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Work Placemaking: Transforming Office Buildings into Indoor Neighborhoods

Attracting talent is no longer the sole domain of human resources. Office building landlords increasingly play a role in providing the amenities and sense of community that make workplaces desirable.

Placemaking, a collaborative approach to urban planning and design, has helped live-work-play neighborhoods to thrive by attracting college-educated millennials and companies who want to employ them. Now, companies are extending the placemaking concept to buildings, using not only their own offices but the shared indoor and outdoor spaces provided by landlords.

Everything starts with location — young, highly educated workers tend to cluster in transit-oriented urban neighborhoods with a good mix of apartments, retail and office space all within easy walking distance. With transit, bicycle and ride-share options, a resident can avoid the expense of a car and enjoy a convenient — and relatively sustainable — lifestyle. For companies fishing in this talent pool, the distance of a few blocks can make a huge difference in a building’s appeal. But location is far from the only factor.

Building features and amenities can also play an important role in talent attraction. For example, a building with LEED certification and an onsite fitness center allows tenants to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and employee wellness. That’s good — but competing buildings have these same features. Prospective tenants that tour six buildings in the same day will remember the ones with something unique. If the corporate real estate executive is not impressed with a building’s amenities, prospective employees probably won’t be either.

In urban environments, even small touches of nature can make a big difference. For example, one of our buildings impressed a large credit tenant in part because of the renovation plans that included raised planting beds on the rooftop.  Other buildings had rooftop spaces, but what stood out for this tenant was the ability of its employees to interact with nature even on a small scale.

At other buildings, we have included areas for indoor bicycle storage, maintenance and repair. Making it easy for employees to bike to work helps extend the reach of a building’s talent search beyond walking distance, and in some cases is a standout feature that competing buildings lack.

Another way landlords can help tenants is to provide shared conference rooms or other large gathering spaces that are typically underutilized if included in a tenant’s private space. For instance, a company might utilize a large conference room 20 percent of the time during business hours, but is paying rent on that space for the 80 percent of time that it is not used. Tenants are seeing the appeal of the “shared economy” concept when they realize the occupancy cost savings associated with sharing this type of space with other tenants.

Companies place an even higher value on social amenities that draw employees, such as tenant lounges and outdoor seating/activity areas. In tenant spaces, these areas might be underutilized, and if social interaction is too loud, it can be disruptive to other employees trying to work. These concerns are eliminated by creating shared spaces for all tenants, with the added advantage of fostering conversations among employees of different companies within the building, which can lead to new ideas and business opportunities.

Landlords and tenants have a shared interest in creating office environments that appeal to talented workers while enhancing their job satisfaction, well-being and productivity. Like placemaking, workplace-making is a collaborative process that improves upon a location’s existing advantages in ways designed to foster growth, collaboration and innovation. The concept has worked well for neighborhoods, and it works just as well for office buildings.

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