Much as the changes in how and where people work have made a difference in the work experience, the workplace has evolved over the past few years, and office space has moved beyond the cubicle and the assigned space with a door, a desk and a landline phone. Building owners and property managers have been bringing their building amenities up to speed so that the entire work environment fosters a more interactive, collaborative and exciting place to spend time both in and out of the office. Savvy employers are understanding that “place” is as important as compensation in luring new talent into the fold and landlords are seeing that in order to compete in the marketplace, they need to offer more than a lobby, a deli and functional elevators. Initially, it was the ping pong tables and sofas that found their way from the home to the office. We have seen in-office improvements range from coffee bars with on tap cold brew to game rooms with state-of-the-art video game playing areas.
Looking beyond the here and now of tenant and landlord views of how well-designed building amenities are a critical component of workplace design – we queried a few CRE experts to find out how they are approaching this factor in planning for their new and existing portfolios, including: Anthony Chang, Vice-President Asset Management, Wash*REIT; Tamala Herd, Design Manager, Bridge Commercial Real Estate; Pete Otteni, SVP, Development, Boston Properties; and Charlie Hobey, Managing Director, Product and Operations, EQ Office.
WDM: Thinking about your office building portfolio – how much has the competition for new tenants or to keep existing tenants affected how you view planning for and implementing amenity spaces?
Tamala Herd: The competition for new tenants and the task of retaining existing tenants has tremendous impact on how we plan and implement amenity spaces. The amenity space itself is no longer enough – the space must have amenities embedded within it to be a step above the standard. Having a fitness center is expected by most tenants, and therefore the “amenity” becomes what the gym contains. In other words, we’ve moved beyond tenants asking, “Does this office offer a fitness center?” to asking questions such as, “What does the fitness center offer? Is there Fitness on Demand? Do you have Peloton bikes?” The same can be said for anything traditionally considered an amenity. Prospective tenants are considering multiple buildings with comparable amenity spaces, so the key differentiator becomes how much more your amenity spaces offer, the elevation of the atmosphere and how cohesively the spaces work together to provide a micro-community within the building that allows tenants to live, work and play in their work neighborhood.
Pete Otteni: In a market where tenants have plentiful choices among buildings, their ability to compare amenities and push landlords to “keep up with the Joneses” is inevitably enhanced. We have certainly felt the effects of this amenities arms race and have done our best to be thoughtful about what amenities are possible, which are likely to have more universal appeal, and which may ultimately be impossible, cost prohibitive, or otherwise inadvisable. Our strategy has always revolved around developing and owning buildings in excellent locations and with a strong sense of place – Reston Town Center, Foggy Bottom, etc. In these cases, amenities are provided by the neighborhood in addition to within the building itself. This strategy hasn’t changed, but it also hasn’t fully insulated us from the in-building amenity discussion.