8 Secrets of the Modern Workplace
Taking down the cubicle walls isn’t enough anymore. Retaining talent now also requires quiet places, work-from-home-flexibility, and an eye on the bottom line, according to panelists at Bisnow’s NY Office of the Future event, held Thursday at Lightstone’s 1407 Broadway.
1) Employees Should Be as Happy as Pharrell Williams
WeWork is the office sector’s most innovative player, but co-founder Miguel KcKelvery, whom we snapped at our event before a crowd of 425, says the company wasn’t founded to create futuristic office but for the here and now. The idea was to create a place for companies trying to start something new for the world, companies that could use a spark. Folks working nonstop like that, he says, need to be empowered by their workspace, to be happy when there.
2) Cult of Equality
By the end of the year, 9,000 of Credit Suisse’s 50,000 employees will be working in open workspaces, says Americas head of workplace strategy Phil Kirschner, whom we snapped with Perkins+Will’s Rachel Casanova, and no exceptions are made for managers at any level. (If you want a corner office, you better bring a protractor and some tape.)
CBRE workplace strategies head Lenny Beaudoin (right, whom we snapped with JetBlue corporate real estate VP Richard Smyth) says companies spend 75% of their capital on people, so a good workplace can’t be about just efficiency but has to consider the employees. CBRE’s own Workplace 360 program has already converted 18 of its offices, including its LA HQ, into open spaces with no assigned desks, even for the CEO. And Bloomberg took the bold step 10 years ago to put all employees on trading desks, including at its 731 Lex HQ, says its global head of real estate and facilities Lauren Smith. It was a cultural strategy, she adds, not a real estate one.
Culture as a workplace factor is a simple concept but far from mainstream. Our moderator, Macro Consultants’ Michael Glatt, did a recent change-management presentation for a 10M SF client that didn’t have an HR rep involved in the process.
3) Working from Home Is a Reality
Considering employees are required to work from anywhere at any time, remote working is a logistical necessity, says Lauren, whom we snapped with GSA planning and design quality director Mina Wright. But Bloomberg also believes it’s important for each employee to have his or her own space, a home, to come back to. Richard says 95% of the company’s Salt Lake City call center employees work from home. The company’s LIC HQs (it moved there two-and-a-half years ago) offers tons of open, collaborative space with no exterior offices and few interior ones. For all that the company demands of its employees, giving them the ability to work from home makes sense, he notes.
4) Amenities Matter
For the young employees at Twitter, the workplace is their life, says the company's facilities project manager Rowen Ash (right, whom we snapped with our moderator, Ted Moudis Associates’ Justin Mardex). They don’t leave for lunch; they take their laptops somewhere else in the office to work and eat in a social environment. (They only get 140 steps per break, so it just makes sense.) And for this younger generation, their coworkers are their friends and their social lives. The workplace, then, is like an extension of the college dorms. And Twitter takes pains to make the office at 215-219 17th St, which Savanna has just put on the market, a pleasant place to hang out. Rowen's advice to landlords: No alcohol on the roof is a no go for Twitter as a tenant.
5) Flexible Workplaces Are Long-Term Hedges
Recruitment is key in real estate decisions, but corporations have no idea what environment employees of the future will find most productive. Consider a company that signs a 10-year lease today. The entry-level employees it will be recruiting by the end of that term are in 8th grade right now, Lenny. (Better act fast; school's almost out for the summer.) Flexibility means more than just open workspaces, he says. Employees need a place to work solo when they need to concentrate. Without that option, workplace satisfaction drops. Bloomberg made the mistake of going too dense, Lauren says, to 100 SF/person. The chorus she hears from new recruits is that they want the choice of open and solo spaces.
6) Change Is Inevitable
An office in a rectangular, steel building used to signal that a company had arrived, says Colliers tri-state president Michael Cohen. Now, Sony is moving into an 80-year-old Flatiron property that was built for Rose & Rose Actuaries. He cautions that as conversions to office continue and SF/person ratios compress, landlords should be aware of their certificates of occupancy.
7) Experimentation Is the First Step
Sony is completely rethinking its workplace strategy in advance of its early 2016 relocation from 550 Madison to 525k SF in 11 Madison, says facilities project manager Jennifer Fordham. That includes reducing space by half while increasing amenities and maintaining the number of employees. Mina, who works under tight budget scrutiny at the GSA, advises those that want to try a new format to pilot-test it, even if on a small scale. Move into closer quarters, and have executives push their desks together. When the benefit is proven, it can be rolled out more broadly. Rachel agrees, pointing out that design is an art, not a science, and as such needs to be tested and refined. Avison Young tri-state president Arthur Mirante notes that most companies love turnkey office space nowadays for the blank slate it offers.
8) Neighborhood Is Key
RXR’s Bill Elder (flanked by Arthur and our moderator, Berdon’s Maury Golbert) says the right environment will guarantee a building is a winner, regardless of submarket. David points out that hip locations like RXR’s Starrett-Lehigh Building or others near the High Line often trump proximity to transit. Meanwhile, Related is counting on the combo of Hudson Yards’ retail (three times as much as at Time Warner Center) amid millions of SF of office to attract tenants, Related Hudson Yards’ Philippe Visser tells us.