Strategic Innovation of Business Districts, Offices, and Work Options

September 29, 2023



Strategic Innovation of Business Districts, Offices, and Work Options

Strategic Innovation of Business Districts, Offices, and Work Options

Francis “Fran” Saele is Managing Principal at Mortevita which provides specialty consulting on the new knowledge workplace and corporate real estate. Fran has deep experience in the corporate real estate sector. He shares his insights and views about the history, dynamics, and future of office infrastructure and the evolving impact on Central Business Districts. Fran is passionate about new ways of working and the workplace transformation that supports it—developing the infrastructure of distributed work. He discusses workplace flexibility and the timing for making decisions and moving forward.


[03:27] Fran starts studying psychiatry but moves to psychology after challenging lab sessions!

[05:03] Fran is tasked with finding a purpose for a newly built building with a lot of empty space and catches the development bug.

[06:37] The difference aspects of real estate and development work.

[08:11] Speculative development requires incorporating flexibility to allow adjustments for prospective landlords' and tenants' needs.

[09:56] Market needs differ, but similarities remain relating to office spaces.

[11:00] In the decade before the pandemic, large businesses' trend to centralize operations generated Central Business District (CBD) clusters.

[12:40] To compete for talent, Fran had already developed remote working capabilities for his team before 2020.

[15:00] The mechanisms that enabled quick adaptations to remote work.

[17:44] Why there are 'Return To Office' mandates and why the push is a mistake.

[20:30] How organizations are thinking about mitigating reduced office usage.

[25:11] Can the shock to the corporate real estate sector trigger a recession?

[27:11] How can we reuse of office spaces: Condos? Vertical farming?

[30:21] Smucker’s workplace flexibility model developed after discussion with employees.

[33:44] Hybrid isn’t meant as a permanent solution. Working out compromises will require “Smucker’s” type moments.

[36:10] The tension surrounding 'Return To Office' mandates have yet to result in mass action by employers.

[40:14] The role the public sector has to play in reinventing business areas.

[42:41] Fran explains the future of the office within the community, including the evolution of malls.

[46:30] IMMEDIATE ACTION TIP: To discover the right work model for your company, do a meaningful diagnostic to find out what your company needs to be and wants to be in the future and how best to get there. Identify management bias first, then talk to employees and understand what makes sense from their perspective. Then decide how best to redesign to achieve more progressive workplace operations, which drive real estate decisions.


“There's a natural instinct in everyone to return to a homeostatic state—a state that worked well for you. Hence the ‘Return To Office’.”

“If you talk to anybody in a real estate organization: service providers, brokers, owners, or lenders, they recognized that any material change to how work was done was going to be a threat to their investments, their loans, and their economic future.”

“There are billions of dollars of existing financing on thousands of buildings across the country that will come up for refinancing. That is going to have a dramatic effect. How much is that going to affect the non-real estate sector, and does it have the potential to drive the economy into a very deep recession?”

“Hybrid was never really intended to be a final solution. It was a compromise solution that allowed employees to have some time away and management to have people back in the office.”

“I think organizations need to be careful about being too pushy on ‘Return To Office’. A matter like this is likely to lead to some type of labor action, some attempts to move in the direction of unions.”

“They’ve got to figure out what to do with the buildings. If they don't, if there is no mission at all — and this will be true for a lot of B, C, and D quality buildings around the country — they’re going to at some point demolish them because there will be no uses that make any sense.”

“The infrastructure of distributed work is going to happen, it’s just going to take time. Getting rid of the large investment in CBD office is going to take time.”