8 Secrets of the Modern Workplace

imageTaking 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, June 12.

1) Employees Should Be as Happy as Pharrell Williams

WeWork is one of the office sector’s most innovative players, but co-founder Miguel KcKelvery says the company wasn’t founded to create futuristic office; it was founded 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 and feel 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. No exceptions will be made for managers at any level - if you want a corner office, you better bring a protractor and some tape.

CBRE Managing Director of Workplace Strategiy Lenny says companies spend 75% of their capital on people, so a good workplace can’t be about just efficiency; it 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. Ten years ago, Bloomberg took the bold step to put all employees on trading desks, says Global Head of Real Estate & Facilities Lauren Smith. It was a cultural strategy, she adds, not motivated by real estate.

Culture as a workplace factor is a simple concept but far from mainstream. 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. But Bloomberg also believes it’s important for each employee to have his or her own space, a “home” to come back to. JetBlue Corporate Real Estate VP Richard Smyth says 95% of the company’s Salt Lake City call center employees work from home. The company’s LIC HQs (two-and-a-half years old) offers 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. They don’t leave for lunch. Instead, they take their laptops somewhere else in the office to eat and work in a more social environment. For this younger generation, their coworkers are their friends, blending work life with social life. The workplace, then, is like an extension of the college dorms. Twitter takes pains to make the office a pleasant place to work and socialize.

5) Flexible Workplaces Are Long-Term Hedges

Recruitment plays a part in real estate decisions, but corporations do not know for certain 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. Flexibility means more than just open workspaces, Lenny 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, with 100 SF per person. What she hears from new recruits is that they want the choice of both open and private spaces.

6) Change Is Inevitable

An office in a rectangular, steel building used to signal that a company had arrived, says Colliers Tri-State Region 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 per 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, says Facilities Project Manager Jennifer Fordham. That includes reducing space by half while increasing amenities and maintaining the same number of employees. GSA Planning & Design Quality Director Mina Wright, who works under tight budget scrutiny, advises those who want to try a new format should 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. Director of Workplace at Perkins+Will Rachel Casanova agrees, pointing out that design is an art, not a science. She add that designers should not be afraid to test and refine their work. Avison Young Tri-State Region President Arthur Mirante notes that most companies love turnkey office space nowadays for the blank slate it offers.

8) Neighborhood Is Key

RXR Realty’s Bill Elder 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, Philippe Visser of Related is counting on the combination of Hudson Yards’ retail (three times as much as at Time Warner Center) amid millions of SF of office to attract tenants.

Adapted from Bisnow, originally published June 16, 2014.