How can we responsibly establish “long-range” needs when the crystal ball is an 18-month window looking out onto a landscape of ever changing technology, information, and work methods?

The Chinese proverb states, “Predicting is very difficult, especially as it concerns the future.” In this business, we need to constantly readjust our predictions, which are dramatically shortened by remarkable changes in technology that forever redefine work and time. Added to this, technology hardware has effected the mobility of information–as revolutionary and significant as the Model T Ford was to everyone’s personal mobility.

Chicago Tribune writer Rick Hepp explored the ability to cope with evolving technology in an article titled “High-Tech Anxiety.” He concluded tlat “technology is forever changing and there is no possible way to keep up with it.” Hepp quoted Robert J. Du Puis, physician and author of the book How to Handle High Tech Stress, in which he stated, “Technology accelerates at an exponential rate while our adaptability accelerates at an arithmetic rate.” Du Puis states, “There is no possible way that people can totally adapt to technology. We have to adapt only useful technology and leave the rest go.”

How can we responsibly establish “long-range” needs when the crystal ball is an 18-month window looking out onto a landscape of ever changing technology, information, and work methods? Mergers, buy-outs, consolidations, recapitalizations, and other fast-paced corporate initiatives all undermine our comfort to correctly assess future needs.

From the broadest perspective, corporate real estate transactions continue to revolve around leases. It quickly becomes obvious that committing to long-term lease obligations brings us to an important question: how do you make a business commitment that establishes a long term expense in the millions of dollars without knowing how it may influence a company’s future? Although there are no simple silver bullet solutions, appropriate steps, if undertaken early, can clarify alternatives and options.

We continue to see added value in forecasting needs at the earliest possible stage of a relocation project. Whether a build-to-suit or an existing structure, knowing the initial space and option requirements (both expansion and contraction) can significantly alter the transaction’s business terms. Clients are finding quality space alternatives in major markets much more complex, with fewer choices for dynamic firms requiring high proportions of technology-ready flexible space.

This means that as early as three years prior to beginning a search, we strongly recommend that a space and technology survey be initiated to establish a baseline that will become a living document as the company continues to respond like an accordion to its business initiatives. This exercise will compare the amassed data against current trends and benchmarks of competitors and similar user’s space utilization. The database will be monitored monthly for the expressed purpose of looking ahead and behind for the changes that do or do not occur. Over a time frame lengthy enough to supply a trend curve but short enough to react to new technology, real estate market conditions and the company’s business planning agenda can be formed.

Our last four consecutive large-projects resulted in the same outcome. Significant changes in the structure of the firms were undertaken within two years of their relocation. From buyouts to mergers, or the sale of business units, they transitioned into other unanticipated business forms. Adjustments were made almost before the paint dried. Because of these experiences, every new planning assignment we now undertake asks the question, “Can the project’s concept be equally expanded for exponential growth or contracted to an ultimate exit strategy?

To understand how American companies have embraced flexibility and change as a constant, it is not unucual to see 80% churn rates of furniture and employees per year. This is driven by firms rethinking their responses to new initiatives, group work dynamics, and project goals. Companies supplying equipment and furniture to corporations encountering these levels of change must grapple with the paradox of mobility versus connectivity. It’s possible to conceive that wireless technology could provide some answers to this dilemma in the future. Furniture systems are changing as quickly as their client’s needs, to reconfigure their operations. Shared workspaces, free-address, hoteling, team spaces and other new workplace concepts, are all variations of alternative officing that have begun to be implemented in response to new interpretations of work methods, new tools, and collaborative organizational structures. If new workplace concepts can reduce that expense burden while improving communication, creativity, and productivity, the exploration into these ideas is well worth the effort.

It’s not only a challenge to provide working conditions that inspire one’s employees; management’s ability to entice the best and the brightest in the employment market must keep pace with available openings. In a dynamic, chaotic business climate, the desire to provide a quality and creative workplace that attracts the best must be tempered with new and conflicting concepts and the acceptable cost limitations of undertaking these changes. This balance has all the characteristics of playing three-dimensional chess, and having creative professional planners on your team is essential to filter through all options.

The team to undertake this new approach must be an experienced group with differing expertise to give a multi-faceted picture of the available alternatives. Much like the advice we seek from all professional consultants, solutions will be derived from the collective knowledge of ideas and generated from inside the client’s organization. Each will be analyzed against many other outside comparative experiences before being presented to management for evaluation and concurrence. Over a three year benchmarking exercise, the team will monitor and analyze monthly changes in preparation of a decision to enter the real estate market. The benefit to the user is to begin a search fully prepared, with a foundation based on carefully studied information that does not have to be invented at the time a search is initiated. The extensive risks associated with transactions of this magnitude warrant this careful approach to the task at hand.

There are many experiments in progress by large corporations to understand how the integration of technology and group integration can work best within flexible work environments. The ways people work are being carefully monitored to establish how flexible modular furniture can enhance creativity and communication.

Because it’s easy to pay attention to rent as a large and tangible target expense, quality of life issues are frequently compromised. The balance between space utilization, rent costs, and keeping the troops happy is getting more attention. The expense of training and retaining staff has a much higher priority with companies increasingly dependent on high technological skills to hold down other delivery of service and product costs.

Space assessment should include working environment quality in the goal matrix. Just reducing space to cut overhead doesn’t send the right “we care” message in a business environment that demands more of employees’ time than ever before. Providing the right proportion of space, technology, and support are all equal parts of the new millenium business equation.