I think that's also going to dramatically change our cost structures overall, in addition to a decrease in the overall kind of expenditures that will pay, whether it is to the leasing market on our capital and other things, we see that drive for additional savings.

And we're going to have to think through where we do have owned assets and we may be determined that we're going to retire them about thinking about the disposition of those assets or the repurposing of those assets as well, because they'll still exist on the landscape. But they need to be put into a different type of use. Maybe that creates a policy opportunity for the government to support economic development. Maybe it creates a housing opportunity or a fiscal opportunity for the private sector. But I think that is also a long-term transition that we're going to see happening across the portfolio in Ontario and concentrated in specific geographies as well.

Stéphan Déry: I think we could say that COVID will have changed the landscape of the federal portfolio, but also the provincial portfolio, because everything that you're saying we'll see over the next decade a big shift on how we work on moving to a hybrid, coming to the office to collaborate, and that will have further down impact.

A lot of them—I don't want to paraphrase you, a lot of them will be positive impact, I believe, from an employee perspective, from a manager, from an organizational perspective, because drawing talent from where they are, from even an industry perspective, because it's going to create opportunity even for low income housing, as you were mentioning, or for recapitalization and changing some of the government asset vocation.

Could be for something else, right? Could be for social housing, could be for apartment building. So I think the real estate world is still going to evolve over the next decade, post-pandemic and going to be highly influenced by how the Ontario government and by how you will be managing your portfolio.

[00:39:51] Closing question: what are the biggest priorities of the public real property sector for Ontario in the coming years?

It was a really interesting interview. Bruce, I really appreciate your time. Our interview now comes to an end, and I would like to conclude on one question. What are the biggest priorities for Ontario's public property sector in the coming years?

Bruce Singbush: That's a great question, Stéphan, and thank you for having me. It's been a wonderful conversation. Our biggest priority, I think, in the coming years are going to be three pronged. The first prong is to reimagine our office environment in a way in which supports where the organization is going and learning post pandemic, which will include a dramatic shift in what the offices themselves that we use look like and function like, as well as where they're located and the number we have.

The second thing that I think that we will see, as I talked about, is the further optimization of the portfolio, reducing it and transitioning those assets into something new.

What the new will be is to determine and the third one is a very kind of practical one. But it's critically important to me because, you know, the success of any strategy or any policy is about in delivery. It's about meeting the needs of our client and being very, very aware of meeting their service expectations in the near term.

So getting the small details right is a bit of an obsession that I think is going to increase. We had the conversation and one of the things you talked about was cleaning. I think that's critical because we know at least in the near term, individuals will have those questions. So we need to be responsive to them.

And then as we look longer, it's about our business practices and processes and improving those security card access all the way through to thinking about booking systems and making sure they're very easy and simple for individuals to use because they've grown accustomed legitimately to an expectation that they can do things digitally, quick and easy, and that should include how they interact in the spaces that we're providing for them.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Bruce. I think the three priorities you mentioned are quite important to our clients. And you mentioned the word client working with them as we reopen and start reopening, our building will be key because, you know, we're a service provider as you are a service provider to the government.

So your client defines what kind of footprint you need—your client defined—so they have to move in sync with us and they have to have the certainty that we're there to support them, either from a cleaning perspective or for a space perspective. And the collaboration when we talk about how we're going to design the space from a collaboration perspective. So I think this integration also with our clients and be—hearing them, listening to them on how they want to evolve is going to be key to the multiple challenges that are facing us as we start reopening really our offices across the country.

This concludes today's podcast. Thank you, Mr. Singbush, for taking the time to discuss with me what the future of work and workspace modernization may look like for the province of Ontario, Canada. Merci Bruce, it's been a pleasure.

Bruce Singbush: Thank you.

Interview with Mr. Tuomas Pusa, Chief Operating Officer at Senate Properties (Finland)

Length: 43 minutes 18 seconds

Interview date: June 29, 2021

Listen to the interview between Stéphan Déry and Mr. Tuomas Pusa, Chief Operating Officer at Senate Properties (Finland)

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Transcription of interview with Mr. Tuomas Pusa, Chief Operating Officer at Senate Properties (Finland)

The Workplace Network—Mr. Tuomas Pusa, Chief Operating Officer at Senate Properties (Finland)

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.

[00:00:40] Introduction and overview of Finland’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 a public sector real estate expert from Finland, Mr. Tuomas Pusa, Chief Operating Officer, Senate Properties. Mr. Pusa, thank you for accepting our invitation and taking the time to share with us your views on this topic.

Tuomas Pusa: Thank you. And thank you for the invitation. It's interesting to hear what our colleagues have to say on this series.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Tuomas. To start, our audience always appreciates understanding a little bit more about you, your property, about the portfolio that you are managing. Could you give us an overview of the public real property portfolio that you are responsible for?

Tuomas Pusa: Yes, sure. Basically, Senate Properties operates almost all real property used by the Government of Finland. We basically exclude only roadways and forests, land areas. And what we do operate and own and manage are, for example, the premises for defense forces. So army barracks and military bases, airstrips, et cetera. That's almost half of our portfolio when it comes to square meters.

Then we have quite a lot of offices for regular agencies, about one point two million square meters of offices. Then comes different sorts of, you could say, security related premises such as police stations, prisons, even the Frontier Guard operating post customs offices, et cetera. I would add with some heritage and cultural buildings that's a bit under, I would say, 10% of our portfolio that comes with museums, modern art museums and classical arts.

We have some historical buildings such as mentioned, or medieval castles that we operate. We run three medieval castles at the moment. And on the cultural heritage part, yes, the National Opera of Helsinki is one of those examples as well. Then I would still add with the courthouses, I didn't mention those. And to sum up, let's toss in some special use premises, such as research labs, researching public health viruses, bacteria or food safety, agriculture, whatever a government needs to research or have a lab for. And we pretty much had to have those. So we run quite a diverse portfolio, and that's what makes this interesting.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Tuomas. I said this is really interesting because your country has really integrated the real property management, the infrastructure management, as you said, other than road and highway, you're managing almost everything that belongs to the Government of Finland. If I compare that to Canada, me and my colleagues in PSPC (Public Services and procurement Canada), we're managing—I'm managing mainly offices. My colleagues manage some labs and parliamentary precincts, but we are like one of 27 custodians of buildings in the Government of Canada.

So it's a fairly diverse—like prisons are managed by a different department, the department that is responsible for prisons, for implementation of law and application of law. So it is extremely interesting to see the difference between our two countries.

And I think some of us would like that, at some point Canada manages their property a little bit like you do in Finland to have a better view and overview of the whole portfolio and also make adjustments to the entire portfolio and maybe get the benefit of leveraging this large portfolio, which includes, in your case, national defense, all the defense portfolio. So extremely interesting. We did a review in Canada of fixed asset review that looked at all our portfolios.

We have over thirty thousand assets that are managed within the Government of Canada and it's managed, as I said, by different entities, whereas you have them all together. Extremely interesting.

[00:05:15] Vision for the future of work prior to the pandemic

So with a large portfolio like this and with managing from prison to probably courthouses to national defense. Before COVID-19, you probably had a vision of where you wanted to take that portfolio and the future of the workplace in your country, because I'm assuming also that all civil servants are housed in those buildings and that they're working—you mentioned you had office space. Could you tell us a little bit of what was your vision prior to the pandemic?

Tuomas Pusa: Sure. This movement towards activity based offices, hot seating has been going on for over 10 years now in Finland. When it comes to offices that has been our vision for quite a long time. So I would say from private offices to shared offices, hot seating, decreasing the square meters per full time equivalent, earning or generating savings, improving the usage of office space. This has been going on for a long time.

We have generated some about 100 million euros per year savings from moving from private offices to activity based offices and reducing the square meters with this. And interestingly, on the same time, we have been able to increase the productivity of these public servants and office workers, at least based on their own interpretation of the situation.

So this is actually what has been the vision for offices, and we already anticipated this sort of movement towards shared office spaces. You could say this. People have been talking about government hubs or coworking spaces where you could mix up on the same premises workers from different agencies. So you don't have to have one building per agency or one building per a ministry where you can share those. But that has not really happened before COVID-19.

So I would say that in our offices we have been on a track of steadily reducing the square meters per users per se. And the tool has been this activity based offices. And I still have to mention that, of course, when we have this sort of diverse portfolio, we have also had some vision or strategies for this special purpose premises, such as military facilities or courthouses. And there our approach has been to generate this sort of workplace concepts for these special purpose premises.

One example would be a prison concept where we designed the prison. That would be the best possible environment to reduce the criminal activities. And by this I mean to be able to teach the criminals how to live a crimeless life. So it's not so much of a holding facility for criminals, it's more of an educational facility. And we did that together with the agency operating the prisons in Finland. And quite similar, we have produced a concept for the army barracks.

So what else, besides keeping soldiers at night should a barrack do, for example? It's also a place to study, place to do a different kind of practice and a place to hold materials, etc. So building concepts that make it possible for these agencies to improve their operations has been our approach for quite a long time besides offices.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Tuomas. Could I say that efficiency was at the core of your vision prior to COVID-19 trying to gain as much efficiency from your portfolio or ensuring that the portfolio met the needs of your clients?

Tuomas Pusa: Efficiency, yes, but I would like to add productivity to that. And then by productivity, I mean being able to improve the agency's productivity by facilities. So we aim to be this sort of a strategic partner. So not only efficiency, but productivity improvement as well.

[00:09:32] Adjustments due to the pandemic

Stéphan Déry: Thank you. Extremely, extremely interesting. As we move into the interview and as you move from what you were doing before the vision of prior to the pandemic, how did the pandemic change that? You talked a little bit about coworking or cowork space belonging to more departments.

Has that thinking has been that accelerated by the pandemic? And I'm not sure if you've been in lockdown and you had most of the people had to work from home, but in Canada it has accelerated our movement to ABW (activity based workplace). We were starting to do activity based workplace in 2016, 2017, 2018, where you were on that path about 15 years ago. We started, but, you know, the pandemic has accelerated that because people had to work from home.

Most civil servants had to work from home and now they start to embrace the concept. So could you talk a little bit of the impact on the pandemic, on your vision and also on the way you operate in the government?

Tuomas Pusa: Well, in the beginning, I believe it was the same with everyone that, of course, the first priority when this pandemic started about one and a half years ago or so, it was, of course, about securing operations. You didn't think about improving or taking advantage of this, but you just thought about how are we going to manage if this hits really badly. So we just thought about facility management, cleaning, construction work, et cetera, making plans how to adapt, what to prioritize regarding the government operations, should 20%, 30% or so fall ill?

So that was the starting point, of course. But I would say that within a month or two it became obvious that, OK, we have now prepared for the worst and it's still not here the worst. So perhaps we can start to think about what good could come out of this. You asked about the reaction and the change in government working.

And rather quickly, I would say that within a few days, about 50% of Finnish government employees started to work from home or basically from other locations than the office. This includes the summer huts or other location where they were able to travel during this pandemic. And the transition was surprisingly fast and surprisingly smooth. And I believe that it was mainly due to the infrastructure already being there, meaning that reasonable Internet connections also in rural areas, digital tools for performing basic office work.

So it wasn't a big deal. It just hit so fastly and of course, it increased the numbers working from home vastly. About half of the government employees means, I would say a bit under 40,000 people. There's about 70,000 employees working for the government of Finland. So about a bit over half of that started to work from home.

And the rest is not able because they are, for example, police officers or similar works that you just cannot do from home. So this was basically the quick adaptation that everyone was ordered to go home, and that's about it after we had secured the operations.

[00:13:05] Specific initiatives that supports the vision of the future of work

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Tuomas. We talk about your plans for the future of the workplace and how the pandemic has impacted them. Moving forward, can you elaborate the specific initiatives that will support your current vision? What has changed and how your current vision will be implemented?

Tuomas Pusa: Yeah, that's an interesting, interesting one. Well, while this pandemic has been going on for close to, what, 18 months or so, it's obvious. And I think the message is the same for all of our colleagues, that there is no returning back, at least to the same where we were before this hit us. And by this, I mean that the recent surveys made among government employees showed that I would say that most of the government employees able to work from home are willing to do so two to three days per week.

So you could say that closely, 50% of the time, office workers working for the government are willing to do it from home or third location, other locations than the nominated office. And this, of course, has quite a lot of implications. The first direct implication is that we already have agencies contacting us and saying that, by the way, it looks like next fall we will have a 50% too much office space. What should we do about it? Would you like to take it back or we would like to get rid of it.

So we are facing a huge decrease in the office square meter usage for the Government of Finland. I would say that the estimates for the long term effect is that we will lose half of our square meters on offices, that that means about 600,000 square meters away, while we now have 1.2 million square meters. So that's one implication.

And when we started to think about how to react and how to make this possible, that—the problem we face is, of course, that all the office spaces that agencies want to get rid of, they of course—they are in diverse locations. They are in tens or hundreds of different buildings in different locations. And they never want to empty a complete building.

So you end up having a Swiss cheese full of holes and you save nothing on that. So that led to the quick, I would say, conclusion that now we have the momentum to push for this coworking hubs or coworking spaces for the government of Finland.

And interestingly, we have had many agencies that are, I would say, mostly office based, for example, the tax authorities or different kind of registry offices, et cetera, that do not have special premises. And they have already said that if you develop a concept for this kind of coworking spaces, they are willing to move there. They are willing to try and share their offices with other agencies in order to reduce the square meters they are using and to generate savings.

So this is what it has now changed. And in accordance to this, there has been also a few strategic steps taken by the government as well as by Senate. But perhaps I'll tell a bit more about those a bit later.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you. I mean, this is extremely interesting. I really appreciate your openness and thinking. You know, we may in the future have 50% too much office space. I would say we're not there yet in Canada calculating, but we have plans to say, OK, what does that mean? That telework? What does that mean?

That people—it's interesting when you say that people want to work from home to three days a week, we have the same statistic here or survey of employees who said, you know, almost 80% of them, not the ones that have a job that can't be done from home. But around 80% to 85% of them says we would like to go back to the office or go back to the office to do different things.

We don't need to go back to the office to work behind a keyboard and type all day. We could do that from home or from a third location. Before the pandemic, and I don't know if it's the same for you, but before the pandemic, we had measured the occupancy of our office building. Now I'm talking not special purpose space. We do have special purpose space, but I'm just mainly office building. We have about six million square meters of purely office buildings.

And when we look at that, we saw that on any given day of the week, the average was about 60% occupancy. All space were assigned, right. There was a person in every office assigned to every office. But because of holidays, because of training, because of meetings, because of all kinds of reasons, our office space was occupied and there were some telework in the past... Also, I wouldn't want to say that telework didn't exist before COVID-19, but there were some telework.

Because of all of these factors, we've noticed that our office was about 40% empty five days a week, and for us, a concept of saying we could reduce our office space by 50%, it's fairly easy when you think that before the pandemic there was not that big telework pendulum swing and we were already only occupied at 60%. But I have to say that the pandemic has changed that. And I created, I believe, an opportunity from a real property perspective especially.

And I was extremely interested by what you said, the coworking space. We did the pilot in Canada and we opened nine. We call that the wcoworking, Government of Canada coworking. And we opened nine of these spaces across the country, a lot in Ottawa, Gatineau, because that's where the most population of civil servant.

And although there was an enthusiasm about the space because they're normally located closer to your home and it's easier for them to go there. There was an enthusiasm, but not as much as there is now, and people—departments also in Canada are starting to think, OK, how can we make work-life balance easier? How can we make it easier for our employees and maybe reduce their commuting? Some of them were commuting an hour and a half each way to get to the office. Now, they've been, as you said, close to 18 months without commuting. It reduces our greenhouse gas emissions also as a country. So how can we balance that?

So it's going to be interesting to see how the Finland evolves and how you can implement that coworking space to reduce your space. But also maybe and that's what I would like to hear you about, maybe bringing the work closer to the where the people live. Have you thought about hubs, regional hubs a little bit further away from the metropolitan? Just asking a question like this.

Tuomas Pusa: Yes, yes, I thought from talking about workplace ecosystem thinking, while we have been thinking about these hubs or this coworking spaces, we ran into the concept generated in this pandemic era. I think it was some of the big consultancy firms in the world that came up with this thought about a workplace ecosystem.

The idea is that instead of the one nominated location, we can set up an ecosystem of places where government workers or employees can work. And this ecosystem consists of, I would say, that this kind of office hubs that are located throughout the nation, we are planning to set up a hub network of 20 to 25 locations throughout Finland to cover the whole country.

And we made a calculation that by this we should be able to provide a close working space for over 90% of the government employees. We measured where they leave, when and where this should be located in these kind of a graphical or map based optimization to select the locations. And this forms one part of the ecosystem this government hopes that we should have in 20 or 25 cities throughout Finland.

And the second part is, of course, beside these hubs, most agencies need some sort of private space or space to serve customers that walk in. For example, someone wants to discuss with the tax authorities, so someone needs to get the landscaping done or whatever. So we have been designing on a separate project at this sort of customer service network where we could integrate this kind of a face to face services for the public produced by the government of Finland. And the idea is that we put together all the agencies providing such services in a network that should have 50 to 90 locations throughout Finland.

So one part of the ecosystem is the government hub network, 20, 25 cities. Then we have 50 to 90 customer service locations in 50 to 90 cities providing customer service. Then, of course, the government employee can work from his or her home, from their summer cabinets, summer huts and all kind of third locations, for example, in cafes, libraries or where they prefer to work.

So the idea is that instead of having one assigned seat or even one assigned building where you should go, you actually are free to work in all the locations provided by you in this ecosystem. You have the twenty-five cities. You have basically the small offices besides the 50 to 90 customer service locations, or you can just go to your home or to your summer hut. And that's the idea that we are trying to move forward now and we have been working for. So this is the vision at the moment and we hope to be able to deliver it in five to 10 years.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Tuomas. I think we can both say that the pandemic, although it has been a terrible thing for the entire world, it was the largest pilot project on telework we ever seen around the world. Every country from the United States, Canada, Finland, Netherlands, Australia, every country have been, you know, propulsed into teleworking, close to 100% of people that could telework. And now, I mean, we see the opportunity and probably changing the way government works from a real estate perspective and from the location, as you say, 90 service to the public.

You talked about colocation and the interest of department, or ministry to colocate in those hubs and in those service centers. From a security agency perspective, did you see a desire from those security agencies to colocate where, let's say, the security intelligence and agency like this?

Tuomas Pusa: That's a very good question. We are planning to start with the legendary low hanging fruit. And this means that we will build this network of coworking locations with the easier agencies. And we have had discussions, for example, a way to frontier guard the police, customs, even the courthouse's or other justice operators. And as you mentioned, they are not as thrilled with this concept.

They have these issues about sensible information. And then I believe that you cannot solve crimes sitting next to each other. So that is the part that we are not bringing in this network to begin with. But I actually do believe that we will start to build a concept. For this kind of safety or security intensive coworking this fall, we plan to get it done, I would say, within one year from today.

And the idea is that we set up the basic facility security requirements as well as the code, how you should work in this kind of premises together with sensitive information. And by this, I believe that we are able to get some of the security or safety intensive agencies to join the network. But of course, police will still have their own buildings.

They need to place for the cars, they need the jails they need to the shooting ranges and et cetera. So the idea is that besides using their own private buildings, perhaps the police could open a small part of the building as a coworking location and share it with some other agencies.

So that's the idea here. And we have had some success that even the Finnish armed forces has said that actually they do have quite a lot of work that they could do in this co working location. Shouldn't they just take care of the clearances and security ratings of the different premises and different information they use? So we will get those in not 100%, but perhaps 15%, 20% of them will come. And I believe it will happen within five years.

Stéphan Déry: This is interesting, Tuomas, because I mean—and I will want to follow up with you at a later date on how you're progressing on this vision. We've started... I've just started with my colleagues from security agency. I think there's a desire and they see some affinity to work closer together in some part, some organization with others.

So I think we're starting a dialog here in Canada on is there a possibility of colocation or having security hubs that could be an existing building from one security agency and another is (that) security agencies could work from there again, depending on what they're working on and the level of security.

But I think, as you said, let's focus on the low hanging fruit and then look at these after. Is there a benefit? It has been open all by the pandemic. When you look at this, that thinking, I don't think anyway was as much there before. But now people are seeing the possibility and the benefit that could be with collaborating a little bit, working a little bit closer and sharing their space a little bit more.

So I think there's something there that we'll have to explore and we'll keep in touch as we're moving in that direction and as we develop a plan on our side of the globe to your side and see if we can compare notes. I think it will be interesting as this evolves to see how far we can go and how far people are willing to go.

You talked a little bit about the way that people work before they were working from home already, like not to the extent they are now, but they were—telework existed before you had moved to activity based workplace also in Finland 10, 15 years ago.

How did the managers adapt to the pandemic and to supervising after the pandemic hit in March 2020 and everybody was having to work from home? Did that make a difference, did you see managers that were reluctant before now adopting teleworking and being encouraged and thinking that it's working, people are productive? I'm happy the way it works. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Tuomas Pusa: I think that this has not been such a big issue in this pandemic in Finland or regarding teleworking. I would say that the idea that you have to change the way you lead people or manage processes when you move from private offices to activity based offices. So we have talked a lot about square meters and efficiency and these kind of hard metrics.

But it's always good to remind that the workplace is a mixture. It's the physical workplace. And of course, you have the digital workplace and the social workplace. And the social and the digital part of the workplace, they provide an opportunity for productivity improvements and in very big magnitudes. And by this I mean that if this activity based working or teleworking or moving to this kind of ecosystem, I told, it forces management to finally seize leading by monitoring attendance to actually leading by setting feasible targets and monitoring the success compared to these targets.

So actually, it's a place to modernize the leadership finally as well. And I'm not saying that this hasn't already happened in many agencies, but there's still work to be done, and yes, it's not easy to everyone, it's not easy to all agencies.

And we have tried to make it easier or help the agencies by providing this sort of change management services or change management expert services where we provide tools and consultancy for the management, how they should operate, how they should lead, how they should perhaps discuss about these changes with their employees or their teammates.

So this change management is an important part here, how we can reduce that or make it easier to take the step. But I stress that you need a new way or more a higher level of leadership and management. And that's only a good thing.

[00:31:14] Accessibility, greening and other priorities

Stéphan Déry: Absolutely. I think that leading or managing by line of sight, when you see people in front of you is not the norm anymore. And as we move more and more in that kind of telework and working almost from either from these hubs or for the—from the public service area or working from home, we're going to have to manage by result and lead our people, give them tasks that they will be able to deliver results instead of, yes, you're in the office. I assume you're working.

So that's a change for some people (and) that change has started to happen a while ago. And I think it's progressing and it's accelerated with the pandemic. And now a lot of people working from home. We've talked a lot about the impact of the pandemic, but we haven't talked about the investment in technology. Since you had already moved to activity based workplace about 10, 15 years ago, I'm fascinated, personally in Canada that I'm talking to you, you're in Finland. We're seeing each other on the screen. Prior to March 2020, I could tell you that I was doing most of my conference on the telephone.

I wasn't using video conferencing like we are right now. Like the Zoom, the MS Teams, Google Meet, all of the software that were there probably before the pandemic, but have grown substantially since.

Was that the case in Finland or were you already all equipped with video? And for you, it may have been a smoother sailing, as you were already in that era of video conferencing and on people's desktops. How was the change in the Information Technology (IT) infrastructure? Was it a big change or was it just a small change, adaptation I would say?

Tuomas Pusa: To be honest, I'm not an expert on details on that issue, on IT investments, but how it looks from this sort of workplace point of view is that I don't recognize significant investments in Finland made in its infrastructure due to the pandemic, at least not yet. I will say that a basic infrastructure, meaning Internet connections fast enough having this sort of Skype or Microsoft team's equipment available, it has already been there.

We use SharePoint, for example, for shared document management, et cetera. So the basic tools has been there, of course, when everyone moves to working from home very fast, we had some issues with bandwidth, et cetera, but we also have a centralized information and communication technology (ICT) agency for the government. And I would say that they were fairly able to solve those issues quickly. So a bit more bandwidth and et cetera.

I think that the more important part is that there are still many processes and for example, in the courthouses or police, et cetera, that are paper based, that they still exist. So that's something that has been accelerated. And they are now setting up ICT projects to replace the old ways of doing things on paper, et cetera, to new modern digital ways so that they would be able to work from home or other locations. That's something that has started to speed up. But the basic infrastructure has not been under significant changes.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you. I mean, for you, it probably was easier to move to a telework arrangement or rapidly move to, you know, working from home for a large population than it was in some other country. Because, know, I could tell you the first three months that we were here in Canada in March 2020.

You know, I spent almost 12 hours on my cell phone in conference call without seeing anybody. And three months after our colleagues, I would say from the Shared Services Canada have made miracles. In three months, they've probably done the work of three years to five years and they equipped everybody with the MS Teams, Skype, and everybody increased the bandwidth, increased the VPN (virtual private network) licenses.

It took about two or three months and then we were all equipped to work from home or work remotely, I should say. And that was a transition. Our processes, you know, of signing and all that got digitized a lot faster than we were anticipating it would have been in the normal years. So I'm happy to hear that some countries were already advanced in that digitization, in working digitally, and the pandemic didn't have as much an impact on them.

And the more ready we are with our processes, like you mentioned, the police, the court that are still fairly paper-based, the more ready we are with digital processes, the more easy it's going to be, if ever.

[00:36:24] Current vision in the regard of the years ahead and concepts being used or explored

And we say if ever something like this happens again, I think some of the lessons learned will be that if it does happen, how can we be ready and pandemic proof really moving forward. So able from one day to the next, you know, move into that digital world and be able to function so that the government can function (at) 100%. We talked a little bit about your vision for the real property, the office, a little bit more for the security agency you talked about.

You'll probably end up with 50% too much office space. We talked about hubs like over twenty some, twenty two hubs in different cities where people are going to go work, could go work, they could work from home, work for the ninety service point public service point that you're going to create. It could work for these hubs.

How do you think what kind of impact it's going to have on the real property portfolio of Finland? Will you have to acquire new space, while you may reduce some space in some area, or you already have most of this infrastructure in place and it just (about) changing the usage of the space.

Tuomas Pusa: I believe I have to say that we have been disinvesting or selling the government real property for more than 10 years, so it has been a decreasing portfolio for a long time. And that is because of the change of how work is done and the changes going on in all of the agencies. Prisons are different today. The army performs differently and they want to be in different locations. They don't need so many bases, etc. So this has been going on, this divesting of our portfolio for quite a long time.

The portfolio is now a bit under five billion euros and we have a target to sell at least 100 million euros worth of premises per year. It's not that much, but that's the figure that gets empty every year. So I think that what is going to happen is that we will reduce the amount of offices measured by square meters and we will mostly be able to do that within our own premises, meaning that we will divest some and we will reduce those leased outside of our own portfolio from the private market. And that's what is going to happen for the office portfolio.

So we will cut probably 50% (of offices) away, I would say, in 10 years or so. Then the special premises, which is most of our portfolio, it's close to 75%, even 80% of our portfolio. So that is not going to decrease fastly. Actually, we are heavily investing in the special premises because the needs of these sort of security authorities and such are changing rapidly.

So the change is interesting that we are disinvesting from offices, generating savings from offices, and by that we are funding investments in the special premises, the prisons, the police, the military, etc. So in this sense, we are you could say that we are shifting assets from the offices to the special premises on the government portfolio.

Stéphan Déry: Interesting, when it's all managed together under one agency, it gives you the opportunity to move funding from one area to the next. And where the need is basically and where there's a need to invest, then you can—if there is savings somewhere, you can reinvest it somewhere else.

[00:40:03] Closing question: what is the biggest priority for Finland’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?

Tuomas Pusa: If you have to pick one? I would say that the biggest priority for us is to continue to drive the modern ways of working throughout the Finnish government. And by this, I mean to improve productivity by using or employing workplaces, premises even better or smarter. So that's what we are aiming to do. We are shifting the ways of working and we are improving productivity by the use of premises.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you, Tuomas. And please don't be shy if there's anything you would like to add to the interview, a question we haven't asked. You could do it now. Thank you.

Tuomas Pusa: Well, actually, there was one thing I thought that it brings a more full picture on what we are doing in Finland. If there's one topic we could cover and that's how we are able to pull through this kind of big changes in the ways that government work. And by this, I mean that on last year we updated the real estate strategy of the government of Finland, and that was managed by the Ministry of Finance.

So we have a strong background and it's well, it's not a law, but it's a law-like document that all the agencies have to comply with and that states that, for example, the ownership has to be centralized in real property. And we are currently working on renewing the workplace strategy of the Finnish government. And that should be ready by now. I would say that it will be approved after summer holidays and that once again will state, for example, that 20% to 25% of government employees has to work in this sort of hubs, in shared workplaces.

And that, again, it's not the law, but it's a document that the agencies must comply with. So it's the government strategy for workplaces. And these kind of documents, strategies get really strong support for us to get through this kind of improvement.

So we don't have to say, why do you have to do it? We don't have to spend time discussing with the agencies that they don't want to do these changes because they all are obliged to do so. And this is something that we really need. And I think we couldn't pull this through without this sort of Minister of Finance ran or led strategies that enforce the whole government.

Stéphan Déry: Fantastic. This concludes today's podcast. Thank you, Mr. Pusa, for taking the time to discuss with me what the future of work and workspace modernization may look like for Finland. Thank you very much, your time was greatly appreciated. Merci.

Tuomas Pusa: Thank you. It was nice to have this discussion.

Interview with Mr. Harald Nikolaisen, Director General at Statsbygg (Norway)

Length: 44 minutes 07 seconds

Interview date: May 26, 2021

Listen to the interview between Stéphan Déry and Mr. Harald Nikolaisen, Director General at Statsbygg (Norway)

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Transcription of interview with Mr. Harald Nikolaisen, Director General at Statsbygg (Norway)

The Workplace Network—Mr. Harald Nikolaisen, Director General at Statsbygg (Norway)

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.

[00:00:41] Introduction and overview of Norway’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 a meeting today with a public sector real estate expert from Norway, Mr. Harald Nikolaisen, Director General at Statsbygg. Mr. Nikolaisen, thank you for accepting our invitation and taking the time to share with us your views on those topics.

Harald Nikolaisen: Thank you very much, Stéphan, and also for the invitation. It's always nice to talk and discuss these things with colleagues. So that's appreciated also from my side.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you very much. I think we had a lot of interviews in the past few months and we could see a trend developing globally. So (it) will be quite interesting to find out what's happening in Norway. Before we get going, our audience really likes to know a little bit more about your organization that you're managing. So could you give us an overview of the public real property portfolio that you are responsible for in Norway?

Harald Nikolaisen: Yes, I will try to give you a short brief of what Statsbygg does. Our portfolio is approximately three million square meters of public property in the civil sector, not military property, which is part of the Defense Department. So we have the civil public property in Norway. And that excludes and this is important, that excludes the commercial office buildings, apart from the governmental quarters, which is our responsibility.

But other public entities in Norway hiring pure office space does that in the commercial market. And so we do not own the public offices, which can be rented commercially. We own the purpose-built buildings for the government in the civil sector, like courthouses, universities, police stations, border stations and different kinds of institutions, embassies abroad in 55 countries and so on and so forth.

We are a compulsory advisory for every public entity that the hires commercial office buildings in the private market. So then we give them advice on how many square meters they should have, how they should work, and what we think would be a decent price for the square meters. So we can, when we do these kind of advisories, we have a track record of cutting costs and square meters with approximately 30% to 40% if you compare with what their old rental agreements in the private sector were.

So we do not own these commercial buildings, but we have a role in helping other state agencies getting good deals and discussing their working place and how to work and what kind of square meters they have. Apart from this, we also are the government's construction entity.

When the public do need a construction of a building, we are their construction company, so to speak, and we do investments in new built projects in approximately seven hundred million euros a year. So we have a quite a big part of our work is building new buildings for the state. So that I think that is, in short, what we do.

We have income from our rental agreements, approximately five hundred million euros a year, which we use, of course, to maintain, operate and build our organization. And we are approximately 830 employees which manage and look after all these kind of buildings.

So I think that is, in short, Stéphan, what we do. But maybe you have some questions, if things was unclear to you.

Stéphan Déry: Extremely interesting. Thank you, Harald. I mean, I'm quite impressed by the portfolio that you're managing, three million square meters. And it's interesting, like if I do a parallel to Canada from an office perspective, we also provide services to, and it doesn't include military in Canada either, but we provide services to (the) border agency and all this. But we don't own them. The border agency owns them.

Special purpose spaces, if it's all special purpose, the department owns them. We own the office space, we lease a lot of our office space from the private sector a little bit. Like you say, we provide advice in Canada. We lease it on their behalf and we also provide advice and negotiate the lease to ensure that across the country, based on the market, it is a similar rate that everybody pays.

Interesting, your advisory services, we provide advisory services also, from a project perspective, technical. And you're the construction agent for the government, which we manage on an optional basis, but we manage a lot of projects on behalf of the government and building new buildings, courthouses, as you do, and renovating as an example, border crossings. We don't own them, but most of the time we're involved in rebuilding them or renovating them or managing them on behalf of the client.

Harald Nikolaisen: And it's like in Europe, that's where the different countries have that different tweaks on the model.

Stéphan Déry: Yeah, exactly.

Harald Nikolaisen: And so some differences. But we're in the same market. But it's hard to find one country that has chosen the same model. They differ on some certain parameters from country to country, as I see it.

[00:06:38] Vision for the future of work prior to the pandemic

Stéphan Déry: Exactly. Exactly. But we're all influenced by the same thinking. And you talked a little bit about number of square meters, the efficiency you were able to gain by your advice to some of your clients. Could you tell us a little bit what was your long-term vision for your portfolio of assets prior to the world being hit by COVID-19?

Harald Nikolaisen: Maybe in three main topics, really. I mean, the climate change, more climate friendly, both maintenance and operation of the buildings, but also climate friendly in a way of more efficiency in the use of the buildings so that we do not have to build so much new, or we reuse older buildings to level the carbon footprint. That was one main issue.

One other main issue was the digitalization being able to both have the digital twin on our construction projects that could be used in the operating and maintaining of the building and securing data shared by all parts of the construction project and also being handed over to operational afterwards to be able to both have track of what's in the building, but also have more control of the technical equipment, the energy consumption, the (automation), also the climate change, the digitalization and also the fact that although Norway has its own oil-fueled economy, also in Norway, the state will have harder times in the years to come. So we need to work more efficient. I think that was the three main issues.

And we also worked a lot with activity based workplace, especially related to the construction of a new governmental quarter, and had a lot of discussions on what is the best way of working. Should there be free seating, should there be 70% coverage on the desks? And how is this to be? That discussion was also going on. What do we need to do? Everybody needs their own office or do we need spaces for cooperation and more small rooms for phone calls? And how is the layout in the new activity based working place to be? That discussion was it was a lot of enthusiasm during this.

And of course, as in Canada, I would expect also the commercial offices. This was the, in a way, the most common way of designing new offices was the activity based working place layout. But in some of our purpose building and especially maybe within the university and the academia and also in the governmental departments, there was some kind of resistance against this new way of thinking.

We want our own office and we cannot think if we are not in our office and can't close the door and nobody can use that office if we are not there. That's my office. So we had those kind of discussions. But of course, this has all been fueled and changed by the pandemic, of course.

Stéphan Déry: Extremely interesting. And you make the parallel with Canada and you are absolutely right. We were there thinking about it. We have started to implement it in 2016 and there was a fair amount of resistance. I really think that priorities from one country to the next, a similar efficiency.

You mentioned efficiency being an oil based economy and preparing for the future. You mentioned greening or GHG (greenhouse gas) reduction. For the government of Canada, the buildings are the second largest GHG emitter. If you want to reduce the environmental footprint of the government, you have to address the GHG emissions of your portfolio. So, it's a big point and it's an area of focus for most countries now to say, how can we have better buildings, greener buildings?

Harald Nikolaisen: What is nice, I think, Stéphan, is that now many more people see that the climate and the digitalization and also the efficiency are more or less working in the same direction. I mean, if you use your buildings to a higher extent, of course, you will save money, but you will save the climate.

And the same way the digitalization will help you control the energy consumption and the (automation) in the building and also helps you both save money, but also save CO2 emissions. So I think the extreme driving force is in many ways are working in the same direction and supporting each other. And I think that is one of the positive things that we see.

Stéphan Déry: Absolutely. And I think we need to—and they are working in the same direction. Then you mentioned also in the previous question that, you know, maybe not investing in older buildings because they're not energy efficient. So at some point in the portfolio, you're going to say, OK, these buildings, they would take too much money to make them energy efficient and all this. So we'll build new, obviously not for the heritage buildings, but we'll need to keep those.

[00:11:59] Adjustments due to the pandemic

But, you know, there's a choice and ABW (activity based workplace) brings that a little bit more efficient way of looking at space and how could it be used to its maximum. So before the pandemic, a little bit of resistance. Now, let's get into what happened, like when COVID-19 hit the world.

Basically in a few months, it was around the world. How did that change your priorities if it changed your priorities? And how did that change the perception of what you wanted to do from an ABW perspective?

Harald Nikolaisen: There's no clear answer to that because it moves in different directions. Of course, obviously, one thing that that is very clear is that during one month maybe or something, the digitalization you're seeing like Teams or Zoom and not having to travel, I mean, that exploded. And I've heard many people say that we, in a way, we did in a month what we expected to use three years on in digitalization, the way we work and communicate.

And of course, we have tried it at Statsbygg over many years to reduce our traveling budget and our CO2 emissions related to traveling with 15%, to 20%. And it has been so very, very difficult because we just have to travel to discuss these things and we have to be in these meetings and we have to be in these conferences and meet physically to be able to discuss things.

And now we see, of course, that during a month we just reduced our traveling to nothing and still very much worked as it used to. We managed to spot ways of working very efficiently. And that, of course, was an eye opener. And we are now working very hard to keep the good habits from the pandemic when we now are starting to, coming back to the office, we have in Statsbygg, we have launched a project that we call Back to the Future and where we discuss, and now when we go back to our office, what habits do we need to take with us from this pandemic?

And of course, traveling, using Teams, more efficient meetings. There's a lot of good things that we've learned so that, of course, this is a no brainer. But what's more difficult is how does this affect what we need in the working environment? The first and initial response was what will we now do with a new governmental quarter? Do we need more space to be safe when we come back so that we don't get sick from each other from the pandemic?

So maybe we need, we, do we need to design a new governmental quarters to be able to have two meters between each employee at every given time. I mean, that was the first initial response. And of course, when we thought about it, we know, of course, if a new pandemic should come down, we will more likely work from home again. And we cannot construct our offices related to a new pandemic, that will be too expensive.

And then it's, in a way, shifted backwards to well, but we do not want to lose this freedom of working from home. So maybe we need less space when we come back, because maybe only two or three days a week, we need to go to the office, not all the time. And then we have to look at how we actually use the office and have more free seating so that it went that way, quite the other way around.

And now it's coming back to some kind of equilibrium, I think somewhere in between where we say that people do need to cooperate and meet, we cannot live like this much longer, but we do think that we will need less space for concentration work and that kind of work where you normally did at your office, you probably would want to do more of that from home or from another place which is more convenient so you don't have to travel into downtown to get it done. But at the same time, that will also increase the need for meeting and cooperating and exchanging information.

So I think at least it will need more planning in how to work. And when you go to work, it will demand more planning and more coordinating between the organization actually to find arenas to cooperate. Where we need to meet, there needs to be (creativity), need to exchange ideas which cannot be done from home. And we need to have some guidance when to do what. Otherwise, it'll be all coincidence and a chaos.

Stéphan Déry: I really like the title Back to the Future concept, Harald. I'm thinking while you're speaking, I was looking in my head. It's a movie I've seen before, a movie of what's happening in Canada, what's happening in the government. And when the pandemic hit, we went from mainly probably teleworking was ad hoc within the government? I would say maybe 10%, 15% of the people were teleworking once in a while. No, really large scale teleworking in one or another department.

But we went from probably to 10% to 90% in a few days. We prepared our office and I think the pendulum swing was the same, prepared our office to accommodate that the workers that needed to go there, they had no choice because they couldn't do their work from home. So, you know, 10% of the workforce probably stayed in the office, approximately, not—depending which department, depending of their mandate.

But it was interesting. So we ensured to meet our distancing, we ensure that workstations and people couldn't get in to contact (with) each other and all of that. And then you realize that the elevator couldn't accommodate the population. So if you go to your scenario that everybody wants to be two meters apart, you'll need to double or triple the number about the elevators. So it would kind of not work.

Harald Nikolaisen: And you would not have the commuting working. You could not have the collective transport working, the trains, the hubs, the busses. And so, it's not really an issue for the office.

Stéphan Déry: So you have to think, OK, when we're out of the pandemic and your safety valve, if there's something else is working from home. As you said, it's going back to working from home more on the majority of people. Another interesting point you raise is the IT (information technology) investment that a lot of governments made because before COVID, we didn't have teams on our computer and we didn't have Zoom. And all of these things became, you mentioned in a couple of months, you did three years of investment and progress.

[00:18:56] Specific initiatives that supports the vision of the future of work

I think that the pandemic has propulsed us ten years ahead from a workplace, and the way we think about work and all of this, you talk about flexibility. You talk about a lot of things that I hear around the world in all these podcasts that people are saying, will we go back to the way we were before? What's your view on that? Do you think the elastics going to snap back to exactly nine to five people? You know, the 100% of the people will go back to the office.

You talk about hybrid; two, three days a week. What's your view on that? I'm thinking here in Canada, we're hoping to have vaccinated about 75% of the population with two shot by September. And we're thinking—we're going to go back to kind of normal life. Not sure if there'll be normal life after. And I'm just wondering, people need to collaborate. People need to be together. People need to see each other at least once in a while. And we're thinking that, OK, maybe in September the elastic is going to snap back and everybody is going to be back in the office. But I don't know if that's going to last.

Harald Nikolaisen: And of course, as you say, nobody can say this for sure. It's like a big social experiment. We really do not know. But we think that and I don't know if this translates well to English, but in Norway, we have a saying that you cannot get the toothpaste back on the tube. I don't know how that translates into English, but you cannot take it back. If you have the toothpaste out of the tube, it's out.

Stéphan Déry: It works real well in English also.

Harald Nikolaisen: And of course, the traveling, which now seems meaningless when you can just have a team meeting that will disappear and not totally, of course, but to a large extent. And the flexibility of meeting people for a short team chat across the country where you otherwise in the earlier days had to plan for weeks to find a common spot where you could meet at some place that wasn't too inconvenient for all.

All those kind of things are gone. And I think also people would want to have more flexibility regarding their private lives and not having to commute maybe into rush hour, be more flexible, but of course, that people still will need to meet. And I think when you do not know when the others might come to work, you need, in a way, to plan and coordinate more than you needed before when you can just show up, because you would know that everybody else also would be there. I don't think that'll be the case.

And I don't think we quite know how that will play out and what challenges that might give us in a way of controlling this flexibility, planning the flexibility in a way. Right. And that for some people there will be maybe, more different between what kinds of work, your line of work you have and what you actually can do.

Some people have to be at work, maybe more or less all of the time. And at least in Norway, the thought that we are equal and that we shall have the same rights and the same privilege is quite inherent in our way of looking at ourselves, and if this flexibility also makes a bigger difference internally at Statsbygg on what people can do or not can do, that might also be kind of a challenge for us because we're not used to that. Wet used to that people have more or less have the same privileges.

So I think this is also a challenge how to plan and coordinate the new norm of flexibility and also how to handle in your company culture that there probably will be more differences between what people can do related to what they actually work and what their responsibilities are. These are new challenges that we are not used to.

Stéphan Déry: And I really like what you say, Harald, because to a certain extent, we want to avoid to create the have and have not in the new situation because some of the work cannot be done away from the office and some jobs have to be done in person. Were teleworking was the minority, probably in Norway also prior to the pandemic?

Harald Nikolaisen: Yes, very much so. I mean, very much so. We had rules that every worker had to be in the office between nine and two in the core hours. And if you couldn't do that, you more or less need to have approval from your boss. Right. And now it's the other way around. You have to have acceptance from your boss to be able to go into the office.

Stéphan Déry: Totally changed around, right?

Harald Nikolaisen: Yeah.

Stéphan Déry: So that means that you had 95% of your people, of employees, were in the office at any given time. Now it's as you said, it's the reverse completely. So that created the trend of teleworking. How do you see this trend going within the government of Norway? How do you see this trend going in the future? Is it the same trend that the private sector in Norway that you see?

Harald Nikolaisen: Yeah, I think it's quite similar. I think what we have seen previously is that some part of the private sector, not all of the private sector, but some of the frontrunners have been doing this for a while. But they are a minority, maybe just 5% or 10% of the private sector.

But now, of course, to private, all of the private sector is doing this more or less, but also all of the public sector. And I think this will also accentuate another discussion that we tried to raise prior to the pandemic. And that is the usage of square meters. I mean, we measure a lot of usage of square meters and we hardly ever get more than 55% of the square meters actually being used.

That was a discussion that was very hard to raise prior to the pandemic because people more or less didn't believe it. And of course, we need to have all this space because someday everybody is at work at the same time and we need to be prepared for that. We cannot send them home because we do not have enough offices. But this has never been the case, there's a large portion of our square meters that is not utilized, so and that has been easier to discuss now after the pandemic, because now people understand it more.

[00:25:14] Accessibility, greening and other priorities

Stéphan Déry: I think you're absolutely right. I'll make a parallel. We've done some studies here also in Canada. I'm talking Government of Canada, not the private sector, but anywhere. We were anywhere between 60% and 65% utilization of space. Even some of my colleagues in department never got above 55% of their space. So when you start thinking—and exactly like Norway before the pandemic, you would say that means that we have 35%, at least 35% of our space that is unutilized, meaning it costs money to maintain because maybe we'll use it at one point in the year. It does emit GHG.

So from a greening perspective, that's 35% that we could easily green if we were adopting. And that's where we were going with the activity based workplace that we call GCworkplace here in Canada. We were trying to say if we go to unassigned seating, we'll be able to reduce our environmental footprint, our expenditure also. But our environmental footprint have nicer space, you know, for collaboration. But that was hard to talk to departments about that and say we're not sure today.

I have to say, and I would like to hear you on this. Today, I would like to say that the door is wide open to all of my clients already and say, come on in. I think we don't need as much space, especially now that we experienced it ourselves. It is feasible we're able to deliver a program and I wouldn't say not exclusively virtually, because, as you said, we need collaboration.

We need to come together. We need to brainstorm together. But part of the work can be done remotely and it would help our environmental targets, would help a reduction of our costs. And so how does the department in Norway react now to that possibility where they were hard to talk to before?

Harald Nikolaisen: As I said previously, it's also kind of a social experiment. We do not quite know where this will end. But one thing is for sure that although some employees, of course, have had a rough time, maybe with kids home from school, a small apartment, very difficult working conditions and so on. So it's not only sunshine. This is the experiences from the pandemic. Many people have had a really rough, rough year.

But still, I think what we have now that we didn't have prior is the sense that it is in a way, a trade off. We have all as individuals experienced the freedom of the flexibility.

I do not think people could envisage that prior to say that, oh, it will actually work. I actually I can do it from home. We thought, no, it won't work. This cannot be done. We do not have the technology, you know, everybody knows. And they are willing to, I think, to put some value on it and say, OK, if we can have more flexibility, then we will accept free seating. And of course then we need less space and extend the space is accommodated to meeting, meeting in groups, having interactions.

Yeah, I do not maybe need to go to my office every day at the eight o'clock to sit in my office by myself. Maybe I do not want that anymore. So I think that is maybe the biggest achievement that the mindset of all employees in the public sector have changed a little bit. And that is—then you maybe have the trade off and can do something that we couldn't actually manage before the pandemic.

[00:29:01] Current vision in the regard of the years ahead and concepts being used or explored

Stéphan Déry: We're talking about employee flexibility. And I see the same thing here. People want flexibility. What about the manager? What's your view of the manager that were used to manage by line of sight, manage by knowing that their people are in the office? Do you think there's been an evolution of thinking there also?

And do you think they would be—have the tendency to try to go back to the office and try to recreate the world that we left a year and a half ago, almost. And it's interesting. It's a social experiment, experimentation that you call it. I really like that term. I from our perspective, we were saying, you know, it's the largest worldwide telework pilot project that we have ever done in the world. Right.

Every country I've went to from South Korea to Norway to United States to Australia to New Zealand, they all went on a large portion of their people teleworking. So what do you think the managers—and do you see that change, that culture change across all levels of organization?

Harald Nikolaisen: No, not I guess not across all levels of organization. And then we of course, we do not know this, but I think it also, in a way, forced together with some trend relating to more empowering the employee's rights. Giving them responsibility for their own work than the modern knowledge workers. You do not actually need to manage them by clocking when they come and when they leave, but relate to what they produce and how they work.

So in a way, it... if we are lucky, it will add up or go in line with a more modern way of doing management and in a more modern way of looking at your employees, empowering them and making them knowledge workers that can be more self-governed. That is the bright future. If those trends force together, that will probably work for many employees and many managers, but not for all. And then you will have the inequality in a way, issue again, how to control and plan for it.

But I think in Statsbygg, our ambition is to also use this to fuel what we think we should do anyway, empowering our employees, thinking of a new way of manager, where you where you do not govern your employees and your knowledge worker by when they show up and when they leave but how they contribute and what they deliver.

So in a way, it's an opportunity maybe also to use this to launch a new way of thinking about management and employees. But then in a way, for many people, you'll also add maybe more complexity to the equation. And there's no one size fits all, but there's a window of opportunity, I think, using this to have more modern management in part of the public sector as well.

Stéphan Déry: I think you're absolutely right, Harald. And I'll tag on your last word. There's no one size fits all, and I think we'll have to be flexible. Do we have a crystal ball? And I think I would not say that, but we don't know exactly how it's going to be evolving. And I think we were building a portfolio plan that, for the next twenty-five years and obviously we were saying to our colleagues, this will need to evolve.

And probably every year as we get older, the pandemic, you know, all countries are happy that we're finally getting through. But it will have (left) a mark and probably change the way we work, change the way we use buildings forever.

Harald Nikolaisen: Yeah, I think so. But both the way we use them, how much buildings we need and what kind of buildings we need.

Stéphan Déry: Absolutely. And how do we manage space and the coordination I think you mentioned a few times during the interview will be quite interesting because if you have everybody showing up to the office on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and everybody stays home on Monday or Friday, you'll have the same problem.

Harald Nikolaisen: Yeah, you'll have the same problem. You will not gain much at all, actually. We have discussed this internally and start speaking. And then in the beginning, we focused a bit on how many days should we allow people to work from home. That's where we started. Maybe two days, maybe three days. How much can we have? But now we have, after discussing it a bit, said we do not think this is the right approach, actually, to try to use this window of possibility and flexibility to put in stone some strict way of working and saying that.

So I think the flexibility is what we need and how to coordinate it. So maybe discussing how many days you're allowed to work from home is not the right way into this. But focus on the flexibility and how can we—what is an efficient way of working together?

Stéphan Déry: Absolutely. I think somebody I was listening to was talking about putting a guardrail and defining, but leaving a lot of flexibility within that to managers to teams, the directors to how—what is best for their team and how can they work together and how can they be more productive. Because if you have, you know, managers that feel they are in control and not in the bad sense of the word, but really they're managing their teams, they feel their teams are happy, they're productive.

So how can we do this, provide that environment that they can be productive and feel that they have the liberty or the flexibility to make some work arrangements with their employees. And I think that's where our space, to your point is going to be, to be retaught a little bit instead of having all cubicles where people come in and sit at their desk for eight hours a day or seven and a half hours. But maybe that's not useful anymore.

It may be useful for the—you mentioned the young person that has a small apartment or the couple that are both working in a three room apartment and they may want to come to the office and we'll have to be flexible with that, too, forcing people to come in. It's not the right way. Forcing people to work from home is probably not the right way either. So, you know, I think flexibility has a lot of sense in the way we move in the future.

Harald Nikolaisen: Then I think also, Stéphan, you know, because this also have application, I think, to well, let's say the infrastructure, the transportation system. I mean, should we that hopefully it will when we look back at it, to look quite meaningless to design the rails and the subways and busses for peak hours between seven and eight thirty for everybody was going to on the bus to go to their office and sit in their offices and work. Of course, this is a waste of resources.

If it's possible to take down the peak and rush hour also in the climate perspective or in the, I mean, the way we develop our towns. So it has also a big knock on effect, I think, on the planning of the community, municipalities and the infrastructure system where there's a lot of resources and money to be gained if we use this flexibility in a wise way.

Stéphan Déry: Absolutely. And I think a lot a large city will have to rethink maybe or adapt, I should say. And it's absolutely right. If we can avoid the peak hours by giving flexibility that maybe it help us from a greenhouse gas reduction. It helps us for being fiscally responsible.

And have you start thinking of—you mentioned that people may need more, less space, department may need less space and have to start thinking of what that could mean for your portfolio. Or you just—it's evolving. The thinking is evolving as we know it. Like I said, we don't have a crystal ball to say here's exactly what the future is going to look like.

Harald Nikolaisen: Yeah, we are. We're starting to think about it. The one thing is this, the new governmental quarter, which, of course, maybe will be. The place where this discussion is putting to the peak, how much do we actually need to build? And we can see the consequences of that already because the new government quarterlies is divided into three stages, the first construction stage, the second and the third.

So as we evolve and gain experience, of course, we have to discuss do we really need a part three of this project when we see what we are, how we use part one and part two, do we really need to build part three? That is not sure.

But then we have at least defined it in a way that we have the flexibility and we can say, OK, maybe we do not. Maybe we should sell that piece of land and not build part three of the governmental border because we really do not need it. And I think that's the way many people should try to think when planning ahead.

And I think we see that, of course, we are not affected directly because we do not own this office area, but we see them in the lease market with the short lease periods and more flexibility and how much you want to lease. And that also knocks into how you can finance construction in the private sector because you don't have these long leases to loan money on.

So I think it will affect the office and that, what is in Norway is the private public sector of the commercial office buildings. And I think it's wise to calculate a 20% to 30% reduction, I think in the amount of office space.

Stéphan Déry: We're at the same area. We're thinking about, which we're renovating large complex, but we're starting renovating the large complex that we know for sure we're going to need and that we know that even if we were to go down to 50% less space, we would still need those key buildings across the country.

So we're not in a situation where we end up with too much excess space because brick and mortar takes a little while to build. And leases are for more than a year. Usually they're long term game also. So we want to make sure that we are not going too fast and too slow at the same time.

Harald Nikolaisen: This will be very interesting, I think, to follow in the years to come. One trend, I think we'll see stronger and stronger in the coming year is that the offices have to offer something more than bricks and mortar and buildings. There has to be some kind of quality in the area to make people want to come there.

It could be, of course, inside the building, but also where the building is, because it's so easy to communicate remotely now and cooperate, that you really don't need to transport all of your employees to a building which is not in some kind of pleasant environment where there are add-ons for your employees to travel to that point and then maybe they'll sit home. I think maybe you need some quality in the area, in the building itself, some services to make it. Maybe not an attraction, but worthwhile going to.

Stéphan Déry: I think you said the making some value that it's worth coming to. So it may be in the neighborhood, because people if they don't come to the office every day, nine to five and things like that, they may want to come to the office and after work have a glass of wine or enjoy a dinner with colleagues and things like that, because you want to keep that culture also.

And I think that's going to be—force us to be creative in the future with our office space and the surrounding around the buildings to make sure that we help organizations to create that culture and have the amenities that will bring people once a week or twice a week, travel an hour, sometimes an hour and a half to come to it, to the office for a meeting, but also to enjoy the presence of their colleagues and have the chance to brainstorm.

[00:41:51] Closing question: what is the biggest priority for Norway’s public real property sector in the coming years?

That brings us to the end of our interview. And I would like to conclude this interview on a question if you're OK with that, Harald. I now that you've talked about the priority prior to the pandemic, efficiency, greening better use of your offices as that change from the pandemic of what we've seen and what would be the biggest priority post-pandemic for your sector responsibility in the coming years?

Harald Nikolaisen: Well, that's, of course, a very good question. I think really it hasn't actually changed. It has more accentuated both how can we use digitalization now to plan this flexibility, to coordinate, to actually know how our buildings are. How can we reshape our buildings to better fit to this new way of working in this new way of doing management and how can we do this more efficient?

Maybe it has opened some new opportunities, giving us some new challenges and maybe some new tools, but I don't think it actually has changed very much to priorities, just maybe giving us more options and more tools and widen our perspective on what is possible.

Stéphan Déry: And maybe a way when you talk about digitization and greening, maybe a way to accelerate, to get to our end goal a little bit faster because of added flexibility that would just gain or that we're experiencing.

Harald Nikolaisen: Yeah, I hope so. And if we then managed to keep our good pandemic habits when we return to Back to the Future, back to the office, that is maybe that's a slogan, I think.

Stéphan Déry: Thank you very much, Harald, it was really appreciated. This concludes today's podcast. Thank you, Mr. Nikolaisen, for taking the time to discuss with me what the future of work and workplace modernization may look like for your country, Norway. Thank you very much. It's been a pleasure hosting you today.

Harald Nikolaisen: Thank you very much, Stéphan, it's been very interesting.

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

Length: 44 minutes 45 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% 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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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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