EMEA Head of Sustainability, CBRE
We are continuing to see evidence that big picture sustainability is becoming mainstream for commercial property, and is being treated as a critical business function. Yet there remains a common misconception that it’s low on the list of priorities for owners and occupiers of buildings.
If we turn our attention to building and location selection, a workspace that provides access to natural light, views and a high quality indoor environment is increasingly sought by companies to attract the best employees. Essentially, the ‘people-centric’ features which companies are paying heed to are in fact long recognised “green” building features. This is very positive news, as it means sustainable practices are being increasingly adopted, just referred to under a different guise.
Delving further, when we talk about sustainability and commercial property, more often than not, attention gets turned to waste management, energy costs, greenhouse gases and associated regulations i.e the Energy Act. An area that often gets overlooked, or worse still totally missed, is workplace wellbeing. Put simply, how the built environment affects its occupiers. Increasing amounts of research is proving the theory that better environments produce happier and healthier humans, with positive performance results in education, healthcare and work environments as a result. In an office setting this can translate to increased productivity, which is ultimately good for business. With 90% of business costs attributable to employees, rather than property, it is unsurprising that a recent study demonstrates that ‘people led’ issues are now very much on the corporate agenda. Furthermore progress is being made as companies are beginning to acknowledge, address or adopt a workplace strategy.
For example, 33% of the survey (based on answers from real estate decision makers at global corporations) named attracting and retaining staff as a key business challenge. This is almost a third of the sample, ranking higher than the hot issue of the moment geopolitical unrest (30%) or more than double the concerns around energy prices (13%). So aside from providing stimulating work what else do employees need to consider to keep employees engaged. According to this survey, there are some simple steps that can be taken.
One, providing amenity rich locations and public transport accessibility. This may sound simplistic but many companies take cost of location ahead of travel access or amenities. The survey reveals that 65% of companies seek quality office space with excellent transport accessibility which is close to amenities, whether this be shops, restaurants, gyms or other features it seems not to matter. The crucial factor seems to be to keep staff engaged within their working environment by providing a central destination that has an array of facilities on its doorstep. In addition, companies realise more connected, urban locations will attract younger workers, who potentially seek a broader experience than work itself – some may say similar to a university campus.
Just two years ago the overriding business challenge for occupiers was cost, driven by economic uncertainty. Decisions driven primarily by cost alone have the potential to creating a disconnect between companies and their employees. With today’s more favourable outlook, and more mobile workforce, companies acknowledge people, place and property cannot be managed in isolation. For example, approximately half of the respondents (46%) cited talent availability as a key factor behind location decisions, while 30% highlighted the cost of labour as a key driver. Both responses were 10% higher than the corresponding figures last year.
As a result, interest in adopting workplace strategies continues to gain momentum. Of those surveyed, two thirds (67%) reported that their workplace strategy was primarily driven by the need to attract and retain talent. This represents a 20% increase from last year (48%) and dislodges cost savings from the top spot (56% in 2013 to 43% today) into third place as the principal aim of such a programme. The second most popular reason to implement a workplace strategy was the desire to increase employee productivity (46%), up from 37% last year. With its strong correlation to efficiency, focussing on creating a high quality indoor environment is key. Clever companies are implementing low glare lighting, increasing fresh air circulation, enhancing access to views, providing facilities to promote activity and introducing natural elements into the workspace. These features are recognised by the main building certification labels such as BREEAM, LEED, DGNB and HQE as advantageous “green” features. The skill for designers, and building managers, is to balance the people centric features with energy efficiency through the use of technology and maintenance for optimal performance.
In summary, as labour is the single largest expense for companies, focusing on ways to keep employees healthy, happy and productive through sustainable practices will positively influence a company’s culture, brand, and profitability whilst also reducing environmental impacts.