How an Old Building Can Be the Workplace of the Future
The office of the future doesn’t have to be in a futuristic building—a historic building can provide the culture and identity firms are trying to build. We’ll look into that dichotomy and more at Bisnow’s Workplace of the Future event Dec. 16, 8am at the Houstonian.
Cameron Management president Dougal Cameron (a panelist at our event) says older buildings offer a great discount to new construction—Esperson asks for $35/SF, compared to $50/SF in nearby Class-A product—but that’s not their biggest draw. Companies today are all about building culture, Dougal says, and historic buildings make a statement. Tenants who could afford any office in town (especially creative types like Lauren Rottet in Esperson) are picking historic product because it offers a unique and trendy atmosphere you can’t find in modern properties. Dougal says people will put up with a certain lack of modernity as long as the building is clean, secure and well-maintained, which is all controllable by management.
Workplaces of the future need to be in an amenitized and walkable environment, and Dougal points out that many historic buildings are well-located in the heart of dense areas. That’s especially true Downtown, and Cameron has been pushing the pedestrian- and bike-friendliness of its properties. More and more people are living Downtown and want to bike or take the light rail to work, and Cameron director Jano Nixon Kelley has been encouraging tenants to think outside the box on transportation. Both Esperson and 1001 McKinney have bike rooms, and McKinney’s is particularly well-used. (Here's Dougal at 1001 McKinney between tenant Clean Line Energy's Michael Skelly and Central Houston's Bob Eury.)
To keep up with the times, Dougal is looking for the right partner now to build co-working facilities into his properties. Cameron’s been working with Gensler to determine what that would look like—10k SF of tenants at Esperson today would’ve gone into co-working space instead if it were available. The firm’s already been doing the occasional spec suite, which has been really successful. Both types of spaces draw in young people and small companies that will grow inside your building. And because modern tenants want a community, Cameron works hard to retain security staff (nothing like being greeted by name in the morning) and offer dining amenities where people can run into other tenants. Pictured, CCRD's cool open space in Esperson.
Companies are willing to put in the time and money to figure out what works best in their office, says PDR principal/president Lauri Goodman Lampson (another panelist). Many larger clients are strategically prototyping their future workplace to test decisions like architectural design, furniture and technology. After having employees pilot each one, companies have better insight into which tools/concepts are the most effective. Lauri says these can sometimes be multimillion-dollar studies, but it’s worth it for bigger offices (Lauri designs for mega firms like Exxon, ConocoPhillips, Wells Fargo and Accenture).
On the nearer term, companies are focused on designing for Millennials, who will make up 50% of the workforce in about five years. Lauri says the state of the oil market is impacting capital investment decisions and causing companies to refocus on short-term plans. But whether a company is planning for five years or 20, Lauri says flexibility is the main crux of the conversation. That includes the physical space—hardware is being treated more like software and can be updated on demand, she tells us. But it goes beyond that--maybe to shorter leases, and almost definitely to a wider variety of work hours. (If a tenant comes in at midnight, will it be unsafe or a hassle?) Pictured is Accenture's Houston office, which Lauri worked on.
Morris Architects director of interiors Melanie Herz Promecene (also speaking on our panel) says workplaces are beginning to understand the importance of fusing hospitality elements like lounge areas, gaming zones and coffee bars with corporate design to boost employees’ moods and satisfaction. Offices should be elastic to meet multiple needs and uniquely reflect the the firm’s messaging, brand and culture. Services that used to be part of the classic neighborhood are now moving into the core office building (and sometimes a tenant’s space itself), including medical/dental clinics, dry cleaning, cool delis, and fitness hubs (like the renovation her team just completed at 1301 Fannin).
Melanie (here with her interiors team) has a ton of nieces and nephews in middle school, high school and college, and she loves to ask about their lifestyles and study habits--they’re what we need to start designing toward. She feels like one of her clients has really nailed where offices are going—it’s downsizing from 20k to 13k SF but adding amazing amenities like a lounge (serving ice cream, wine and catered meals with wait staff), a candy cupboard, sleep spaces and showers. It’s enhancing its brand of elegant Texas hospitality through design and showcases its dedication to customer service by having it right up front in the lobby. Come hear from Melanie, Lauri, Dougal and others at Bisnow’s Workplace of the Future event Dec. 16 at the Houstonian at 8am. (Register here!)