Crafting the Future of Work: Marissa Huber, Cushman & Wakefield

Meet Marissa Huber, a pro in the world of occupancy, intentional design and space planning for workplace strategy. As a Director of Workplace Strategy at Cushman & Wakefield she uses her extensive knowledge to help companies make smart real estate decisions that support hybrid work and new ways of working. Marissa understands the challenges companies are facing in today's business environment and goes the extra mile to find solutions and strategies that work specifically for them. Whether it's figuring out the right amount of space, the right types of spaces or exploring relocation options, Marissa's goal is to help companies create workspaces that align with their culture and overall goals. In this article, we'll take a closer look at Marissa's unique approach to space planning, how it differs from the traditional approach and the methods she uses to measure success.

Can you explain what you do?

I am a Workplace Strategy Director at Cushman & Wakefield. With a background in interior design, space and occupancy planning, and being a people person, I help companies make real estate decisions to better manage hybrid employees and new ways of working. I help them figure out how much space they need when they’re making changes so that they can do what's the best for them now, and plan for flexibility in the future. We also touch upon change management, employee experience, and coaching since I think it is more important than ever to connect people in physical, remote, and hybrid spaces.

What are right now the top three challenges that your clients are facing?

1. The top one from leaders is: "How do I get people to come back? Is there something I should be doing to bring people back?”

And I don't think there's one right answer, especially not for every company. Not even for every team within one company. Each department will have their own nuances. To answer this, we dig into what’s important when employees are together in the office.

2. The second one is about space: “Do I have the right types of spaces? What types of spaces should I be having? What should I be considering?”

Read more about Workplace Experience solutions here.

3. The third is about relocation, a lot of our clients are asking: “Should I stay where I am, or should I relocate?”

There are so many variables, and this is where we can partner with our CRE brokers and other consulting colleagues to get a bigger picture. Examples could be tapping into our resources for a commute analysis to look at drive times for current employees and how relocating will impact commute times, but also thinking of labor strategy and seeing where the top talent they want to attract lives too.

How would you describe your new approach to space, and how does it differ from the old one?

The way I think about space has shifted because in my opinion, employee experience and company culture have a bigger impact on the physical and virtual workplaces than ever. While I do think the physical space and the types of spaces we create are critical, it’s just ONE part of the puzzle. I’m thinking of how we can create workplace strategy solutions that could improve underlying causes for high turnover, low attendance rates, or get people to feel comfortable using the spaces we’re suggesting.

Ultimately, I want to identify the goals and priorities for my client, and develop creative workplace solutions that will support those goals so employees can do their best work and feel supported.

A lot of it depends on what the client wants and needs.

  1. We might meet with a client and evaluate what they were doing before the pandemic, and ask, “Based on what has shifted, are there any things that we might change? Also, what’s working well now that we should not change?”
  2. Depending on the client, they may prefer a more traditional office, but we could suggest flexibility like carving out an area to do a pilot program or create a unique space.
  3. Everyone wants to know what everyone else is doing. I personally love keeping tabs on anything that looks interesting that could be a fit for our clients. We’re seeing more collaborative seating but still a need for focused work too, specialty spaces like video/podcast studio, sensory rooms, and curated and hospitality-type seating, so people can change it up and have more social interactions.  
  4. And then, “How can we implement that into our existing strategy?” Let’s make sure that something we’re suggesting makes sense with the client’s goals and company culture.  
  5. To which we’ll try to answer by understanding what is working for other people and other companies, and asking, “What could we apply to solve some of the problems that you might be having to create better spaces for different needs?”

Overall, activity-based spaces - which has been going on for a long time - is what we're seeing a lot more of now. Give people a reason to enjoy the office when they choose to be there. Foster the human connectivity and those spontaneous interactions that make a work day better.

What does testing and measuring success of new ideas look like?

Because I work in a big corporate company, I have access to a lot of different tools and people.

In terms of measuring success, I’d want to know what goals our clients have so that we can figure out how to measure it and see if we’ve achieved those goals later on. It could be a post-occupancy survey or other metrics like reducing their footprint, increasing collaboration seats, increasing employee engagement, or better utilizing their space. It should mean something to the client in my opinion versus just a stat.

For example, if a client wants to move their headquarters from downtown Miami to another local area, we can pull anonymized zip code data, and then say, “Here's what the average commutes are, and commute times for your employees. Here’s the impact on your employees if you moved your locations and how it could impact the big picture.”

And I think it starts to lead into workplace if people are asking, “Why are people resisting coming back into the office to work and collaborate?” We can say, “Well, is it taking them three hours a day, and what are the expectations?” So that's a great place to start: get an idea of the impact on utilization, as well as employee experience, engagement, and retention.

If there’s a different problem a client wants to solve, we may use our “Experience per SF” diagnostic survey, use sensors, or conduct leadership interviews and focus groups. Our goals are to evaluate where a company is at with their current space, and figure out where they need to be in the future.

How are you encouraging clients to build company culture into, and beyond, office walls?

You have a self that exists within a company, then also a personal brand. Who are you as a person? I feel like how I show up is pretty similar in both scenarios, but this is something I recognize as a privilege. I do think we have work to do to create truly inclusive environments where folks feel safe to show up as themselves.

A dedicated employee who feels really strongly about their organization is gonna tell their friends. They're gonna tell them to apply, wear your logo, and tell strangers why they love working at their company...I would think about the community.

I think tactically, I would think about the community. Types of community programs are:

  • Employee Resource Groups
  • Inclusive Leadership
  • Spaces for others like coworking spaces or community labs
  • Events to bring the community in like a Small Business Association or CREW event
  • Thinking about community outreach and walking the walk. Like if you really care about diversity, do you have days of service, like on MLK Day?
  • Simply being aware of current events or holidays that can impact your employees - especially important with global organizations. That's a lot of the great work that our DEI team does.

If people feel taken care of, they're gonna be able to show up better, or they might feel grateful that their employer is seeing them as a person.

How are you navigating the disparities in thinking between the old guard and those who want to reimagine work?

When it comes to understanding the different perspectives on work, we like to have open and honest conversations with leadership based on facts. We understand that everyone has different priorities and concerns, so we use data to help guide those conversations. For example, we might take a look at our internal data on employee engagement, talent attraction, retention to get a sense of how different policies might impact those areas. We also like to research best practices and industry standards to give our clients a well-rounded perspective.

If I wanted to understand how people might react to mandates, I’d lean on:

  • Internal data that indicates a negative effect on employee engagement, talent attraction and retention. But we can't find everything internally.
  • External resources for studies on things like employee monitoring. Typically McKinsey, Gartner, Future Forum, Gensler, news outlets, etc. to figure out how to advise a client because my opinion is one thing, data is another.

When it comes to more traditional work practices, we understand that every organization is unique, which is why we strive to find the best solution for each specific client. We'll present the potential risks and benefits of certain policies and always be open to revisiting and re-evaluating a solution if it's not working as well as we all hoped. We always want to make sure that our clients are happy and satisfied with the work we do for them.

Do your clients' teams have different space, cultural or organizational needs? How do these differences directly impact space?

Serving a global client with space in several countries might mean catering to different regional differences or cultural practices.

As someone of mixed heritage who grew up in two cultures, I try to be as aware as I can to never assume I know everything. My clients are the experts of their space and company culture. It’s my job to draw the information out of them.

For example, perhaps there is a non-denominational prayer room. We may want to provide an adjacent place where someone may wash their hands beforehand if that’s a part of their rituals. Or depending on the culture, it may affect space. In Miami, we have a lot of influence from Hispanic culture where colleagues tend to share meals together. I always ask and it may reflect on a larger pantry space so that everyone can fit.  So it takes getting to know the cultural norms of a country or region to really be able to design effectively for it, which should involve getting your workforce to weigh in.

The hard part can be creating spaces for teams for specific times. Like if a team wants to block out a dedicated workroom for a three month project... How do you make it fair for others to balance this? How do we measure utilization and efficiency - but also take into account special circumstances while being equitable? How do we build in flexibility, change management, and communicate this?

I was saying to a client, “The space that you're not using, I could see needs for different regional activities.” Take a New York and an Atlanta office: maybe Atlanta wants a wellness area or a better cafe. And then the New York team could want something else, like a Learning Library or indoor Pickleball court. So maybe each office can vote on what it wants or needs as a team so that there's some type of equity around that decision.

One thing I think about is instead of teams, what about if it's by activity, so like, quiet trains for quiet area. A library or a genius lab for ideating or getting solicited advice, placing tech or CVS type vending machines in convenient spaces that fulfill certain needs as ideas. Or what if there was a friend bench if you wanted to meet a new colleague and it signals that others should stop by to chat? Grown ups need friends too!

What does the purpose and vision for an "office" look like from your perspective in the next five years?

If I had to pick one word, I would say "flexible." We need to think about how we can use a space in different ways, and make sure it can adapt to changing needs.

So if we think about what a multipurpose room could be, this would mean devising different ways to use it. And as someone who worked in Facilities for years, we need to think about adjacent storage and easily movable furniture. We can’t have flexible spaces if it’s impossible to change.

It's one thing to build a room and have ideas of how to use it, it's another to integrate training and workshops that show us how to actually use the rooms in different and innovative ways moving forward.

I still think people will be doing focused work. Those who don’t have an office space in their house, have roommates, or are caregivers, they might need that space - just less of it. And we'll see less dedicated, traditional assigned seating.

More work, live, play. For example, I do think we’ll see more opportunities to rent space like a hotel for 2-5 days, built into or near the office. I would love to see more companies offer programs that enable people to work remotely for three months at an office across the globe. That would be great for a cohort of employees looking for this experience, and a way to build loyalty.

Overall, the goal is to create spaces that are adaptable and can accommodate a wide range of needs and preferences. Everything has become so niche and people have personal philosophies and very individual lifestyles. Just like how we eat, parent, travel, I think how we work is the next niche where there is no one size fits all.

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Danielle Farage

Future of Work Influencer

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