A few weeks ago Twitter announced that their employees don’t ever have to go back to the office again unless they wanted to.
“Opening offices will be our decision, when and if our employees come back, will be theirs,” Twitter’s head of HR said in a statement.
For commercial asset owners and developers, that sounded bad. Much is being made of how Covid-19 will affect the behaviour of Australia’s workforce, particularly those previously bound to city offices.
Twitter’s announcement engendered a feeling of panic because it highlighted the core issue that companies and the commercial sector face: how do we persuade the people who enjoyed working from home to ever come back to the office once this is over?
But this is not the end of the world, with some creative thinking, nimble manoeuvring and attention to placemaking, it’s actually a great opportunity for innovative and perceptive players.
No one comes into the office because of their desk, they come for the people and the environment, both psychological and physical.
While working from home has its merits and has become particularly popular with the millennial demographic, it has its downsides: some people simply aren’t as productive and collaboration is much more difficult.
As for younger employees, career advancement and the development of relationship-building skills is more challenging to emulate virtually (good luck getting a promotion while working from home!).
In the short term, ensuring staff feel psychologically supported and safe frees them to relax and be productive. Highly visible, meticulous cleaning regimes, social distancing and abundant sanitising products in all shared spaces is a given.
Hosting people in a physical sense, welcoming clients to commercial premises, will still be important.
Video conferences and meetings are mostly working well now because good face-to-face relationships were formed in the past. We need to keep forming them. Buildings offering tenants a portfolio of comfortable, hospitable and spacious places for such bonding have the advantage.
Meetings in cramped coffee spots might take a dip for a while. Look at the hospitality amenities and offerings in your buildings. Can tenants host a lunch for six somewhere?
Is there a peaceful, stylish, comfortable space for coffees to be made and shared? Are there rooms with bar-height tables and stools, somewhere people can mill around at a polite distance, taking turns to examine documents?
I’ll put money on an increased interest in service and luxury. Not everyone fell in love with the working-from-home model. Anyone in cramped or shared accommodations, anyone with kids, pets and other mess-makers, is itching to escape.
Office spaces where high-quality refreshments are prepared and delivered by hospitality professionals will outshine. Too many people spent lockdown feeling overwhelmed by domestic and professional workloads. If they can sit back and let someone else serve they will, and they’ll appreciate it.
A lot of the best workplaces have cafes and restaurants on the ground plane which have suffered deeply in lockdown. It is in the interest of asset owners to help support hospitality tenants so they can stay in place and pay the rent.
See what you can do practically to ensure premises meet new social distancing norms. Explore ways your hospitality tenants can, literally, cater to the needs of the corporate neighbours upstairs and be part of your service and luxury point of difference.
I’ve always advocated that commercial buildings should work with their neighbours to curate their ground planes, thus ensuring a varied mix of food and beverage and retail.
The result would be permeable destination precincts with varied amenity that would magnetically draw people from the surrounding area in each day. Barrack Place by Investa is a great example of a perfectly-curated ground plane which does just this.
Imagine if this was done more often and by multiple asset owners all working together—the economic and social benefits to tenants, retailers, owners and developers would be significant.
Many people come to the office to connect, collaborate and be stimulated. But when quizzed, staff often admit their deeper, more focused thinking happens in places quieter and more secluded than the office. This sounds mad to me; a good workplace should meet both needs and have serene, private places where big ideas germinate.
Lots of natural light, outdoor access and greenery should be considered. “Wintergardens” like those at Workshop by Milligan Group in Pyrmont are a great solution that serve as relief spaces as well as providing access to sunlight and natural ventilation.
Rooftop spaces have long been the biggest missed opportunity in the sector, so look differently at how you use common spaces. Consider loggia-style balconies. Have spaces that cater to different moods and seasons. Sometimes you just need a change of scenery to stimulate brain cells.
With some staff only coming in when needed, for in-person briefings or practical project work, we’ll need more team meeting rooms, in different sizes and configurations.
Flexible, modular solutions like SuiteX by Dexus, which cater for changing team sizes and space requirements, are great examples to draw from. The uptake of teleconferencing requires more quiet spaces where a few staff members can “meet” with someone via a screen.
Look at opportunities to develop smaller commercial spaces in outer city or suburban locations. While employees may not want to travel into the CBD every day, the idea of heading into a well-run satellite space closer to home might appeal.
Lendlease is already on this path with The Local Office in Manly, an exclusive membership office offering professional, tech-enabled workspaces, designed for occasional use.
The Urban Developer is proud to partner with Hoyne to deliver this article to you. In doing so, we can continue to publish our free daily news, information, insights and opinion to you, our valued readers.