Reenvisioning Commercial Space for Modern Work

July 28, 2023



Reenvisioning Commercial Space for Modern Work

Reenvisioning Commercial Space for Modern Work

Dave Cairns, SVP Office Leasing for CBRE, focuses on working with high growth companies in the tech sector. Dave is a futurist relating to the office market. He shares his views about commercial real estate trends including current realities, core issues, lease restructuring ahead, and future possibilities such as shifting to offer “Space As A Service” going forward. Dave describes the benefits of new richer community demographics as urban dwellers move out. He also sees great potential of virtual worlds to offer more options and richer experiences.


[02:40] Dave intentionally created a happy place.

[04:06] He gets a university degree although he hones other skills.

[05:10] Flexible studying allows Dave to develop his talents at poker.

[05:36] Competitive poker playing success gives Dave a cushion during the 2008 Great Recession.

[06:55] Trying to improve his game, Dave accidentally becomes a poker instructor.

[09:04] Dave loves playing live poker but the risk:reward ratio is much better online.

[10:00] Playing 8-15 hours a day takes its toll, but motivation and autonomy matter.

[11:55] The dynamics of poker—responding to your opponent.

[13:00] What Dave learned about reading people virtually.

[13:24] “Thin slicing” a person—making decisions based on a narrowly focused initial read.

[15:12] Exogenous events cause Dave to change direction—it seemed timely too.

[16:28] Exploring potentially viable work environments, Dave interviews with brokerages.

[17:12] Insurances brokerages hesitate over Dave’s poker history, but commercial real estate likes it.

[18:12] Dave uses his natural interpersonal and analytical skills.

[18:40] The work situation is not desirable, but Dave believes he will be able to improve it over time.

[19:23] When the pandemic hits, Dave quickly recognizes work will be structured differently in future.

[20:14] The pandemic expands Dave’s interests to include corporate culture, HR, and social justice.

[22:14] Pre-pandemic, WeWork’s consumer facing brand threatens the commercial real estate sector despite their limited footprint.

[23:42] Customers seek more flexibility, exposing issues with valuations and long leases.

[25:01] Dave describes the current and likely vacancy situation of Toronto’s tech submarkets.

[28:06] Circumstances are complex with dependencies on existing long-term leases.

[29:29] What new strategies are possible including conversions to residential?

[31:27] “Space As A Service” is a useful approach, especially to offer shorter team arrangements.

[32:34] More ad hoc arrangements or restructuring leases would provide more utility.

[33:27] Why many landlords are not trying to activate buildings differently.

[35:14] Dave benefits from knowing how to build relationships “remote first” as a poker player.

[35:57] The benefit of a multidimensional global perspective with a hyper-localized business.

[36:34] Dave explores different opportunities including remote work to help SaaS companies.

[38:34] Dave is passionate about helping reshape some of the industry sector’s problems.

[39:37] Is Dave gaslighting his wife about moving?!

[40:59] How richer communities are developing and socioeconomic divides decreasing thanks to distributed working.

[43:19] The Metaverse is not yet here, but Dave is convinced virtual worlds present much opportunity in the Future of Work.

[44:43] Earning people’s attention in virtual space by creating friction—having to develop an avatar.

[45:05] How can diversity and inclusion be supported in virtual worlds.

[46:00] Discovering they are embodying mission critical innovation/collaboration activities virtually.

[46:43] Media-generated perspectives and stereotypes about people who work outside the office.

[47:10] Dave anticipates many future use cases, different needs and possibilities convening in virtual worlds.

[49:26] Video game-based guild members’ interactions provide strong use cases for online collaboration.

[50:43] Not judging people who participate in virtual worlds.

[52:19] IMMEDIATE ACTION TIP: If you are starting a new company, test out collaborating in virtual environments before considering physical real estate — from a cost and risk mitigation perspective. People come first and foremost so the key is activating collaboration and the intention you put behind it.


“The most important thing that you're trying to do in poker, whether it's in person or not, is pick up on pattern recognition.”

“WeWork exposed the fact that office buildings have more risk in them than we all thought because the tenant — the customer in the conventional sense — is seeking far more least flexibility and service than they ever got. The employee wants hospitality, great technology, and network of spaces that they can use on a global scale.”

“The office environments in these tech hubs are ghost towns because all the tech companies have embraced remote work. Either they're totally set up to work distributed or they're doing it from a talent and retention perspective: they can't afford to call people back to the office or they're going to lose people. So, you've got the restaurants in these areas, you've got condos that people are living in, and you've got office that nobody's using.”

“Talent attraction and retention needs to be a global thing out of necessity. It's not like a “nice to have” thing.”

“So much of the work that we do is “remote work”. You're just choosing to do it from an office and power to you if that's where you want to do it! But don't deny the fact that a lot of the work that we're doing in real estate is location-independent work.”

“I'm far more interconnected with the fabric of my society than I ever was in the large city I lived in my whole life. We're forging relationships with people all over that are both economic and social, and it's incredible. And more of it needs to happen.”

“A lot of the perception is you're either are all in on the metaverse and you want to live in a virtual world in your basement in pajamas and be a total degenerate, or you're going to go back to the office and be a normal contributing member of society. That's the juxtaposition and of course it's not that at all.”