Enhancing the Public Sector Value Stream Through Corporate Real Estate

Given the significant costs of real estate, it is critical that construction leaders consider how facilities are part of the value chain of benefits provided by public sector organizations in Canada.

When the built environment is best executed, the results are tangible yet somewhat invisible due to good design. There is a remarkable assembly of the many talents required to fund, design, and assemble something tangible and enduring. It’s not hard to see how this endeavor directly enhances programs that benefit communities, places of learning and society. This element is important, because the public sector doesn’t exist to build edifices for the sake of it; facilities are only useful when they serve the purpose for which they exist.

This is true in the context of the significant resources required to build and operate facilities. For most organizations, real estate is a budget line item, second only to workforce costs. Add this to the fact that we are living in a transformational period whereby the pandemic changed where and how people work: office and learning space may need to be re-purposed or improved to ensure that it remains attractive, inspiring and meets or exceeds the quality of the remote work environment. Given the extensive costs, footprints may need to be consolidated, thereby liberating additional resources for other use. It is as critical as ever that corporate real estate leaders need to consider how facilities are part of the value chain of benefits provided by public sector organizations. Leaders need to ask themselves, “In addition to simply managing the real estate portfolio, how else can the primary mission of the organization be enhanced via the built environment?”

Enhancing Experiences Through Inclusive Design

Returning to the often-unseen benefits of good design, buildings and properties should match aesthetic and functional needs for the organization. The most apparent visual cues will signal qualities of security and dignity, prosperity, austerity, heritage, modernity, and so on. These are important human considerations when connecting to public clients seeking justice, confidence for potential trading partners, financial stewardship for the small business owner paying their taxes, establishing a place in a legacy of learning, or inspiration in a research laboratory respectively.

In places that belong to the public, another way that organizations signal and emphasize inclusion is using accessible design and site selection. Communities looking to celebrate local traditions will incorporate indigenous and local economic artwork or architectural features. For example, an elected representative in a forestry community will certainly hear from constituents if good use of timber is not applied in the new public building or even park benches. Because of the intrinsic visual and functional impacts of the semi-permanence on the public, the mission of the organization will be reinforced or compromised in a very tangible way via the built environment.

Enhancing Public Spaces Through Reflective Building Choices

Public corporate real estate leaders might also ask themselves how facilities might contribute to the public service value stream. The public gains trust and confidence through their experience with the quality of programs and services delivered. A well designed and maintained physical space will reinforce the human and systemic efforts from the organization. For example, a grand and stately edifice may inspire trust and confidence in a place where legislation is created. In contrast, the same building would be unsuitable for an office providing early childhood support services in an economically challenged neighborhood in that it would highlight the wealth disparity between the state and the citizen. In the public domain, the form and function of public spaces must align with the sequence of other public efforts in program and service delivery.

Thoughtful Facilities Investments to Enhance Public Spaces

Public spaces, often provided by public sector organizations, should signal what is valued by society. Beyond the public sector and into commercial markets, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) imperatives are considered priorities, and with the investment to back up the words. For instance, public expectations are that spaces are accessible to people of all abilities. Are there economic opportunities being made available to parts of the population who are typically disadvantaged? Matthew Carmona advocates an emphasis on raising the overall quality of society through thoughtful investment in the built environment in his book Public Places and Urban Spaces. As the chief facilities officer sits around the executive table, how are they making sure the organization knows of the levers that are available to advance the agenda? Elected officials and board members should ensure that their investments deliver more than just physical benefits of a new or improved building.

This challenge can be overwhelming, particularly in the face of new budgetary limitations stemming from a recessive economy. Optimization solutions can be leveraged to monitor and measure space, capital, and operational performance to meet evolving needs. The public sector should utilize insights, technology, and expertise to ensure that facilities are part of the value stream and to adapt to this transformative time in which we are living.

Jonathan Burbee is director of Canadian business development at Gordian Group, Inc.

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