PORTLAND, Maine -- 75 percent of employees, nationally, are not happy with the place they go to work, according to the research and design firm Gensler. Dean Strombom and Sven Govaars of Gensler traveled from Houston, TX to Portland to serve as keynotes at last week's Maine Real Estate & Development Association (MEREDA) conference. The event, meant to discuss "the office of the future," included robust conversation about how place and technology work together, with real-world examples from Maine.
The good news, according to Strombom and Govaars, is that 30 percent of employees feel engaged and enjoy their work. That said, 18 percent of U.S. employees are unhappy, disengaged and undermine what their engaged colleagues accomplish, and 52 percent are disengaged (just show up, do their job and go home). The focus of the event was how to get that 52 percent engaged, and to discuss the reverberations for commercial real estate, the spaces we build, own, and lease and how the Maine market is changing as a result.
Case in point, the New England-based Creative Office Pavilion was on-hand and set up a sample office, featuring benches (instead of chairs) and a large communal table under a pergola. "This arrangement affords employees in an office to collaborate in a casual setting," said Bruce Jones, the company's director of business development and a MEREDA board member. "Some of the best collaborations happen when folks are comfortable and able to share ideas with one another."
The conversation was augmented by a panel of executives from three Maine companies that have embraced the tremendous business opportunity that comes with providing choice to today's enlightened worker.
One of those executives, Kathy Shafer, IDEXX's senior director of worldwide facilities, said that employees at IDEXX can choose whether or not to have a fixed or mobile office, and that many are choosing the mobile. She said that a large part of what makes this work is a paperless environment with wireless printing and other technologies, such as Skype chats and meeting spaces equipped with flat screen TVs. Shafer also noted their wellness center with fitness classes and a health clinic run by Intermed, four dining centers across the campus, and opportunities for on-site gardening, cooking and dancing, which "combine to foster mental and physical health as an important aspect of work."
"We used much of that same toolkit," said Paul Larkins, director of corporate planning and construction at Unum Group. Like Shafer, Larkins noted that "teams define their own spaces" at his company. In fact, he said that only 63 percent of employees are in the office daily and that they "rely on engaged employees to stay on top of the trends and opportunities."
"Colorful, clean, engaging space means a lot," said Brett Austin, president of Kepware. "Real estate is our primary driver to ensure that employees feel they 'win the career lottery.' It's a continuing conversation: we always try to help people live their lives while keeping them highly engaged. And, in fact, in 2015, 98% of our employees were 'highly engaged.' This has made Kepware a lot of money."
"Companies no longer have to undertake a massive expansion when they are adding new employees," said Brian Curley, MEREDA board member and president of PDT Architects. "Instead, companies can be creative in terms of reducing the amount of square footage needed for each employee and, instead, add amenities and features that keep employees engaged."
"The conversation offered great lessons for developers and builders here in Maine," said Michael O'Reilly, MEREDA president and senior VP at Bangor Savings Bank. "As more companies look to expand to Maine, where real estate is more affordable than other locales, and as we see increased development in the commercial real estate space, it's important that we, as an industry, stay on top of these trends, which help improve employee engagement, performance and well-being, with benefits for companies’ bottom lines."
PHOTO CAPTION: Attendees at the Maine Real Estate & Development Association (MEREDA) conference test out the "office of the future" set up by Creative Office Pavilion to augment the conversation about the same topic, keynoted by two renowned architects from the design firm Gensler who traveled from Texas to speak at the event.