Thinking Outside The Workplace Box: Learnings From CoreNet 2019

Highlights from CoreNet Global Summit North America 2019, which focused on workplace diversity, inclusion and the employee experience.
  • Around 3,000 real estate and workplace professionals gathered to meet and learn at the annual CoreNet Global Summit North America 2019.
  • The overall theme focused on inclusion, diversity and equality in the workplace, and drew on the philosophy that a great customer experience starts with an outstanding employee experience.
  • Numerous speakers shared best practices and positive outcomes when organizations hired often-marginalized populations.

It was no coincidence that discussions around creativity, innovation and the employee experience took center stage at the annual CoreNet Global Summit North America 2019, where 3,000 real estate and workplace professionals gathered to meet and learn at the industry’s largest event.

Held in Anaheim adjacent to the Disneyland Resort, the conference focused on the role corporate real estate plays in leading, creating and fostering experiences that enable business success, and took inspiration from Disney’s philosophy that a great customer experience starts with an outstanding employee experience.

The overall theme focused on inclusion, diversity and equality in the workplace and several sessions showed how implementation of these policies is not only the right thing to do but can be profitable as well.

Some highlights from the gathering:

1. Creativity will drive innovation and is the way companies will differentiate themselves. 

Duncan Wardle, former head of innovation and creativity at Disney, delivered a highly interactive keynote that emphasized ways individuals can foster their own creativity. 

He defined creativity as the habit of continuously doing new things in a different way to make a positive difference in our working lives.

Using examples of how children play and explore, and how artists and inventors such as Salvador Dali and Thomas Edison captured their ideas, he emphasized how important it is to practice mindfulness and diversity to eliminate barriers to creativity.

“Diversity is innovation,” Wardle said. “If someone doesn’t look like you, they don’t think like you and they’ll help you think differently,” he emphasized.

Inviting a “naïve expert,” who he described as someone who has no idea what you’re working on, can be a path to creativity, productivity and innovation. 

He told a story of how a team of 12 white male architects aged 50 and up were tasked with designing a new Disney retail entertainment complex in Hong Kong. A 20-something female Chinese chef was invited to provide a fresh point of view.

The Disney imagineers’ concept was a typical square box with windows, doors and a roof while the chef’s design resembled dim sum in a basket that ultimately became the brand positioning for the Shanghai Disney Resort (“distinctly Disney, authentically Chinese”).

Similarly, including people with physical disabilities can lead to numerous positive outcomes, according to Wardle. He referenced a Nottingham glass company that noticed packing production was slowed by employees reading the newspapers that were used to wrap the glassware. After hiring some blind employees, production went up 26%, breakage decreased over 30% and the company received a 50% salary subsidy from the British government for hiring people with disabilities.

He concluded with a reminder that key human traits – creativity, imagination, curiosity and intuition — are superpowers that cannot be replaced with artificial intelligence, which is all the more reason to nurture them in the workplace.

2. Creating an inclusive, equitable and diverse workplace goes beyond race and ethnicity. 

Organizations will need to look beyond race and ethnicity to become truly inclusive, equitable and diverse.

Numerous speakers and panelists shared best practices and positive outcomes when organizations hired not merely for racial and ethnic diversity but included often-marginalized populations such as individuals with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities, as well as females in the workforce and working parents.

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Truly inclusive leadership requires navigating differences, and sometimes means going deep to make systematic change, according to Dr. Nita Mosely Taylor, Chief Catalyst and Founder, The Equity Project.

“Inclusivity is what you do with diversity,” she emphasized in a keynote with filmmaker Spike Lee. “If you’re not in the room, you’re just diversity, not inclusive. Like Hamilton, you gotta be in the room.”

Panelists from JLL and Google shared how partnering with Best Buddies, a program that places individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) with organizations, is one answer to the shortage of human capital.

A population with an 81% unemployment, IDD individuals are one of the most disenfranchised cohorts, frequently left out of diversity and inclusion efforts. Finding jobs can be a “win win” for organization and individual, such as the Central Park employee who worked as a castle greeter and boosted fundraising 141%.

3. Employee experience is the new KPI.

Dr. Peggie Rothe and Racha Kamal of Leesman shared their firm’s research that showed how employee experience can be used to create added value in much the same way as density, utilization and cost-cutting can.

“Don’t dial down cost, dial up experience,” Rothe suggested, “because that’s the way to maximize corporate real estate assets, employee engagement and organizational performance.”

Leesman’s research identified 13 superdrivers that contribute to the employee experience and can be grouped into three categories: experience, physical features and service features.

It is a delicate balance to achieve all the factors, Rothe said, though extremely critical. Getting an element right generally results in a positive employee experience, Rothe explained. However, getting one element wrong will likely result in a negative experience, even if the other factors are positive.

4. Mentoring, learning, retraining will be increasingly important as organizations leverage their existing talent. 

Learning is the new working, according to Madeline Dunsmore, regional workplace manager at Newmark Knight Frank.

Learning is not limited to any particular generation. In fact, two-way mentoring is something firms seek to support. 

Learning is the new way workers keep up with the pace of business and a way for organizations to solve the current talent shortage. She cited Amazon, which is retraining 100,000 individuals, as one company putting this into place.

Education and training also look different than they did in the past, she said.

If education 1.0 was factory-influenced education, and education 2.0 was one-size-does-not fit all, education 3.0 is a combination of providing some resources and guidance and allowing employees to “figure it out themselves.”

She noted that successful learning spaces model kindergarten classrooms and feature:

  • Zones, which might include “teacher” spaces
  • Accessibility, such as different heights of panels and desks
  • Mobility, incorporating playground elements
  • Inspiring and purposeful elements that reflect the individual in the space and show purpose on why they are there
  • Respect, allowing resolution of interpersonal conflict

Some general learning takeaways from Dunsmore:

  • Spaces that support play and creativity foster innovation so more team problem-solving and learning can happen
  • Users will “hack” their environments to support their needs, so kits-of-parts are a smart solution
  • Process and performance goals should be defined and celebrated
  • Managers will function as guides and teachers to keep people on track and mark progress

The next CoreNet Global Summit North America will take place in Washington, DC, October 25-28, 2020.

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