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Panel recording screenshot of Women Defining the Future of Work

Space Management Trends Hitting Higher Education and CRE alike 

This March during Women’s History Month, Julie Roberts, Lambent Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer, hosted a panel discussion with four women leading space planning teams at their organization. The panel offered insights into trends hitting campuses and workplaces across the US as well as key challenges facing space planning teams. 

The panel dug deeper, discussing how space planners are tackling these challenges in the workforce and using technology to drive strategy and navigate workplace space politics like tenured and private offices and conference rooms. This inaugural session proved diverse leadership teams can give leaders an upper hand in solving complex challenges. 

View the recorded webinar here or continue reading for a synopsis.

What Workplace Trends Are Shaping the Way Space Planners View Space? 

“The return to office battle continues,” says Randi Hale, Principal, Global Workplace Strategy at Boston Scientific. Both in Higher Education and Corporate Real Estate, Space Planners are keenly aware of the growing need to better manage hybrid workforces. For Hale, this means adapting to tenant needs for office renovations. She gave an example of a tenant occupying an entire floor of a building – somewhere in the 300,000 square foot range – who is transitioning to a strictly hoteling policy with reservable desk spaces but no private corner offices. The world of work is changing, and space planners are at the forefront of its evolution.

On campus, administrative roles and virtual instruction have given campus employees and faculty more flexibility. This move off campus opens up an opportunity for landlocked campuses to restack existing building space and potentially even move departments back on to campus. And when Misten Forman, Director of Real Property at UNT looks at the impact that hybrid work flexibility will have on her campus, she predicts less assignable square footage per employee to become the standard as people become more accustomed to hoteling and hotspoting workspaces. 

Global Space Planning and Real Estate teams are popping up all over CRE and Higher Education. Foreman revealed her team to only be five years old, an evolution accelerated by an increase in attention by C-suite and executive level leaders. There’s always been an eye on master planning and campus planning cycles, but the need for continuous management has elevated the conversations. 

One more trend Higher Education and Corporate Real Estate agree on; facilities will play an integral role in why employees and faculty return to the office. As hybrid takes hold, experiences are becoming more important in driving space utilization. Foreman predicts multi-functional, smaller spaces that allow for seamless connectivity to become more prominent on college campuses, a trend we saw in CRE as employers attempted to lure workers back to the office. 

What are the Top Challenges in Space Planning Today?

Higher Education’s top challenge in space planning is essentially change management and creating an organization-wide belief that space ownership and space use need to go hand in hand. 

Because state funding is hard to come by, campuses are forced to do more with less and in today’s world, that means giving up tenured offices and leaning in on this idea that less space used better helps drive the campus ROI. Space Planners like Meredith Butler, Director of Space PLanning & Management at UNT, have had to lean into centralized scheduling and shared space models to make the most of their available space. They’re partnering with departments to drive space utilization and helping departments consider space usage as a resource they have the power to protect. 

The other place the budgeting pinch has been felt is in the size of space planning teams. As these teams evolve and develop among shifting budget priorities, these small but mighty teams “have no choice but to leverage technology to help us do our job,” said Tobi Walsh, Assistant VP of Capital Strategy & Planning at George Mason University. 

“We have no choice but to leverage technology to help us do our job.”

Tobi Walsh, Assistant VP of Capital Strategy & Planning at George Mason University 

What is the Role of Technology in Helping Achieve Space Planning Goals? 

Space growth, both for corporations and universities has always been a sign of success, prosperity, and prestige. For that reason, space planning has been particularly political. When tenure and status become superficially tied to assigned square footage or lab capabilities, it’s subjected to a lot of negotiations between departments, facilities, leadership teams, and governing bodies. 

Technology has come to play an integral role in space management, allowing teams to remove some of the subjectivity out of project work and providing data that can be leveraged to reduce friction. Additionally, “with technology, we can do some trend analysis and be a lot more strategic in our planning efforts” says Walsh. George Mason University has three primary campuses, other satellite campuses and even one in Korea. Managing that disbursement of critical space is made manageable through technology. 

At data-powered campuses like GMU, technology and data analytics are used to support submissions for various grants and institutions to receive funding and maintain compliance. 

What Are the Benefits of Diverse Leadership Teams? 

It’s no secret that bringing a variety of perspectives together to tackle challenges produces the best results. But companies are still struggling to hire and retain a diverse workforce composition. Companies prescribing strict policies around in-person scheduling and eliminating choice and flexibility are having a harder time retaining and recruiting diverse candidates. 

For space planners, particularly, their roles require them to engage with a myriad of stakeholders across the organization. HR teams, executive leadership teams, facilities, IT, workspace and real estate teams as well as department heads all intersect with space planning teams. “If you don’t have a diverse perspective on your projects and look at them from every angle, then you’ll have missed something,” says Walsh. Diverse perspectives help teams consider utilization and resource allocation from all angles, making them more efficient and better suited to meet growing needs of the organization. 

“If you don’t have a diverse perspective on your projects and look at them from every angle, then you’ll have missed something.”

Tobi Walsh, Assistant VP of Capital Strategy & Planning at George Mason University 

What Can Leaders Do to Fight Impostor Syndrome? 

Our panelists had a number of recommendations for this one, handed down to them by mentors and advocates as well as a few solutions that came about inherently. “No one’s going to reach over and toot your horn for you,” said Misten Foreman, “So you may as well do it for yourself.” 

While Tobi Walsh has learned the value of the mantra “fake it till you make it”. Walsh also shared her own strategy for turning nay-saying into a personal challenge. When she’s told no, she turns that into a challenge and works harder to accomplish her goals. It’s become something she’s known for on campus. 

As organizations across Higher Education and Corporate Real Estate continue to meet the evolution of hybrid workforces, they’re relying more heavily on technology to fill in the gaps and predict future space planning and facility needs. Having diverse perspectives gives them a further advantage, with the capability to consider challenges and solutions from all angles and better understand the ways their spaces are being used. Women are defining and leading the transformation of space as we meet the future of workplace management. 

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