NEW YORK—The futuristic blue glow of the space at 4 Times Square made the perfect backdrop for the discussion that was about to take place—”Charting the Future of Workplace.”

175 real estate professionals gathered Thursday night at the sleek new Convene and Durst Organization event space to hear from industry leaders about the future of commercial real estate—the trends and challenges landlords and tenants both face as we move towards the future.

Kicking things off were Peter Barnett and Willem VanDooijeweert, real estate strategy leader and managing director at PwC. Barnett and VanDooijeweert discussed how real estate can be used as a tool to attract, retain, and even develop strong talent for companies. As more companies focus on the diversity and inclusiveness of their workforce, a renewed focus must be placed on the physical places where that work happens. “Companies that invest in diversity, not just in how they hire, but in how they build their spaces, are just better companies,” said Barnett.

 

Peter Barnett (left) and Willem VanDooijeweert of PwC discussed their work thinking about real estate from a diversity, inclusion, and recruiting perspective.

 

This aspect of building inclusiveness is often overlooked by leaders, according to Barnett and VanDooijeweert. The smartest companies (and the ones that will best attract and retain top talent), they argue, are the ones that design spaces that are welcoming to people of all beliefs, genders, and ages. “Designing spaces only for one generation, even the dominant one, is shortsighted,” Barnett said.

Next, Convene CEO Ryan Simonetti sat down for a discussion with Ric Clark, chairman at Brookfield. Clark discussed how his firm has had to change their approach to match the changing needs of their tenants. Clark pointed out that in two short years, 50% of the workforce will be made up of millennials, who have a very different set of expectations in their work environment. “The difference between a great company and a marginal one is the people,” said Clark, underscoring the need to use space to attract talent.

Clark stated that Brookfield has been asked by clients to provide flexible spaces that offer the types of amenities today’s top talent has some to expect. “We’re seeing a lot of smaller companies realize the idea of going through the complexity of finding a space, hiring a designer and architect, going through legal, dealing with pantry services and procurement—many say to us it’d be easier to partner with someone to manage all that.”

 

RXR Realty chairman and CEO Scott Rechler speaks at Charting the Future of Workplace at 4 Times Square.

 

Closing the evening was Scott Rechler, chairman and CEO of RXR Realty. Rechler discussed the rapid change of pace in today’s business world, underscoring his point with the news that GE had recently lost its place on the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

“The playbook of the 20th century is incapable of guiding us in the 21st century,” said Rechler. “Every time you think you’re putting in the right technology, something else happens and it changes again.” The solution, Rechler argues, is for businesses to constantly recalibrate and be agile in the way they innovate.