The Future of the Office Building
Office spaces are not just places built for people to sit in and work for eight hours every day for a monthly paycheck—they are more than that. Apart from playing a major role in the psyche and productivity of employees, the architecture or structural design of a workplace does a lot in determining employees’ job satisfaction, levels of inspiration, and motivation. This is why employers need to put as much effort into building conducive work environments for their employees as they expect to see in return for performance, retention, overall satisfaction.
To talk more about the future of office building and post-pandemic workspaces, Jeff is joined by SoftBank Robotics Head of Product Jordan Sun, Hughes Marino VP Chris Rohrbach, and Friday PM CEO Morten Joergenson.
Jordan Sun: Every building is a node in a larger system, right? Whether the urban system, how it connects to the suburban system, to more rural systems. Then, when you look at city planning and building planning, I think the key thing we need to keep in mind is more of a holistic approach to the human experience, and, what type of societies are we creating.
Jeff Dance: Welcome to The Future Of, a podcast by Fresh Consulting, where we discuss and learn about the future of different industries, markets, and technology verticals. Together, we’ll chat with leaders and experts in the field, and discuss how we can shape the future human experience. I’m your host, Jeff Dance.
Jeff: In this episode of The Future Of, we’re joined by Jordan Sun, Head of Product at SoftBank Robotics America, and Chris Rohrbach, a vice-president of Hughes Marino, to explore the future of the office building. Welcome. It’s a pleasure to have you with me on this episode focused on the future around the office, the office building, and everything that comes with it. I’m excited to have two experienced leaders and to talk about the future together. Jordan, if we can start with you, if you can just tell the listeners a little bit more about yourself to kickoff.
Jordan: Thank you, Jeff. It’s a pleasure to join you and join Chris on this podcast. A little bit about my background. I started out in finance, originally in my career, at an investment bank, before spending several years at the intersection of the National Security Community and Technology, where I had the opportunity to serve as an army officer in traditional infantry, as well as special operations units, but also spent time as a diplomat as well on the civilian side. I then spent the remainder of my career in healthcare, both in med tech, including surgical robotics, to also digital health platforms as well.
Then spent some time in Venture before the pandemic happened, where I then decided to join the city of San Jose and worked for the mayor as the chief innovation officer for the city. Then found my way to SoftBank very recently.
Jeff: Awesome. Excited to have you here with us. For those that don’t know, SoftBank is the largest investor in robotics, worldwide, and invests a lot in the future. They’re thinking a lot about the future of the office building and really about the future of work and the robot-human interaction, so, excited to have– I know you’ve traveled the world, Jordan. Have had lots of different leadership experience in the workplace, in the boardroom, on the battlefield, right? Having done a few tours. Excited to ask you for some more tips there, just from your personal experience as well, at the end.
If we can go over to you, to Chris, would you care to introduce yourself, please?
Chris Rohrbach: Yes. No, absolutely, Jeff. Thanks for having us, and excited to join Jordan and you in this conversation. I’ve been in the commercial real estate space for about a decade now. Most recently, over the course of the last three or four years after joining Hughes Marino, solely focused on occupiers and tenants who either own or lease commercial real estate to run their business needs. Before that, I spent a little bit of time in customer service and retail sales at Nordstrom. Coached some football along the way as well. When I’m not at work trying to help companies solve their office space needs, I’m a husband and a father of three.
Jeff: Awesome, and an ultramarathoner.
Chris: That’s right.
Jeff: Yeah, excited to have you. I’ve been impressed with Hughes Marino and their focus on the human experience. Not just as a broker, but really about how do you make workplaces work well and consider all that a human is and that we are? I’m excited to get your perspectives, and also some thoughts there at the end about just mental toughness, being an ultramarathoner, and how that plays into your busy life.
Jeff: With that, let’s dive in, as we think about the future of the office building, we have the future of the building itself, right? We have the building exterior, we have the interior, we have the future of the office inside of the building and the workplace. Then we just have the future of work. All of these things are big topics, essentially. They’re all interrelated as we think about designing the future. This episode is a little bit broader because they’re connected to all of those pieces. It relates to the human experience given that the city itself, and the buildings, the building is a node in the network of a future smart city.
We’ve seen, through COVID, how interconnected we are, right? We’re going to get COVID maybe whether we like it or not, whether we close our borders or not. As we think about the interconnectivity of our lives and how we travel, and how we work, and how the building is a central node to our workplace, I’m really excited to dive in and to get some of your thoughts. I want to start with today and then move into the future. Then at the end, get some of your personal advice. If we start with today, what are some of the problems we’re seeing with office buildings today? Chris, start with you. Innovation often comes from problems. What are some of the things you’re seeing from your experience?
Chris: I think most of the problems that we’re seeing and we’re hearing from clients of ours and just groups that we’re talking to, obviously are surrounding the aspect of health and wellness. There were the companies that were always forward-thinking when it came to their office space, that provided the additional amenities for their employees, or sought out buildings that had these various aspects to them. The reality is though, most companies were not thinking about that. They were thinking about how many private offices, how many square feet per employee, and that was about it.
If there were any additional considerations, a lot of those were more around energy efficiency. I don’t know if you guys are familiar with LEED. LEED was the main player in terms of certifying buildings for being energy efficient. What we’re now starting to see is there’s this focus on wellness. LEED has rolled out their own indoor air quality certification. There’s other groups like WELL, which is the International WELL Building Institute, that have their own certification. A lot of the issues that we’re seeing are stemming around this whole concept of just wellness and health, and, how does that interact with the employees?
Jeff: Thanks for those current insights. Jordan, what about you? What are some of the bigger problems? Especially being at the city level, working with other corporations, buildings being a node in that city, what are some of the problems that you see or have seen?
Jordan: It’s a very interesting point when you look at pre and post COVID. For at least my time with the city of San Jose, we had at least over 46 high buildings that were in the downtown area that were considered high rises. It was a stark contrast when you look at broader trends that happened pre and post COVID. Pre COVID, something like 90% of adults spent most of their time indoors. Then, fast forward, that number dropped to 46%. More people were spending time outdoors. I’m very curious as to whether or not those trends stay when it comes to a shift to more outdoor environments, to more openly vented spaces, but also thinking about, to Chris’s point, establishing new standards of wellness.
Then I think the other part is that really forced, at least when I was at the city, was really rethinking how we can meet our customers where they are and be able to address some of the challenges to keep the economy moving. Things like, a company like Camino is a startup, was working on really cool technology, digitizing and automating permitting, licensing inspections, was a huge opportunity coming out of COVID. I think probably still will be to some degree because I think people expect a lot more now that some of local government and state government have digitized, but there’s so much more work that can be done.
Jeff: Thank you. It’s really interesting to think about how the pandemic is changing and will change the future of the office. I think your point, it’s yet to be determined, but Chris, from your perspective, how are you seeing it change now? Because you’re out there helping people find space now, and people are still renting buildings, they’re still building buildings, right? Yet in many cities, buildings are still fairly empty, and in other cities, we see a massive trend, at least post-Omicron, that companies truly are coming back. Tell us more about what you’re seeing from the pandemic effects.
Chris: I think that the biggest thing that companies are now looking for is this combination, to Jordan’s point, of bringing the outside in, so to speak, and having some of these components that feel a little bit more like a park-type setting in a downtown urban high rise environment. An example of that would be, Skanska is one of the largest developers and landlords of office buildings in the world. They have a project in downtown Bellevue going on right now called The Eight. Obviously, weather and climate plays into this role a little bit with being in Seattle and having the rain that we have here.
The entire two or three ground floors are this whole concept of library and a lounge, and intermixing retail, and almost creating an urban park-like setting with that wellness factor in place, and the fresh air, and the ability to take your meeting, ad hoc, in the cafe, and things of that nature. I would say that most of the companies that are forward-thinking and realize that the office is going to continue to play a large role in their organization moving forward even if that is some sort of a hybrid model, they have to provide additional amenities to their employees to make it something where their employees want to be at, as opposed to have to be at.
I will say there’s companies that have been doing this. Like, Valve is a company here locally, for example, that I would say sets the gold standard for what they offer their employees when it comes to massage rooms in their office space, and a barbershop, and an entire half of a floor of a downtown high rise that has field turf and personal training studios. They have executive chefs that cook meals and stuff. Those are the things that I think you’re going to have to start to see and expect from buildings.
More specifically, from inside your space in order to attract the talent and encourage people to want to come back into the office, and hopefully get those benefits of the collaboration and productivity that we’ve seen can be enhanced by being together.
Jordan: Jeff, to add on that point, when we think about the experience for occupants in the building, it really depends. Is it an office? Is it residential? Is it retail? There are some consistent themes that I think were highlighted there, which is, at the very least, the feeling of safety and cleanliness is definitely prioritized. What was really interesting here for SoftBank at least, is seeing some of our customers respond incredibly positively, including their staff, with our cleaning robots, and saying, “Look, covering 99.9% of our areas and having pathogen removal out of our floors is a fantastic offering to say we have a commitment to your safety and your experience.”
I think the other part is just seeing how other people are responding on social media too, to the idea of robots being able to do that heavy lift. Whereas, we don’t have to send humans to do the same repetitive task over and over again, especially when it’s probably unsafe to continuously expose people. I think there’s just a lot of opportunity that goes to be explored, as we think about improving the experience overall indoors and eventually outdoors too.
Jeff: That’s awesome. We heard from an outside expert that also does a lot of space planning and workplace design. His name was Morten Joergensen, and he talked about emotion. How emotion is actually part motion, essentially, and he talked about the importance of motion and movement.
Morten Joergensen: My name is Morten Joergensen. I am the CEO of Friday PM, and I’ve spent my whole career working with customers about workplace transformation and workplace strategy. I’m actively passionate about, how we figure out the best way to work in the future? For some, that is connecting square meters to corporate strategy, but for others, it’s also looking at it in a whole new perspective, which we do at Friday PM. If we’re looking at design and technology, that is actually the space that I operate in, in my daily life.
I think there’s two sides to this. One is, we need to understand, on a neurological level, almost down to an emotional level, how design impacts us when we work. We need to understand how colors affect our emotions, how smells affect our emotion. We need to understand, what mode of light do I need to be in for different work types? As I talked about before, I need to have the right space for the right work mode. That work mode needs to be designed to that specific situation I am in. I think we forget the importance of emotional states.
I’ve said this to others in the past, I think most of us know how important emotions are. During the day we get happy, we get sad, we get frustrated. We go all over the spectrum during the day. I think a big piece here is understanding what is emotion. Emotion in its word is e-motion. It is energy in motion, and we can control that energy by understanding how design impacts us when we are in a physical state.
Jeff: I think one of the things we learned through the pandemic is that if we stay in one place for very long, in that same position, it’s actually not healthy. A lot of studies done about getting up, moving about, actually, the commute was actually healthy for our brains. To wind up, wind down, maybe it depends on the commute, but getting up, working for a little bit, going to the coffee shop. Maybe commuting into work, going to work, going to a meeting, going to lunch. There’s a lot of movement there, and that actually plays into our emotion and wellbeing, the ability to reset.
It’s a balance where we want to connect, but we also need to disconnect. It seems like we really accelerated our learning of what’s healthy for humans, and how any extreme can have unintended consequences. Going back to this new hybrid workplace that we see a lot of companies adopting, how do we see that changing and impacting workplaces today? Again, we’re going to talk even deeper about the future, but what are we seeing companies do today to encourage this new hybrid model that seems like most companies are adopting?
Chris: I would say that one of the biggest things that’s coming into play here is recruiting and retention. Like, as certain companies set the standard for what they’re going to allow, or for that matter, require from their employees, it’s a trickle-down effect with everybody. The employee is gaining more power than they’ve ever had before in dictating when and where they do work. That said, a couple of things that we’re really trying to focus on at Hughes Marino and encourage our companies that we work with to take into consideration is, not just a one size fits all.
We’re a company that’s hybrid. We work from the office two days a week, and we work from home two days a week. What individual employees or teams benefit the most from working in the office or from working from home, an example of that would be, most salespeople probably thrive off the energy of other salespeople around them. They’re making phone calls, they’re digging up new business. I know that’s how I operate in the space that I’m in. A lot of what I do is sales. Selling our product and selling our service that we can provide for our clients.
A heads-down engineer who’s coding all day probably doesn’t need to be in the office as much and doesn’t benefit as much from that. Then the other thing that we’re focusing on is, as opposed to doing your hybrid model as alphabetical or whatever it is, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, trying to find at least one day a week or maybe one day every other week where you’re bringing the entire team together.
If you don’t have that cross-collaboration, and just from a culture standpoint, and from a wellness standpoint of being able to see people that you were used to seeing that you might have a really good relationship with, but otherwise don’t interact with outside at lunch or the water cooler because they’re on a different team than yours, there’s a lot of value in that. It’s really hard to grow and expand your culture virtually, and so, bringing in entire team together once every two weeks, we found has been really important to grow and enhance that in this hybrid work environment.
Jeff: Really, the team makeup, and then some of the personal makeup of like how you work, what you do, what your company does, what your division does, could tie into your hybrid work schedule. As we think about the space itself, how are we seeing spaces change? You had mentioned some of the amenities of drawing people back, but what’s actually changing inside?
Chris: I would say that this hybrid work environment is requiring companies to spread out a little bit more in their space. Over the last 20 years, this technology has been advancing. You’ve seen just spaces get more and more dense over time and this bench seating where people are just sitting right next to each other. Now you’re having to provide for more space per employee for not only wellness but also to just encourage this kind of hybrid work environment. From a health standpoint, on this hot-desking, sorry, is what I was trying to say is, this hot desking is a hot topic right now.
I think it’s here to stay for a while, but there certainly come some health concerns with that. What sort of technology solutions are there that can help with this? I was on the phone with a furniture vendor just recently, and they were talking about how they have these modular furniture systems that are all equipped with a UV drawer, where at the end of the day, you put all your stuff in there. For 30 seconds, it sanitizes everything. You pull it out, and you leave. When you get there in the morning, you put all your stuff in there, and 30 seconds later, it’s completely sanitized.
Those are the sorts of things that have really started to change. Most of that can be accomplished through furniture solutions, believe it or not, unless you were already just a really heavily built-out private office type environment going into this whole thing.
Jordan: Yes. I feel like the key things are really just the work that you have to enable, which is, when we look at indoor spaces, our company has shifted entirely into WeWork spaces for the most part. Pods are definitely a necessary, good and evil thing to have in order to be able to conduct your meetings. Then the other part is giving employees– Thinking beyond just the space itself, giving them the technology package for them to be able to operate. Thinking like noise-canceling headphones as a standard beyond just giving a laptop is something that a lot of folks are thinking about in terms of what’s the onboarding package from an IT perspective?
It depends on the employee at the end of the day. I do see a lot of younger employees crave– Like if you look at the Mengs of the world, at least here in SF, the SF offices, they’re mostly younger demographic between the ages of 23 to 35 that are really coming into the office a lot more than people who tend to have families.
Jeff: Let’s shift to just focus a little bit more on the future. I appreciate all the insights so far on the present day, some of the trends we’re seeing. We can’t ignore how big the pandemic has been for accelerating so much shifts. Shifts that could have taken 10 years to accomplish that were accelerated in a year or 2. Some of the future we’re seeing now because we accelerated it. As we think forward like, 10 years to 20 years from now, what are some of the things you guys see in the future?
Jordan: I think the thing that I’m most excited about is how do we start crafting– To your earlier point, every building is a node in a larger system, right? Whether the urban system, how it connects to the suburban system to more rural systems. When you look at city planning and building planning, I think the key thing we need to keep in mind is more of a holistic approach to the human experience, and, what type of societies are we creating? The three things that come to mind, for me at least, is health. Health and wellness goes beyond sterilization and emergency events.
I’m thinking just encouraging people to have a healthier lifestyle, to Chris’s point, to move and be active, to be able to mix with other populations. The second thing that comes to mind is accessibility to enable, that you’re building a city that is accessible for all given the high amounts of disabilities that I think people don’t expect Americans to have as a percentage of our population. I think that will only increase as our aging population gets older.
Then the third is equity, and that’s both economic, that’s social justice.That’s education, and really thinking about what type of equitable outcomes are we creating by laying new rails of infrastructure if you will, and new methods of transportation, such as micro-mobility, and looking at the patterns of movement and mixing of populations, and the socio-economic development that happens because of that.
Jeff: Chris, what are some of your thoughts on the future? Help us see into that a little bit.
Chris: It’s a great question and thing to think about. One thing that I’d like to start by saying though, is 10 years to 15 years, from an office building perspective, is not a huge amount of time. Why I say that is, there’s companies like Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, that are doubling down on office space, and they’re building brand new buildings today. The leases that they’re signing in these buildings are 10 years to 15 years. Outside of making some changes to the inside environment maybe a few years into their tenancy, there’s not going to be a ton of huge major changes from just the building itself.
That said, we’re tracking, and what I do think you will see is just a greater importance of touchless everything. What does that mean? We’ve made the transition from the archaic elevators to the destination elevators, but now it needs to be that the elevator just automatically reads your card and your wallet when you walk near it, and it knows what floor you’re supposed to go to and calls the elevator. You don’t ever have to touch or scan anything. Technology that takes your temperature as you walk through the front door, things of that nature.
Then something that I’m actually curious to get Jordan’s thoughts on too, that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, is the disruption of autonomous vehicles and parking garages. Many of these office buildings have these massive parking garages built for the infrastructure of each employee having their own vehicle and driving to work every day. There’s this interesting discussion being had about when we go to a mostly or completely autonomous vehicle society, that no one will have their own car that will take them to work and just park there and sit there all day.
It will go out and be doing things for you while you’re at work, and so, does the need for the parking garage completely disappear? If so, what are some new uses for that space? Does it become a last-mile warehouse, low bay warehouse, for the likes of the Amazons of the world? Does it become data centers as everything continues to go and stay in the cloud? I think when you look at the office building over the course of the next 10 years to 15 years, certainly, the way that people and humans interact with it once they go in the front doors will be different and will continue to accelerate through technology.
The look and the feel of the office building, I mean the buildings that are here today, are going to be here in 10 years or 15 years. The same companies, for that matter, for the most part, are going to be occupying that space. I know I asked a question in the middle there to Jordan when I was making that comment about the autonomous, but those are some of my thoughts. I’m curious to get your guys’ insight into that whole autonomous driving and transportation and technology side of things.
Jordan: Yes, it’s a really great point, Chris, that you made, where really, the 10 to 20 is more or less fixed into the roadmap if you will. To your point on the autonomy side, look, my city, we had a very big autonomous vehicle pilot with Mercedes. That then transformed into autonomous delivery systems, specifically delivery robots, during the pandemic because of safety reasons. I think you’re seeing broadly, in the autonomy sector right now, a struggle to achieve the level 4 goals that everybody thought they would achieve. To your point on the parking lots, shared or mobility on demand is one thing.
I’m actually more interested, and you’re seeing this already, just the existing monetization of unused parking lots to garages by companies like Reef, that raise significant venture funding as well to do so. Looking further, something that I was really passionate about in the city and pushing forward was electric vertical take-off and landing, and other urban air mobility opportunities. When you think about really recreating the networks and not having to lay physical rails like railroads tracks to connect entire regions, I think eVTOL is going to have a huge disrupting factor.
Guess what? These platforms need to land somewhere, and so, the vertiports, I think, is going to be a fantastic opportunity for some of these garages who have access to qualified airspace. That’s one example that I was really passionate about that we’re pushing forward. The planning of those vertiports, once again, you have to take into consideration that is an economic hub. That is a transportation hub, and there are factors in there, when it comes to equity, inclusion, that we need to take in consideration.
Actually, if Jeff you’re okay with that, 50 years out, I would love to see all the stuff that we’re seeing in material sciences, that I see in the national security community and defense community when it comes to self-healing properties of materials, things that are self healing. Such as streets to buildings, to just new experiences with obviously, Metaverse, it’s huge if we think about mixed reality spaces.
Then I think the last part is biophilic environments, where we have natural organic properties built into our buildings that are carbon positive in terms of the overall experience but also impacts our mental wellbeing by mixing nature back into highly inorganic structures that we’ve created since we’ve modernized as a society.
Jeff: Let me comment on a few of these amazing insights because it’s awesome. First, thinking about the parking garage, there’s less cars, there’s also autonomous cars in the future. How do we think about the parking garage and all the different use cases that the parking garage could entail? That’s a ton of space underneath buildings, right? Mine would have a skate park, and a bike park, and an indoor ski park if I’m in Dubai, which I experienced a couple of months ago. Then thinking about the top of the building, the vertical landing pads for these electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, people think that’s really futuristic.
We think about the Jetsons, but the reality is there’s billions of dollars. There’s 20 companies working on that right now. Over 1,500 have already been ordered by 9 airlines. They’re saying, “We need to be in this space because we know it’s huge in the future.” As we think about the buildings being, “Hey, if you’re going to get in one of these, you need to go somewhere,” so, where? You need a place to land. Right? What we’ve also seen through the pandemic is people moving further away, so, how do we increase some of the mobility? It seems like this is a place that could really take off because of the dollars, because of the technology, and because of the pain that comes from commuting on the ground.
Obviously, a massive complex thing, there are a lot of players at the macro-level, at the micro-level working on this. As we think about the building being a landing pad, I think that’s really exciting. Also thinking about underneath the building and thinking about all the parking optionality that could happen. I liked your point also about renewables, and I think that that seems to be an important trend. These buildings are huge. They’re like mini-cities. They have their full ecosystems inside. Modern buildings often are mixed-use, have people living, have restaurants, and have different businesses.
Thinking about the renewable aspect and the renewable energy aspect of buildings, the building itself, the amount of water that a building can collect to serve its own needs with that much surface area, or the amount of energy that that building can collect if they had solar windows, I’m seeing a lot of posts about that. That’s really exciting to think about our buildings. They are such big poles of energy, right? You think about just the human waste that comes out of a building in a single day, it’s mind-boggling if you look at those metrics for New York as an example.
What other things are we seeing on that end? Chris, I’m curious if you have any insights into buildings being more renewable sources, any trends related to that?
Chris: It’s still something that’s a little bit in its infancy. This whole idea of outside-in and inside-out, that there are components to that where you’re having more greenery and bringing more trees and different things like that into the ecosystem that otherwise was just a metal and glass shell over the course of the last 20 years or 30 years. There’s different architectural features to it. The top of the buildings, as opposed to just being an area for mechanical and electrical, and different things like that, are now being exposed. You are seeing either wind or solar panels put up there, as well as amenity spaces for employees to go outside at the top of the building and have a place to check out a little bit.
It’s still a little bit early on, and we’re not seeing it on a massive scale where someone has come out and done a building that has an entire solar panel exoskeleton, so to speak. Components of that are being built into most of the new high rise, mid-rise buildings that are being built this year and moving forward.
Jeff: Jordan, I’m curious, on your end, having traveled a lot around Asia and around the world, what are some of the interesting things you’re seeing from a building design? Obviously, you guys mentioned that “Hey, a lot of the buildings are here. They have long lives. Leases have been signed for 10 years or 15 years,” and so things are changing around those structures. There’s also a lot of new buildings being created at the same time as we think about the future. I was recently in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and saw a lot of interesting buildings.
Buildings as art, as an example, as we think about our evolution, and as humans, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you always go towards art and creativity at the top, but buildings actually is art. Stack buildings, picture frame buildings, a building that looks like a sail, right? Lots of interesting things happening in that space of the world where there’s unlimited space, unlimited capital, and inexpensive labor. I’m curious, having traveled around Asia quite a bit, Jordan, what are you seeing? As far as things that are being created, what innovative things have you seen?
Jordan: Obviously, it’s funny that you mentioned– As much as I want to say, it’s a design thing that I’ve seen or a technology thing that I’ve seen, I think the idea that keeps coming to mind when you asked that question was the idea of who actually did the hard work to design the building, and who did the hard work to build the building, and what did they get out of it? The people running the building, what did they get out of it? What would be the most interesting thing that I’m seeing right now are the discussions around applying Web 3.0 technologies.
Specifically, thinking about decentralized autonomous organizations and thinking about recreating the economics for all the other people that could benefit from the upside of these buildings. When you think about a luxury condo being built, who are the people that benefit mostly? It’s probably the investors, the owners, and the people who end up buying it and then sell it five years to six years later for another big profit. Right? What about the builder? What about the immigrant builder or what about your door person?
There’s just a lot of movement right now that I’m seeing, where developers are also asking that tough question of, “Hey, how do I incentivize my people who are building this, and the contractors building this, to actually meet those deadlines in an appropriate manner and create economic alignment?” There’s always a principal agency problem in everything you do when you contract out. I think there’s a lot of opportunity in the crypto space to be able to solve for some of those economic alignments. Actually, to put the opportunity back into the very hands of people who have built it versus only the investors and those who can afford to live there benefit from it, economically speaking.
Jeff: Yes. No, the very creation of the building is an economic aspect of buildings. The trend with decentralization, which we’re seeing around the world in different ways, how does that affect buildings, even the creation itself and the economics of that? You could create some interesting alignment, especially for immigrant laborers, that it could solve a lot of problems.
Jordan: The other is architects, right? How many junior architects that work at these major architect firms, where it’s the partners at the architect firms are the ones that really benefit. Everybody else with a PhD or an architecture licensing, they’re making like $70,000, $80,000 with very, very well-established engineering and architecture degrees from very well-known schools. It’s shocking.
Chris: Yes. I love this part of the conversation, and I think it brings up even a broader question of just where or how is the intersection between blockchain crypto-currency and real estate in general? Going back to even, so some of the initial test cases in Cook County, Illinois, where they were trying to put all of the different parcel data onto the blockchain. I even think about what I do on a day-to-day basis when I get a lease signed for a client. Most landlords are still requiring three hard copies, single-sided paper copies of a lease that are 100 plus pages long, where, in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, “There’s a solution for this with blockchain.
Not only from the start of the negotiations of the different lease terms but then all the way through to the execution of it.” Then to Jordan’s point, you’re already starting to see the ability to invest in smaller percentages of real estate or things of that nature because of crypto-currency, and blockchain. Then what Jordan is talking about is even taking it one step further and utilizing that technology to create a more equal playing field for the contributions that various people had to these larger projects.
It’s something that’s super fascinating.
It doesn’t necessarily directly apply just to the office building, but I think just real estate in general, and how technology, specifically decentralization blockchain and crypto-currency can disrupt that, and for that matter, improve that process for pretty much everybody
Jordan: It’s about creating alignment, which is, what is the goal of everybody working together here? It is to hit the deadline of, “Hey, at this point this building is ready for sale.” Then you see so many condos, and I think during the pandemic, it was very obvious how many condos went into significant delay and had to restructure their capital, and however they financed the deal to be able to get it done is fascinating. How do we create that alignment at all levels of the organization and those who have contributed to this building going from ground to up?
Jeff: It’s fascinating. Decentralization is a general theme. The building is very much a centralized place for people that come and connect in the node of this broader network of work. I didn’t know how decentralization played into the office building, so it’s cool to hear your insights about how it could play just in the creation or in the contracting aspect of how things get done.
Morten: I am a big believer that the world will be more decentralized, and that, at some point, the pendulum will swing the other way from the urbanization that we see today. We see it already now, I see it in my network, people that had lived in London, or in Copenhagen, or in Shanghai, or in New York for a while, they start to re-address the way they live.
They might move a little bit out of the city to go into the city for work, or some of them have bought vacation houses away from the city so they spend Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday there.
They’re still working, but they have multiple locations, so, the impact for the office building, I think is twofold. I think it is. We will, as human beings, take a stand on the life that we are living today. Then on the other side, I think technology will have a massive influence on the way office buildings look today. One simple fact, today, office buildings are leased per company. You might go to a coworking space, but the majority of office spaces are leased by companies. That means one company, one floor, or one company, three floors.
You are not in an office building where you are mixing work points around the office, so why shouldn’t marketing from Company A and Company C have the ability to stick together? Because they can actually learn from each other. They’re not competing. It’s not competitive for companies, but they have a massive possibility to collaborate in the office. I think mixed-use buildings will be a big piece, and I think we have fantastic real estate in the city that is only occupied by corporates. I walked through London the other day at my travel here, at 9:00 in the evening.
It’s empty, it’s deserted areas, and I feel so bad for this because it’s not utilized in the right way. I think mixed-use will be a big piece for office buildings in the future, as well.
Jeff: As we think about technology itself, it seems to be kind of a force in and of itself. It has a life of its own a little bit, right? It just keeps rolling, and sometimes, humans are trying to catch up. We’re trying to catch up with what’s coming because there’s economics to creating new technology. As we think about the future and the human experience, how can we be better designers of the places that we work?
You guys had mentioned a lot of topics so far, but as we think about technology itself like, Jordan, I’m interested in some of your thoughts because SoftBank is bringing a lot of robots to support– Does that compete with the human experience? How do humans and robots work together? These things are going to happen no matter what. Without knowing more, or thinking about more, we can’t design with intent. Interested in some of your thoughts on that.
Jordan: With physical robots, and even with robotic automation when it comes to software, I think the goal is always to augment and empower. I think it’s a really important goal for us to have in mind as we think about going back to my days before I became an officer in the army, just looking at our vacuuming robots, or whether it was vacuuming, sweeping, or polishing floors in the barracks. It’s a terrible jobs do, to also cleaning the latrines. There’s the detail, we call it detail. That’s the detail nobody really wanted to do, but you had to get it done, and so, you would volunteer for it.
There is just so much opportunity where, when we look at what people actually do, and reflecting on the purpose and dignity of work that I think is quite interesting. We’re seeing a lot of those trends happen. I think at the same time you meet that, you match that with the great resignation data that you’re seeing. I think there’s a really interesting shift to think about how can we rethink the traditional tasks that are being done, and also give people the opportunity, the space to say, “Look, maybe I can put resources towards upskilling and enable you to go from cleaning toilets to being a robot operator,” and have these additional toolkits available.
I think there’s a host of services that haven’t even begun to fully emerge when we think about the robo-economy, that needs to happen. I’m really excited for what happens in the next, I would say even 10 years.
Jeff: Really like the notion of augmenting integrating versus replacing. I think in studying the computer and the advent of the computer, we feared that computers would replace people. The reality is they did. They also just changed how we work, what we ended up doing, a lot more knowledge work. Like, four to five people being in the knowledge workspace versus being out in the fields. As we think about this next, the fourth industrial revolution that we’re hearing about, that’s trending at the global level, as we think about the future, definitely dirty, dull, dangerous, repetitive.
It’s all the jobs we’re not able to find people for right now. It’s all these jobs that we can’t find cleaners for buildings, we can’t find workers that are coming into the restaurants to do some of these jobs. Construction has had this problem for years. It was a national crisis, but we’re now seeing this fold over into all these other industries. It seems to be coming back to the nature of work. How do we encourage the space for humans to do their best work, and also think about where robots come in, that can work 24/7 and take over some of those things that no one really likes?
It still requires retraining. We put this technology out there, and yet, humans still have to catch up and retrain. There’s a lot of change management that happens. How we design for that and think about those that get left behind, I think is a really important aspect of our future responsibility.
Jordan: I use Microsoft Excel. At the time, when Microsoft Excel first came out, “Oh, it’s going to replace so many people that were doing entry and record-keeping.” Instead, what did it do? It ended up creating a ton of data entry people. They went from physical, to computer to the PC. The second thing that it created was data analysts. I felt, if anything, it created more opportunities. I think the importance for us here, especially in this day and age coming out of a pandemic, is just really understanding, how do I bridge those opportunities? How do I be deliberate in planning how to bridge people’s transition into that?
There’s just obviously a ton in the ed-tech space that has been focused on upskilling. Like Workera.ai is a fantastic company doing that, to where it’s happening, and the tools are free. They’re all openly available content with certifications that you can enroll into. I’m really excited for the additional jobs we create.
Chris: I agree with both of you, but I guess let’s just play devil’s advocate here for a second. We’ve thrown out some really good examples of thinking certain things were going to replace people, and then they enhance things. What about the truck drivers of the world and the people that, that’s not something where it’s, okay, now, the truck drives itself. The truck drivers now isn’t necessarily going to have a job that’s directly related to somehow managing the trucking fleet when you have– I think I read something recently said there’s 10 million people that are employed that their main job is to drive, whether that’s taxi, Uber, truck drivers, or what have you.
I think that’s an interesting concept. What it makes me think about is just the overarching macroeconomic policies that are going to need to be well thought out to plan for this. I love the idea of freeing up the people that are doing the jobs that no one wants to do anyway. Now, allowing them to do something that they’re more passionate about or paying people more to do the at-home care that we’ve found is so necessary, and all the different stay-at-home moms that don’t make any money, but it’s a valuable part of our economy.
Is that UBI, or what macroeconomic changes do we need to make in order to make the transition to this more robotic-focused environment possible, and to allow, ultimately, the humans to thrive alongside some of these other technologies that will be replacing certain jobs and skills?
Jordan: Yes. I think it’s, a lot of it is going back to the basics of, what are some foundational things that we still need to fix? When it comes to technology, the first thing that comes to mind for me at least is the digital divide. That really lays in three fields. It’s having basic access to connectivity at the broadband level. Two, be able to have a device that is fitting of the fitting of your daily needs and professional needs. Three, be able to have digital literacy so that you can operate safely and securely online, and actually understand the opportunities that are out there, but also the risks.
Something that we worked on quite a bit when I was chief innovation officer was trying to bridge that digital divide. We launched several initiatives ranging from building out our own community Wi-Fi programs to pushing out mobile Wi-Fi hotspots. Most importantly, I think the coolest thing I’m proud of is partnering with a company called Helium, which is a Web 3.0 company backed by Khosla Ventures, where we essentially mine helium tokens, push out their decentralized wireless networks in the lower WAN. It’s a LongFi networks but eventually will lead to 5G as well.
Simultaneously take those revenues generated from mining crypto and pay for low-income household internet plans. Chris, to your point of a UBI, that’s very targeted. It’s what I call tech-enabled UBI, where we rethought the government business model of generating revenues through emerging technology for public benefit. I hope more people across different stakeholders and government corporations, as well as just nonprofits and self-organizing individuals who take initiative, can be able to access resources, garner support, and be able to execute on fixing our foundations because we really need to fix our foundations.
Jeff: I think if we think about the retraining that computers created for our economy and our people, it was a massive, massive shift, right? If we think about the last 15 years and what the digital evolution has done, it’s created a massive, massive shift for better, for worse. I think it happened so fast that we were aware of the unintended consequences essentially. Now, that we’ve learned, and we’re seeing the pros and the cons of connecting and the importance of disconnecting, and better understand our own brain and our emotions, I think it’s the opportunity to design for the future.
As we think about robots, it’s, I believe it will be, these are just machines that have some more intelligence. They can be smarter, but machines aren’t new to humans. It’s just that the AI and intelligence actually thing is truly being smart versus just doing logical things and repetitive things automatically, that this is a new wave. I think it begets the importance of design. The very things we’re talking about, and the very things hopefully our world leaders are talking about in these world economic forms. Certainly, the fourth industrial revolution covers a lot of these topics.
If you look at the political messages that are happening around the world, they’re echoing some of these same things, these same messages. It’s definitely in our minds. I don’t know if we have all the solutions yet, but hopefully, these sort of conversations help us all individually, as company owners, or individuals, as world leaders, to think about the things that are changing around us, and how they impact us, and how we can prepare for the future.
With that, I want to shift a little bit to some advice from you guys. Chris, you’re an ultramarathoner, which is super impressive. Jordan, you have an impressive background round the world and also being in the army reserves and done all these tours. All of those things require some mental toughness. We’ve been really in this topic of mental wellness as we think about the future of work. I’m interested in some of your guys’ thoughts just on a more personal note for our audience. What advice do you have for mental wellness and mental toughness? Chris, start with you.
Chris: I’ll start out with a cliche quote and it’s what? “Success starts when you step outside your comfort zone,” or something like that. The other thing that I’ll say is it’s never something that you fully achieve. It’s like an ongoing process. I think your process and your goals have to be greater than your feelings because if you don’t have processes in place, and you don’t have goals, your feelings are going to make up excuses for why you’re going to just sit there and keep watching the TV as opposed to going out and doing something that’s going to benefit you from a wellness and health standpoint.
Morten: This links to how could workplace transformation draw employees back into the office? If the office accommodates the tasks that I need to do. I can’t do all my work at home. I think we also need to educate people on how we operate as human beings. It is not healthy for you to get up, sit in your sweatpants in your basement office, or at your dinner table for 6 hours, 7 hours, 8 hours, 9 hours, 10 hours to do work in the same position. We need to understand why movement is important. We also need to understand the neuropsychology behind going from one task to the other.
You need to have this in-between time. I have in-between time when I do work in the morning, I have two, three calls at my house. I then go for the coffee shop. I have in-between time going to the coffee shop. I get into a new work mode. I think about what work tasks I’m doing. I go to the coffee shop. I do my admin work. I leave the coffee shop to go to the office. I now have in-between time again. I think we need to educate ourselves and also make sure that managers, leaders understand the importance of educating people on how to work because we forgot how to work.
We just sit in the same office all day. We might use the same two conference rooms. We go to the same coffee machine because that’s the coffee machine we like, and we talk to the same people on our floor all day. That’s not the way we were supposed to work.
Chris: My journey to become an ultramarathoner is unique in that I grew up playing all different sports my entire life and played football in college, but running 3 miles or 4 miles around the neighborhood, man, that felt like an accomplishment for me until about three or four years ago. Through a variety of different events, I got into the ultramarathoning space. I’d never even done a half marathon before, but I said, “Hey, what the heck? Let’s jump in and let’s do this 50K and see how it goes.” That was a really interesting experience for me.
I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about time management with juggling two kids at the time, and a full-time job, and a wife. Whether it’s that, or whether it’s other things that you’re passionate about, you’ve got to make time for yourself. What I love about running, specifically ultra running, or just trail running, most of the races I do are trails, that’s where most of my training runs come from is it almost becomes meditative. You get to get outside, you’re interacting with nature. The scenery is always changing even if it’s the same path because of weather conditions or things of that nature.
As opposed to putting in music, I put in a podcast or an audiobook. I feel like it’s a triple whammy for me, so to speak. It’s meditative and it’s good for my mind. It’s physical exercise, and it’s also just, I learn something through listening to these different podcasts and audiobooks. The last thing I’ll say is it’s much more mental than it is physical, and I love a mental challenge. I start every day with an ice-cold shower. I think if you can get up and do something hard that challenges yourself every day, then you’ve got off to a pretty good start.
Similar to, I’m sure Jordan can share, like just the act of making your bed, that’s probably something that’s been instilled in him for his time in the reserves and in the army. There’s studies and there’s things that have shown that if you start out your day with one small win or one thing that’s hard, the rest of your day falls into place. It’s been a fun journey. I have a marathon that I’ve signed up for in a few weeks here. Then I’m planning on doing at least a 50-mile race before the end of the year, so it should be a lot of fun.
Jeff: Thanks for those tips. Jordan, your thoughts on mental wellness, mental toughness.
Jordan: My approach to fitness at least, a lot of it is, in part, maintenance, in part, it’s being able to be– Why I say maintenance is because what I’m trying to do is just make sure that if I’m ever called up again, for whatever reason possible, for whatever conflict, that I can go out, I can deliver, I can lead. Most importantly, my body, despite the stresses, allows me to still have the mental acuity and emotional stability to make decisions that have impact on other people’s lives. Both the soldiers you lead, but also the civilians on the battlefield, to your enemy and other non-combatants that might be floating around.
That’s my approach in terms of my overall philosophy for things. Look, when it comes to managing stress, especially the pandemic, I’ve had the opportunity, as a diplomat back in the day, to have gone through survival training and having very interesting experiences with water. I’ll leave it at that. I think the one thing it taught me was knowing when to get out of your head and when to also just give yourself some space and distance internally from when the situation is beyond your control. Usually, that’s when trauma happens. It’s when you have absolutely no control over the situation and over how the events are going to unfold.
You’re on it for the ride, and you know it’s not the direction you want to be in. That is a terrible place to be. That’s where a lot of post-traumatic stress happens, combat or non-combat related, in people’s lives. It’s really important for you to be able to step out of that, not dwell on some things. To be progressive in fixing and addressing those things, but at the same time, to be kinder to yourself too afterwards. If you’re not kind to yourself, I hate to say it, the world is not going to be kind to you. That needs to happen first in order to condition and then signal to the world, “Hey, be kind to me as well.”
If the expectation is not inherently fulfilled internally, it’s hard to have the world deliver on that contract as well.
Jeff: Thanks for these insights. They’re deep, they’re actually related to how we connect and disconnect. A lot of what we learned these last couple of years, I think hopefully shape our role in shaping the future. Thinking about the buildings we work in, the exercise that we do, or the routines that we have. They give us fortitude and give us peace of mind. Thanks again for being here, Jordan. I loved having you. Chris, loved having you. It was a fun conversation. I think we learned a lot together.
Jordan: Thank you. Thank you, Jeff. Chris, it’s great to meet you.
Chris: Likewise, Jordan. Jeff, appreciate you putting this together. Fun conversation, guys.
Jeff: The Future Of podcast is brought to you by Fresh Consulting. To find out more about how we pair design and technology together to shape the future, visit us at freshconsulting.com. Make sure to search for The Future Of in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or anywhere else podcasts are found. Make sure to click Subscribe so you don’t miss any of our future episodes. On behalf of our team here at Fresh, thank you for listening.