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MassMutual Weighs A Hybrid Work Future As Its Seaport Tower Opens

Workers are trickling into MassMutual’s new 17-story Seaport office at 10 Fan Pier Blvd., a glass tower tucked between luxury apartments and Seaport office building forerunner Vertex Pharmaceuticals.

A MassMutual employee works on one of 10 Fan Pier Blvd.'s upper floors Wednesday, Nov. 10, in the Seaport.

The Springfield, Massachusetts-based company is enjoying a record year of sales, MassMutual CEO Roger Crandall told reporters Wednesday during an opening ceremony attended by Gov. Charlie Baker, The Fallon Co. CEO and President Joe Fallon and other project partners.

Life insurance interest has skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic for the mutual company, which is owned by its policyholders rather than shareholders. And the insurance firm isn’t worried its new $300M Boston home hasn't come close close to its 1,000-worker capacity despite the booming business.

“My view is people still ultimately do want to interact with each other,” Crandall said. “Do they want to be able to live where they want to live? Yes, Do they want to be able to work remotely, yes. But they do want to actually get together with their colleagues.”

MassMutual CEO Roger Crandall, The Fallon Co. CEO and President Joe Fallon, and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker Wednesday, Nov. 10, in Boston's Seaport.

10 Fan Pier Blvd., built by developer The Fallon Co. and designed by Elkus Manfredi Architects, is one of the largest office building openings in Boston since the onset of the pandemic. MassMutual, which retains a Springfield headquarters at a large historic Western Massachusetts building, estimates approximately 600 hybrid workers have flowed into the new building since last month's soft opening. Employees Wednesday sat in workspaces scattered across the building’s upper floors. 

The opening comes at a tenuous time for Boston’s office market, which despite closing the summer as the nation’s hottest with strong leasing activity still lacks workers roaming its hallways. Foot traffic in downtown Boston’s office district remains down 50.8% over pre-pandemic norms as of Nov. 1, according to Avison Young's Vitality Index. Public transportation ridership remains low, with subway volume in September around half of its pre-pandemic level, according to the latest data published by the MBTA.

The MassMutual tower at 10 Fan Pier Blvd. in Boston's Seaport.

The 310K SF 10 Fan Pier’s lower floors have yet to open and MassMutual employees are working between floors 12 and 17. They have the option of either working at versatile desktop screens where anyone can plug their laptop in, armchairs facing sweeping views of the Seaport and Boston Harbor, or barstools in large open spaces near QR codes allowing laptop screens to broadcast on wall-mounted LED screens.

MassMutual representatives touted pandemic era-friendly features common among recently unveiled and redeveloped offices: touchless elevator interiors, a 17th-floor patio and indoor game room with pingpong and shuffleboard tables, nine wellness rooms offering silent space, a cafeteria featuring complimentary meals through the end of the year and kitchens on every floor, including a seltzer machine and candy dispensers.

A row of armchairs facing the Boston Harbor at MassMutual's new 17-story home, 10 Fan Pier Blvd., in Boston's Seaport.

Other features are more unique to MassMutual’s home, like single-occupancy bathrooms originally designed for gender-neutral use and now ideal for a socially distanced world. The biophilic design includes trimmed trees and plants in the building’s lobby, an homage to MassMutual’s Springfield home that representatives said was once known as a “city in the forest."

The new space has produced some minor growing pains. Employees, who dictated some of the open workspace layouts, have requested more trash receptacles since they moved in. Crandall, who said he doesn’t have an office and instead has staked out space facing downtown Boston on the seventh floor with other executives, laughed at one particular inconvenience.

Attendees of the MassMutual opening ceremony Wednesday, Nov. 10, walk down a stairwell at the 10 Fan Pier Blvd. office tower in Boston's Seaport.

“We are trying to figure out, how do you find somebody?” he said. “Like hey, I'm at 10 Fan Pier, well where? We've got to put some more signage around what floor you're on.”

Massachusetts gave MassMutual a $46M tax break in exchange for creating 2,000 jobs statewide; Crandall said the firm hasn’t reached the goal yet, but emphasized the company won’t get the tax break if they don’t reach the goal. The CEO said it is too early to make judgments on recruitment and his employees’ response to hybrid work formats, but acknowledged the challenges in attracting workers.

A meeting room at MassMutual's 10 Fan Pier Blvd. tower in Boston's Seaport.

“Literally one of the first questions almost every person applying for a job says is, ‘Do I have to work in the office?’” Crandall said. “And our answer is no, you don’t have to, but there might be times you may need to, and [which office] they’re actually associated with is likely getting really complicated.”