Business moves fast, but real estate has historically moved slowly. Until now.

The future of any business occupying space is less certain than it ever has been, creating an extreme need for an agile approach to space demands.


“Companies have already embraced agility across multiple areas and they will begin to apply these same principles to their real estate.”
Brandon Forde
Executive Managing Director
A&T | Occupier, CBRE

CBRE is helping clients embrace agility by leveraging predictive analytics that can help determine the best leasing options to suit a company’s specific needs, taking into account the volatility and uncertainty of its future headcount.

“Instead of solving what we do know, we are trying to de-risk what we don’t know,” says Brandon Forde, executive managing director for CBRE Advisory and Transactions.


PLAN FOR CHANGE

Planning a company’s space needs can be incredibly difficult. How fast is your company growing, and by how much? What new products will exist in the next few years that could disrupt your industry? How long of a lease should you commit to, and should you pay a premium for flexibility?

Here’s how the approach works: Instead of planning for what they think will happen, companies should plan for change, creating agility that enables them to shift as their business does.

“You sign a lease for 10 to 15 years, usually, and it’s a large amount of space. Just think about the organization you’re in. What is it going to look like in two years, let alone 10 or 15 years? Space can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 per person per year. Put that in relationship to staff salaries. Overcommitting on space is a big deal,” says Christelle Bron, senior managing director of CBRE’s integrated transaction solutions practice.

Bron and her team members, Derek Chanler-Berat, managing director, Marshall O’Moore, director, and Rachel Hu, financial analyst, are working to build more agile real estate strategies, helping clients manage risk, reduce occupancy costs and, ultimately, optimize their workplaces and portfolios.

A company looking for space in a major North American markets can typically expect to sign a five-, 10- or even 15-year lease, often calculating the space they need based on growth forecasts that can become dated even before the ink is dried on the deal. “Forecasting is embedded deeply into the way that managers operate. Most organizations plan for uncertainty by creating scenarios with high, medium and low probabilities. Then, all too often, they take the middle course. While we’re certainly not advocating an end to forecasting, we are suggesting that companies should recognize its limitations,” BCG Research wrote in a 2016 report.

In 2005, BCG released a benchmark study that found 41 percent of real estate executives described their projections of space needs as being off by more than 100 percent.

Twelve years later, not much has changed. In fact, the business climate is even more dynamic, with large-scale business disruption shaking up entire industries. “They [companies] systematically underestimate how much uncertainty is involved,” says O’Moore.


DON’T GUESS … STRESS TEST

The traditional way of doing things often relies on a real estate professional asking a business about its future space needs, which all too often results in imprecise estimates.

For example, a company could say it expects its footprint to expand for the next three years at 5 percent annually. It might build in an 8 or 10 percent vacancy factor for growth. Essentially this amounts to an educated guess.

Predictive Analytics provides a new approach that accounts for uncertainty and helps companies plan for change.

Imagine a company’s lease is expiring and it’s seeking a new space. Taking historical headcount data, industry growth data and business estimates, CBRE creates a statistical forecast and then “stress tests” various leasing sizes and options against many different headcount scenarios. Thousands of different-sized leases, along with permutations that offer more flexibility, such as contraction options, are plugged into the algorithm. The professionals then tap market experts to ensure their solutions are actionable from both a business and market perspective.

Shared office spaces, like those run by Regus and WeWork, are rapidly expanding across major urban centers worldwide. But it’s not just startups seeking hot desks for their small teams of employees. Larger, more established companies are using this shared, “pay-as-you-go” model to handle volatility in their businesses, says Chanler-Berat.

A future-proofing model, such as the one offered by CBRE, can be the middle ground between a company signing a 10-year lease for 100,000 square feet based on a best guess, and one willing to take significant flexible square-footage in shared office space at a premium.

GIVE ME OPTIONS

These tools can become sharply more powerful in a choppy market.

In a down market, tenants can achieve more optionality at a cheaper price. Some landlords might even consider offering more flexible leasing as a product—one that does not widely exist today but for which there is increasing demand.

The demand for more flexibility in a lease could help landlords differentiate from their competition by offering a “product that few others are offering,” says Chanler-Berat.

“This is the first step in an evolution. Companies have already embraced agility across multiple areas, such as supply chain, software as a service and business process outsourcing, and they will begin to apply these same principles to their real estate. Landlords in turn will need to adjust the products they offer to respond to this burgeoning demand. This is a framework for how to think about this,” Forde says.

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