Request A Demo
Blog
7 minute read

The New Frontier of Commercial Real Estate

Lane recently brought together a group of superstar industry leaders for an innovation roundtable discussing the future of CRE. Here’s the full breakdown.

Lane is at the forefront of workplace innovation, and an important part of our process is understanding how we can continue to use technology to shape (and improve) the way people work. We’re constantly working with our clients and partners to navigate innovation and disruption in the physical workplace. 

COVID-19 and the influx of work-from-home orders accompanying it has created a seismic shift in the way we think about our work environments. Now more than ever, innovation leaders in the CRE space are thinking about how to keep on top of the innovation cycle as societal attitudes around what “the office” means seem to be shifting by the minute. Often, this means balancing the desire to lead the charge towards modernity with the need to work within the constraints of large, established organizations 

To discuss the implications of this sea change, we decided to bring together leaders in both the commercial real estate (CRE) space as well as in the financial sector—an industry that recently underwent a significant disruption—to discuss how far we’ve come and how we can move forward. Here are some of the major themes and questions we touched on.

 

Innovation FOMO: How to pace yourself in a rapidly evolving environment

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) isn’t just reserved for a missed night out—institutional FOMO is real, too. Recently, it feels like every day brings a barrage of new opportunities to digitize and modernize the workplace—and nobody wants to miss out. So the question is, how does an organization take advantage of these opportunities without overwhelming their team, budget, existing processes, and so on?

One thing we learned from our friends in the financial sector is that the disruption curve is constant. It’s not just one idea that comes in and breaks down established processes, but multiple ideas that intersect with one another. For any one pain point you can think of within an industry or process, somebody is out there finding a way to address it using tech. 

This pressure to innovate in the workplace creates a certain amount of fear and pressure at the senior level of organizations—not just in commercial real estate, but more broadly. Teams are asking themselves: are we doing everything we can to stay on top? How quickly should we be adopting new models? Should we be adopting them at all?

In general, innovation for innovation’s sake isn’t always the answer. So what is? Our discussion kept circling back to one key idea: business needs drive innovation. That means that every decision around innovation should be grounded in what an organization needs—and what they’re ready for. Many CRE businesses, for instance, are risk averse (and rightly so)—so it’s important to consider capacity, and understand that coming in at the middle of the adoption curve won’t necessarily sound the death knell for your business.

Taking time and pacing yourself as an organization is also a good way to filter out the trends from the lasting changes. The good innovations—the ones that have the power to create long-term impact—will stick around. Take your time and see what works for your business. 

 

The Old Guard vs. The Vanguard: How to implement tech solutions in an enterprise world

The reason our discussion included leaders in the CRE and financial sectors wasn’t just to learn from an industry that is strides ahead in their disruption curve. We also wanted to learn from a sector that (much like CRE) is largely comprised of mammoth, enterprise organizations. As much as there is a drive and desire to stay on top of innovation, the other side of the coin is that large, institutional spaces need to think about risk in a way that scrappy start-ups don’t always have to. 

Large CRE entities are often dealing with a myriad of stakeholders and, subsequently, a lot of expectations and demands. Any time you consider implementing a new strategy, it’s not just your customers that you need to think of. Regulatory bodies, shareholders, and the general public will also come into play. Innovating in this space is also complex because often the strength of these organizations comes from tried-and-true operations that have been in place for years and are loath to be disrupted. 

This is where pacing comes in—again. Most of our leaders acknowledged these challenges, and mentioned that the best way to meet them is to start small. Taking calculated risks and breaking down big ideas into smaller integrations—instead of constantly to reinvent the wheel—is the best approach to take when working with an enterprise. 

 

Silo No More: How to create partnerships that strengthen innovation

Another simple way to balance innovation with risk? Collaboration. 

Based on our discussion, it seems like the open and flexible attitude of tech companies like Lane is making its way, not just into CRE spaces, but to any company looking to deliver a great workplace experience to its stakeholders (whether tenants or employees). Most of our leaders discussed how they’ve created cross-sections within their companies to break down siloed thinking and collaborate across groups. In other words, the innovation process should have multiple owners, as opposed to an IT department that does it all. 

While technologists and innovation departments play a key role in education and awareness, all of our participants agreed that leadership has a large role to play when it comes to implementation. Participants spoke about innovation departments that work directly with business employees, who identify real pain points in their departments that can then be addressed through pilot programs or new implementations. In order to address what the business actually needs (and what they’re capable of), these groups need to work in partnership with one another.

Lane’s workplace experience software addresses the pain points that create challenges in the office. So we were thrilled to see that leaders in the CRE space are working to operate in a similar way, by reaching across disciplines and allowing business problems to be met with tech solutions.

 

Working Backward from the End-User

One theme we touched upon at a number of points in the conversation was how important it is to think about the end user and what they ultimately want. And this shift towards a more customer-centric, B2C mindset surfaced the related fact that it’s not just CRE firms who stand to benefit from workplace innovation, but the companies who occupy those offices themselves—since it is those companies who deal most often with the end user, i.e., their employees.

Put differently, if a huge goal for CRE is to attract and retain tenants, one of the chief ways of doing so is by helping those tenants attract and retain employees by offering them an improved “workplace experience.” This especially the case in the wake of COVID, where employees wield even greater influence on real estate decisions. 

 

The Big Question: Should innovation have an ROI?

One of the bigger questions we tackled in our discussion addresses the “why” of innovation in the CRE space, and got us thinking about the driving purpose behind what we do here at Lane—should innovation have an ROI? 

There’s no simple answer. But all of our experts agree that innovation in CRE is less about quantifiable results, and more about institutional impact. While there may not always be clear, measurable returns when investing in innovation, there will always be internal returns as your company expands its skill set and starts using more sophisticated tools to reach and engage with their tenants. 

All of our participants agreed that the downside risk of not innovating is losing tenants who themselves don’t want to be left behind—particularly in today’s climate. When businesses stay on top of changes happening not only in their industry, but in society in general, they demonstrate leadership by addressing (or even anticipating) new challenges with exciting, modern solutions. Lane is just one piece of that puzzle, and we can’t wait to see what’s next.