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Agencies look to next generation for their office space needs

Tere Blanca

A growing number of insurance agencies today are striving to redefine their office spaces in an effort to reap the benefits of the “workplace of the future” – such as attracting and retaining quality talent, fostering a more collaborative work environment, providing better client and partner service, and accessing the latest technologies.

However, insurance agencies are also recognizing that the process of obtaining a next-generation workplace is far more complex than simply relocating to a more modern space in a trendier part of town.

Following is some insight and methodology proven to help insurance agencies of all sizes navigate the complexities of aligning their office spaces with their business goals.

First, some background: Insurance agency owners today are more focused on the design and location of their offices because they are recognizing the impact on their companies’ bottom lines. The right office space can significantly improve productivity, collaboration, cross selling and cohesion, and enhance a company’s ability to attract and retain quality talent, particularly millennials. The office space also is an important part of the overall brand experience, as internal and external stakeholders will be influenced by the look, feel, and utility of the space.

Our experience working with insurance agencies and the latest studies on workplace design confirm that the insurance industry is adopting innovative space plans incorporating lots of natural light and open space, office layouts that foster collaboration, and innovative workspace configurations to accommodate diverse work processes and projects. In addition, many insurance companies are incorporating high-tech amenities in individual workspaces, such as media walls in professionals’ offices, as well as in common areas, such as high-tech conference facilities to connect employees with clients and partners across the state, country and globe.

However, insurance agencies are encountering some challenges in their pursuit of next-generation office space, most notably: internal issues building consensus, understanding their own needs and identifying the right design to support their unique business objectives. The conflicts are more significant for larger insurance companies that have multiple generations represented within their leadership, resulting in differing visions for the companies and the office styles that best align to their missions.

In great measure, these conflicts stem from the fact that insurance agencies historically have embraced more traditional décor and have kept executives working behind the closed doors of their large offices. Meanwhile, today’s new generation of insurance professionals is interested in something quite different: more modern-looking environments with open, collaborative office layouts and the flexibility to work remotely.

Without a doubt, the insurance agencies that are navigating these internal conflicts and securing appropriately designed office spaces are enjoying significant benefits. How are they achieving this? Among other things, they are taking their office moves more seriously than in years past, and rather than merely hiring commercial real estate advisors based on personal relationships, they are hiring them based on criteria including insurance industry experience, local market insight, and a proven methodology to guide them through the process. They are working closely with these advisors to conduct thorough qualitative and quantitative analyses, build internal consensus and follow a proven methodology to create dynamic office environments that support their unique needs.

It is helpful to focus on a base set of criteria from the outset, including:

1. Your agency’s brand identity and strategic business goals. This should be a key driver as you evaluate your options either at your existing space or at another location. The exercise will facilitate internal dialogue on who you are as a company, and who you want to become.

Some key questions to consider:

•What type of talent do you want to attract and retain?

• Are you interested in attracting a younger generation of millennials who are motivated by collaboration and flexibility within a company?

• Do you wish to be known as a traditional, conservative company or as an innovative, forward-thinking company?

• What types of clients and partners are you targeting?

2. Your financial goals. It is critical to consider your budget, the amount you are currently spending on your space and the amount you would ideally be comfortable spending. It is important to keep in mind that an experienced commercial real estate broker can help you find the optimal space that better meets your needs while significantly reducing your occupancy costs.

Do not assume that bigger offices will necessarily cost more. On the contrary, by implementing an efficient workplace design, an insurance company can often reduce its footprint and maintain ample room for growth while increasing productivity. Ultimately, the key is to get the space right by working with experts who can help you find creative solutions that are customized to your needs.

3. Your company culture. It is important to consider how you want your team, clients and partners to experience your office. How do you want people to feel when they arrive and leave your office? What is the first impression you want your clients and partners to experience when they arrive? Do you want a high-end corporate reception area that “wows” and impresses visitors upfront, or do you want a warm, welcoming area that makes visitors feel comfortable and at home?

What about your executives and staff members? When they enter your office, are they traveling through a brightly lit, open area that facilitates interaction among team members? How would elements like more natural light and communal areas impact your office dynamics?

Within your office, do you want to foster more cross selling between divisions and provide access to the latest technologies? Would your clients, partners and other stakeholders appreciate access to state-of-the-art conference rooms where they can conduct virtual meetings with people anywhere in the world?

Increasingly, we are seeing insurance agencies focused on establishing cultures that promote collaboration, as well as adopting shared workspace concepts where executives and staff members can come together, have meaningful conversations, and create the deep collaboration that only comes when you have a space that truly enables people to connect face-to-face. This higher level of collaboration and communication is proving to enable insurance professionals to better serve their clients and boost employee satisfaction. It also serves as an effective tool for recruiting and retaining the right talent, especially millennials as the next generation of industry leaders.

• Thoughts about the article, or about your own office space situation? Please visit this new thread and poll: Office Space: How’s Yours?

the modern office interior design (3d render)

4. The decision makers. The key to achieving the optimum outcome for your office space is to gain consensus early in the process and to identify an appropriate group of decision makers who will be responsible for identifying the right space for the firm. In our experience, we have found smaller groups to be nimbler and more effective than boards with too many team members with conflicting viewpoints. In some cases, it may also make sense to work with a designated office selection committee to develop a narrow list of potential office properties to present to the company’s management to consider.

5. The advisors. The complex process of finding the right office space can be a daunting task to undertake on your own, so it is crucial to identify the right advisors to guide you and work on your behalf. It is wise to identify a commercial real estate advisor who has successfully advised insurance companies and has a track record for securing the optimal real estate solutions for these clients. When selected, your advisor should conduct a comprehensive assessment, including a thorough financial analysis and forecasting to fully understand your current situation and identify viable solutions that align with your future business goals. He or she should help guide your key decision makers through a brainstorming session that will help define your immediate needs as well as looking ahead 5, 10 and 20 years. This analysis will ultimately help you define and establish the priorities for your office space.

When you have completed these steps, it is important to address the office search in phases:

Phase 1: The process should begin by having your leadership team establish and reach consensus on vision, space criteria, timeline, and a recommended strategy. In the first phase of the process, it will be critical to ensure that your company gets the space right. Toward that end, it may be advisable to issue a request for proposals to identify an appropriate architectural firm to conduct an occupancy analysis and confirm your optimal space programmatic needs. This will help you identify which industry best practices to incorporate as you identify the best ways to design and utilize the space. At this stage, it is critical to have meaningful internal discussions with key executive team members to confirm the ideal design and utilization plan for the offices.

Phase 2: Develop a scorecard that establishes a basis that informs your decision-making process and helps you make the best selections. This scorecard should consider an array of key factors including geographic location, parking, on-site amenities, tenant services, walkability, and access to public transit.

At this stage, it is important to engage the market with your established office requirements. Touring your top options and developing a short list of candidates will give you greater leverage for your future tenancy. This also will drive a productive dialogue with the current landlords and owners of prospective new locations. It also will ensure that your firm is well-positioned to secure the most favorable outcomes and seize immediate opportunities as they present themselves.

Tere Blanca

Phase 3: When the team has reached consensus on the top two or three options, your advisor should negotiate terms based on the criteria and benchmarks established in phases one and two. Then, your advisor should help you complete a lease or renewal amendment, and remain engaged with you through the entire process, from the renovations to the occupancy of the space.

Indeed, transitioning to “the workplace of the future” is an exciting moment that can be positively transformative for insurance agencies. To ensure your business capitalizes on this important shift, it is critical to follow proven best practices and methodologies to ensure the best-possible results.

Insurance companies that do this can gain a significant competitive advantage and better position themselves for continued success.

• Thoughts about the article, or about your own office space situation? Please visit this new thread and poll: Office Space: How’s Yours?

Tere Blanca, pictured at right, is CEO/founder of Blanca Commercial Real Estate, the leading independently owned commercial real estate brokerage firm in South Florida. She may be reached at [email protected]



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