Occupancy planning offers new career for former architectural designer

JLL's Katherine Fay now helps clients utilize their space more effectively

Two years ago, Katherine Fay had never heard of occupancy planning, but now the Senior Occupancy Planner has quickly found her space in it at JLL.

Fay spent six years working as an architectural designer, which involved shepherding clients through a process from planning to design to construction. What was missing, was her true passion.

“(In my previous career) I realized that what I was most interested in was the beginning step: solutioning the space,” Fay said. “I loved meeting with clients to understand their challenges and find creative solutions. That was the part I geeked out on.”

That’s when Fay came across a job with JLL’s occupancy planning team. Her ideal place was helping clients be strategic with their workspace.

Fay explains why she made her career transition and how JLL has opened new opportunities for her.

Q: Tell us about what you do on our occupancy planning team.

A: I’m part of the occupancy planning consulting team. I work with companies that are interested in relocating or reengineering their current spaces. My team works with clients all over the country. We look at whether a company is over or under capacity and help find the right size. My team goes in and meets with business units, conducts utilization studies and collects employee engagement surveys. Once all that data is collected and analyzed we model it into several different scenarios for the client who then can pick the solution that best meets their needs. 

Q: Why did you make the transition from architecture to occupancy planning?

A: I went to school for interior design and always had a passion for architecture. I spent six years at an interior corporate architecture firm in Chicagoland. I started as a building architect, working directly with the landlord and brokerage, and eventually moved into a senior designer working directly with corporate clients designing corporate offices and headquarters around the country.

After six years of working design and construction phases, I wanted the opportunity to focus on my passion, so I looked for roles that would allow me to shape my skills around space planning, programming and strategy. I learned that occupancy planning really focuses on understanding workplace strategy and it seemed like the perfect next step for me.  

Q: What skills do you need to do your job?

A: Having a background in design or architecture is critical. I was already very familiar with architecture and construction and the technical skills that come along with that. In addition to design and rendering software, having a high-level proficiency in Excel — that’s something I use constantly here. If you have some exposure to these technologies, you can build off it in occupancy planning, and you’ll be unstoppable. Then it’s the interpersonal skills that really matter, like understanding how to work with a client, strong presentation skills, keeping conversations going, communicating complex concepts to the client. Communication and client facing skills are key.

Q: What excites you about your job?

A: I really like working with data. So often we’ll meet with a client that tells us what they think they need. On the architectural side, I would have used that as a guiding principle and then incorporated certain trends. But in occupancy planning, not only do we listen to the client, we go inside the company to look at how they’re actually utilizing their space and we also understand how the employees want to work. With all three of those data points, we either validate their analysis of the situation, or other times we unearth a whole different set of challenges, which the client might have not known existed.

By doing behavioral observation and collecting data points, we help companies see that employees’ actual needs might be different than management’s assumptions about them. Then we create solutions. It’s kind of like being a doctor — we diagnose the problem and write a prescription. I really like being able to give a full solution that’s researched and backed up by actual data.

Q: Why would you encourage someone to work in occupancy planning?

A: You’re a valuable resource and you have a ton of client exposure. A lot of clients are just scratching the surface of what’s possible. We provide different solutions and technologies to help clients find a real estate strategy that takes them into the future. You’re involved in the process so much from the very beginning, and to solution space at that high level for large companies is so exciting. It has a real impact.

Q: What do you like most about working at JLL?

A: I like having the ability to grow. In my previous career, I got to a point where I could see exactly what my future career path was, and it was limited. But at JLL, you can really try anything. If you have an interest in just about anything, there’s probably a place under the JLL umbrella for you. And that kind of growth is encouraged. They don’t want you to stagnate. And the work culture is so fluid. JLL is aware that the way we’re working is changing, and they’re quick to adapt. I love that flexibility.

Interested in a career in occupancy planning? Learn more about available roles and opportunities.