What do future office amenities look like?

How to create spaces that solve for form AND function? Create a sense of FOMO

September 14, 2021

Years ago, trendy office spaces took corporate America by storm. Open floor plans were the norm, break rooms were upgraded with golf simulators so employees could practice their swing, and the office coffee bar was equipped with beer on draft to transform into a social hub after five p.m. But how much value—beyond the “wow” factor—did these amenities provide?

Office workers want to return to the office. This is good news for employers, as research shows productivity and engagement decline when employees are away from the office. Companies again must create a sense of FOMO—fear of missing out—to attract and retain talent with amenity spaces. The difference is, now they must be purposeful. Outdoor spaces, areas for socialization and rooms for collaboration or heads-down work are most requested by employees. How do you balance a flexible workforce, maintain productivity and make the office a desired destination?

In this episode of the Building Places podcast, James Cook talks with Christina Piper, Vice President, Workplace Design at JLL, about the amenities employees desire, why they’re practical and how your company can benefit by reimagining the space.

James Cook: [00:00:00]: We're ready to get back to the office in person, but is our office space designed in a way that's going to entice our coworkers to want to join us? In other words, what kind of office environment is going to make those people who are working from home want to put on their clothes and leave their nests?

This is Building Places where we look at the world of commercial real estate through the eyes of the experts that study it every day. My name is James Cook and I research real estate for JLL. Today I'm catching up with Christina Piper.

Christina Piper: [00:00:43]: I am Christina Piper. I lead the workplace design practice for JLL.

James Cook: [00:00:49]: I want to talk about this topic of getting your employees excited about being in the office. I'm an easy sell. I'm really ready to get into the office.

Christina Piper: [00:00:58]: 72% of knowledge workers are actually looking for some sort of hybrid work arrangement, meaning some combination of time in the office, as well as remote, whether that be home or, or another space. And so we need to really understand where that's coming from. And, and a lot of it has to do with things people can get in the office that they perhaps can't elsewhere.

James Cook: [00:01:19]: I have a million examples of stuff that happened in my work only because I was in an office. Like creative collisions and crazy ideas and talking to people I didn't even know existed.

Christina Piper: [00:01:31]: Yes, absolutely. I can think of two examples even does week being in the office. Opportunities that I wouldn't have had to, first of all, teach and second of all learn. And I guess third of all, uh, opportunities, business development wise, that I was able to kind of interject myself in just by sitting in close proximity to what we call our kind of office hub. Just running into people in those spaces and, and I will deliberately inset myself there for a few hours a day. Not only to get some focus work done, kind of remove myself from that open office component, but also to, to just overhear and learn by osmosis. These opportunities happen more organically when you are in the office and you can actually get up and go to a destination space versus saying, let's hop on a Teams meeting.

James Cook: [00:02:20]: How do you get people excited to come into the office who maybe aren't that excited?

Christina Piper: [00:02:25]: We know people are interested in some degree of return to office, so let's poll them on what they're hoping to get out of it. What important aspects are they seeking out, or what can they not get in their remote work environment? And it usually entails some degree of exercise or cognitive refresh. What amenities are we talking about? The exposure to natural light. How can we really optimize our workspaces to encompass that? I think the data is there for us to extract it. We just have to be interested in asking the right questions the right way, versus throwing out a blanket mandate to say, “you're all coming back.” Because when you ask any HR professional how that works from an attract and retain standpoint, it is not successful.

James Cook: [00:03:10]: How am I designing the office to give the people FOMO? Like if they're not there, they're missing out?

Christina Piper: [00:03:17]: Yeah, FOMO is a big conversation piece and we all used to laugh but it's a real piece of the dialogue now to talk about the fear of missing out, and truthfully how we create that to get people to come back into the space.

An example that I can give recently is we're working with a client. And they've got a portfolio of different locations across the U.S. And they did all these employees surveys over COVID they recognized that their average age had gone from 27 to actually 23 and a half. So that's a huge swing in the demographic of who makes up a cross section of your organization, right? And so smartly, they did a survey to try and really understand what the younger generation is looking for in a workspace. And what they found is that these folks are very purpose driven. They attach themselves to specific design objectives or cultural shifts that have purpose behind them.

One of the biggest topics of conversation was actually gender-neutral restrooms and amenities spaces that supported wellness. And that's something that they never would have had a conversation about five years ago. Now it's a very relevant aspect. And so they never would have known that not had the insight to dive deeper and kind of say, you know what, now that our demographic has shifted we perhaps need to take a look at what our workforce generally wants. So I think it's just a great way to show you're engaged with your organization and with the people in it and showing that we're all human and there's a human aspect that needs to be focused around the physical workspace. Whether that be focused on individual meeting rooms to help cater toward individual connections with people, focus workspace. We're even bringing in more of these kind of amenity spaces. We've talked about greenhouse rooms. We've talked about onsite childcare. It's all about extracting these opinions and in shaping that data into something meaningful.

James Cook: [00:05:10]: And when you talk about wellness, what are some examples of the kinds of things companies are looking at to put into offices to promote wellness?

Christina Piper: [00:05:19]: Yeah. And this is a huge one because we're finding with several of them is many of them have told us we've never had a higher degree of wellness oriented medical claims. And it's something that employers are not taking lightly. When we talk about wellness, it means different things to different people, right? To many, it means, a degree of focus that they can bring and actually channel their energy into work and make sure that's efficient and productive work. To many physical health still reigns king. They want to come to a workspace where, you know, they're able to efficiently work, but at the same time, get access to amenities like building gyms or walking paths surrounding their environment.

When we talk about how to actually apply this in the workspace, we are not seeing that these kinds of recreational rec rooms, pool tables are coming up very often anymore. We're really talking more about cognitive recharge. When you think of your cognitive ability to get work done, it’s very sensory related, right? So looking at different types of lighting, looking at how color shapes, um, personalities, even throughout the day. One's ability to work well. Looking at ways people learn, they're all different, right? Sometimes we learn better in a group setting. Sometimes it's better with a small team and sometimes it's better on our own. So really studying, really taking a cue from the educational aspects of our business and looking at how people learn at universities. We've even had clients say that they're looking to get an in-house therapist that can be kind of an open door forum for people to have a ability to vent, or talk or, you know, truly just get a different opinion on something. And mental wellness is really one of these big-ticket items that we've been talking about lately.

James Cook: [00:07:03]: It's like the guidance counselor in high school.

Christina Piper: [00:07:06]: Yes, exactly.

James Cook: [00:07:10] A lot of people are like, yeah, I'm up for a hybrid workweek. I'll do a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. So are there problems with that?

Christina Piper: [00:07:15]: I call it like the high school schedule rotation, right? Mondays and Wednesdays, you're doing this. Tuesdays and Thursdays, you're doing this. And Friday is a free day. So when we talk about this rotational type of schedule there's pluses and minuses to it. Some of the cons are that when you get people on a set schedule, particular days they're in the office, you're missing a whole different subset of interactions. Companies are getting smart and saying, “hey, as a trade-off for a flexible schedule, you, employee, need to be a little bit more flexible about your own demands on real estate.”

What we're seeing most companies do is look at some degree of a hybrid model where they are planning for about 50% return on any given day. But we are building in some flex spaces to accommodate for when there's larger regional meetings, when larger departments are trying to get together. So a lot of what's emerged from those conversations are things like community rooms, where it's a department themed room where when you're in the office, you're coming together specifically to collaborate with your team and you have a dedicated space to do so.

James Cook: [00:08:19]: Give me an example of a project that you're actually working on.

Christina Piper: [00:08:23]: Yeah, there’s a was a project we're working on now with a client. We really developed a short list of spaces that could use some improvement and to the executive’s surprise, it was actually some of the spaces that when they moved in five years ago, people were raving about, but that had become less efficient as time went on. That's not due to anything that the designers did originally erroneously. It's due to the fact that the organization was evolving and the design needed to catch up with it. And so when we were looking at this great big, amazing hub space that it's all the great things that you would imagine it's got, you know, televisions everywhere. It's this fantastic forum for when the company has company-wide meetings. But it is that for five percent of the time, right? The other 95 percent of the time we need to understand how this real estate can be better repurposed. And when we really dove in and talked to the team members, we found out that we need more flexible furnishings to facilitate different meetings for not only a different amount of attendees, but also different types of communication forums. Not every forum is this big town hall where you're going to broadcast it on every TV. A lot of these are smaller department related meetings. A lot of these are coaching opportunities, learning opportunities for smaller groups that are just seeking out a more informal casual setting to have these conversations. Another portion of the project was really understanding their green space. They have a rooftop tack, so underutilized, and here we are. We walked out on the space with them in the middle of June on this beautiful day. And we said, how many of your employees even know this space exists? And so when we polled the team it was like 50 percent of the people even knew this was accessible to them. Natural light and daylight are huge contributors to wellness. One of the things we talked to them about. Why don't we revamp the space a little bit. Let's add some different furniture. Let's throw in a fire pit, but at the same time, you leaders, you guys are the ones that need to enact policies to say, you know what? We're doing an open air meeting today. Everyone get up on the rooftop for 30 minutes. We're going to have our staffing meeting up there. So these are the types of things that when you look at space and you start to understand the way people are utilizing it, these things make a difference. And many times they're subtle.

James Cook: [00:10:45]: Christina, thank you so much for joining me for this conversation. I have, I have learned a lot and I really appreciate it.

Christina Piper: [00:10:52]: Thank you. Thrilled to be here. I appreciate your time.

James Cook: [00:10:56]: If you like this podcast, do me a favor and tell a friend about it. Let them know they can subscribe to Building Places on the iPhone podcast app, on Spotify or any place they like to listen to podcasts. This episode of Building Places was produced by Alexandra Dalton and our theme music was written and performed by Joel Caracci.