“Adapt or Die:” A Conversation with Chris Zlocki
How should companies and building owners approach the workplace if they hope to survive 2022 and beyond? We sat down with Chris Zlocki, the Global Head of Client Experience and Occupier Services at Colliers to get his thoughts.
While COVID has, of course, been difficult for everyone, Chris, like many of us, is excited about the workplace changes that the pandemic has brought and will continue to bring. He sees a future where employees have choice, where workplaces are dynamic spaces that speak to the needs of a diverse employee base, and where companies develop social media-like platforms for their staff. Chris’s vision is an optimistic one, yet he understands that numerous hurdles must be jumped for this utopian future to be realized.
“You’ve got to throw everything out from prior to 2020 because it probably doesn’t make any sense. If you think that the office is going to be what it was before [the pandemic]… then your company probably isn’t going to be the first choice for employees,” shared Chris. We’re already seeing that this is true. In November of 2021, 4.5 million Americans left their jobs in search of something better, proving that employees are fed up with our antiquated corporate culture and ready for change.
In Chris’s opinion, shifting away from the traditional, one-size-fits-all approach to the workplace, will be a significant hurdle that companies will face as they transition to a new way of working and transform their offices. This hurdle, however, won’t be the only one. Chris believes that the human tendency to be risk-averse will also pose a challenge, that fear of change will hold us back, and that our traditional top-down method for implementing change could certainly get in our way. About top-down decision-making, Chris shared, “I’m hearing plans like, ‘we’re going to be back in the office,’ ‘we’re going to be distributed,’ ‘we’re going to be hybrid,’ but the thoughtful organizations that I’ve been reading about are aligning their strategies to their functional needs. They are saying, ‘we are going to work with our managers, leaders, and businesses to define what our hybrid occupancy strategy will be per business area or function.’”
Chris suggests that pilot or phased programs could help companies progress in the right direction, enable them to learn what is and isn’t working, and allow them to manage company-wide risk. In his view, pilots should be conducted, data should be analyzed, and then company-wide programs can be rolled out. Implementing change should happen in stages and the process should be iterative.
Companies won’t be alone in navigating change. If landlords hope to keep their buildings occupied, they too will need to rethink the way in which they operate. In Chris’s view, building owners must “adapt or die.” “...if you are a landlord and you’re not building more flexible options, and you’re not building really rich, meaningful amenities into your stack, and you’re not looking at employee-centric needs like public open spaces and wellness as being important… and you’re not looking at the connection to public transportation, then I’m curious as to how you’re going to do in the long run,” said Chris. This makes sense. Over the past two years many companies have downsized their footprint or gone fully virtual. To retain tenants, landlords will have to develop attractive spaces that entice companies to stay.
The worlds of the office and workplace have changed dramatically over the last two years, but our conversation with Chris left us feeling excited about the future. If tenants and landlords embrace the need for change as an opportunity and work as a team moving forward (something else that Chris advises), we’ve got a lot to look forward to.