Hybrid offices deliver what modern occupiers need. Here's why
It’s a strange time for companies looking to optimize the best office for their occupiers. While space planners continue to work on COVID-era policies, the back-to-work conversation has largely been replaced by one focusing on hybrid workplaces. While COVID-19 is still a critical issue for workplaces everywhere, many occupiers are thinking now about what comes next. Landlords need to pay attention to their conclusions, because they inform the future of the world of office real estate.
While occupiers are planning for the long term, they face a reality that is still heavily impacted by the outbreak. This puts planners in a tough spot, since they have to balance the needs of workers who in many cases want to come back to the office, with safety realities that make that difficult to achieve. Unless offices can make sure that a substantial majority of their occupiers are vaccinated, it may be difficult to jump too readily into celebrations that things are back to normal.
The good news is, ensuring everyone in the given property is vaccinated is far from impossible. Whether with a vaccine ID card or an advanced solution potentially built into a building operating system or tenant experience app, there are ways to ensure that building occupiers, even guests, don’t penetrate a building’s shield of protection.
What is the best office?
This leaves us with an important question. Given the post-COVID realities of office life, what is the best office? The answer is easy: whatever works best for its occupiers.
Now OK, that’s a cop-out answer, I know. Because occupiers and their companies are so different that what works great for one business may be totally inappropriate for another. With that in mind, though, we can think of a general spec list for what the new, post-COVID best office might look like. This is the hybrid office so many people are talking about.
"Spaces need to be designed with private rooms, semi-private breakout rooms, and shared spaces alike in order to be maximally productive for the modern tenant."
Tenant-centric hybrid working spaces for flexible occupiers
Study after study has shown that truly tenant-centric offices provide a range of working areas for high focus as well as high collaboration activities, and flexible offices are the way of the future. That means that these hybrid spaces need to be designed with private rooms, semi-private breakout rooms, and shared spaces alike in order to be maximally productive for the modern tenant. According to the leading office design firm CAPEXUS, these activity-based workplaces, where people can choose the right type of space for the type of work they are doing at any given moment, are one of the most popular these days.
Some of the specific space articulation strategies that activity-based workplaces can take advantage of are company libraries, informal meeting spaces, and soundproof booths. "The office should always be designed in a way that reflects the real needs of employees," CAPEXUS says.
Amenities that attract and retain tenants
Perhaps the most important thing that modern offices can provide is a suite of amenities that help attract and retain tenants. It’s easier than ever now to work from home – the experience of COVID-19 has made sure we all fully understand that. This means that office planners need to offer experiences that are better than what can be achieved at home, with its private fridge, TV, and robe-optional dress policy. For more on the reasons some workers prefer to operate out of their homes, check out this Pew Research study.
On the other hand, a 2021 PwC report found that 87% of surveyed employees liked offices for their positive impacts on collaboration and relationships. So what can offices do to make in-person work more enjoyable and productive for the huge number of companies that stick with it?
The secret weapon offices have in the fight to keep occupiers engaged is that working remote all the time has started to grind on a lot of people.
“The benefits of working from home are diminished when you work from home every day. Employees miss out on contact with colleagues, the possibility of sharing know-how, and also don't have as much of a chance for periodic changes of environment. The most important function of the office today is that it is a meeting place and a vessel for corporate culture.”
Landlords can take advantage of this sentiment in a number of ways. Developing compelling opportunities to reinforce culture should be a priority for sure. We provide a straightforward six-step guide to building an effective community strategy in one of our earlier blog posts. In short, start by gathering facts before creating a guiding vision statement and eventually a measurable action plan. By injecting a healthy dose of culture into their spaces, landlords will be able to boost occupier employee engagement while helping build the workplace of the future.
Beyond (and frequently supporting) community, food and beverage options are one solid choice. While some co-working providers like WeWork have scaled down the free beer in recent years, the tail end of the coronavirus outbreak will eventually provide a chance for office managers and landlords alike to add an easy (if costly) perk to their spaces: premium food and drink.
Another option is to add real recreational opportunities as part of the office package. Wellness is a focus these days, and so gyms that are well-equipped with things like Peloton bikes and free weights are great options. We discuss a number of measures to boost occupier wellness in this article. Beyond wellness, classes for subjects that aren’t easy to learn remotely (depending on what physical spaces the office has, these could include yoga, cooking, crafting, and beyond), and things like podcast recording spaces are all good options that landlords could easily offer. The tenant experience can also be heightened by connecting different tenant companies for personal and professional networking, a strategy we highlight in this article.
Finally, if a building has a mixed-use component, it would be a good idea to consider leveraging the other tenants of the property to increase occupier satisfaction. Maybe there is ground-floor retail, a rooftop bar, or shopping located in the space. These are all things people can’t get at home.
For more amenity inspiration, check out this pre-COVID article which nonetheless has some fantastic occupier perk ideas.
"It should always be easy for occupiers to book spaces for work or meetings, access technology that meets the needs of modern tenants, and receive the support they need when things break down."
On-demand services that exceed tenant expectations
While amenities are great for helping tenant-centric buildings get people there in the first place, once workers arrive it becomes more a matter of continually exceeding tenant expectations. The most common-sense way to do this is by allowing them to do their work every day with as little friction as possible. It should always be easy for occupiers to book spaces for work or meetings, access technology that meets the needs of modern tenants, and receive the support they need when things break down. As we covered in a blog post during the height of out pandemic, offices need to be as stress-free as possible for their occupiers.
There is nothing more damaging to tenant expectations than things that don’t work how they should. If you’re running an office for modern tenants that includes serviced spaces, you’re responsible for ensuring that things like IT, access control, and the guest check-in experience don’t encounter any issues during operating hours. While this might not be as exciting as adding beer on tap, the devil is in the details and acing these parts of the landlord business can be a crucial way to attract and really retain valuable tenants. The best workplaces are a physical space as well as a digital office, and landlords shouldn't sleep on developing this functionality.