The evolution of the workplace is being driven by changing demands and the power of big data, said speakers representing developers, designers, futurists, and millennials at the 2019 ULI Asia Pacific Summit in Shanghai on a panel titled “The Evolution of a Dinosaur: Real Estate and the Future of Work.”

Bill Lee, senior director for proptech investments and real estate development at Gaw Capital Partners, who cohosted the session with Phil Kim, managing director, Asia Pacific, at the Jerde Partnership, said that “data is the foundation” for evolving real estate, allowing developers to build in flexibility and permitting retail landlords to track shoppers. The data are also driving office developers to adapt to new trends, such as a focus on wellness, flexible leasing, and meeting the aspirations of millennial workers.

Tom Boshaw, director of design and construction at Hines, said that the key priority for the developer’s office tenants was attracting and retaining the best people. “There is a lot of conversation about live/work/play, but fundamentally it is about creating an attractive working environment,” he said. To meet these evolving needs, Hines has changed the look and feel of its lobbies. Previously, the Hines lobby “was like a museum space,” Boshaw said. “Now it has a hospitality feel. There’s seating and wi-fi to encourage people to enjoy the space and stay longer.” Hines’s new Shanghai development, One Museum Space, has been designed with this in mind, he said.

Office workers are happy to spend more time in the office but do not want to spend more time at their desk, so developers need to create other spaces within buildings where people can interact or take time for themselves. “We need to create intersections where people generate ideas,” he said. For tenants, flexibility is becoming more important, but Boshaw noted that there is a “flexibility gap” between the typical five to 10-year lease and the total flexibility of coworking.

The need to attract and retain talent also is driving interest in workplace wellness and healthy buildings. Mei Xu, vice president at the International WELL Building Institute, outlined a number of ways that office developers and occupiers are trying to improve staff health, happiness, and productivity, including improving air quality and reducing sedentary behaviors. “A priority for design should be to reduce sitting time,” she said.

The psychological aspect to wellness should not be neglected by developers and designers, she said. For example, people function much better when they have control over their environment—heating/cooling or lighting, for example. “We need human-centric buildings,” she said.

Boshaw noted that more data were needed to promote the wellness concept to both landlords and tenants. “For LEED, there is lots of data available, and they can see the value,” he said.

The audience also saw some examples of the evolution of retail in the workplace from Emmy Teo, chief executive of Fuse, a retail pop-up startup, which takes retail into gyms and workplaces—“Taking the retail to the customer,” she said. Fuse has installed automated retail “pods” in WeWork offices and tracks data showing how workers interact with the pods, as well as purchase data. Located in a workplace environment, the pods can get more footfall than a major shopping center, she said.

Jerde’s Kim noted that designers of his generation were often tasked with building space for millennials, perhaps without understanding them, so he picked on Teo, a millennial, for some answers. She insisted that millennials were “not much different,” but also said that “work/life balance is a fundamental for us.” Lee pointed out that the first millennials are now 35, so they would have changing priorities.

There were contrasting opinions about a fundamental question of work—will people work fewer days in the future? Boshaw thought that people would work differently but still put in five days a week—although he added that “firms are now more task-driven than attendance-driven.” However, Lee said that staff data from Microsoft, his former employer, suggested that people were already working a four-day week. “People just disappear on a Friday,” he said.

The panel also addressed the value of closed and open workplaces. Lee said that data showed that totally open workplaces increased sick days, although this could be mitigated through use of alcohol hand cleansers around the office. Microsoft found that staff worked better if their desks were divided (not necessarily with solid walls) into groups of 10 to 12 people, “the work village.”