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Real Estate - Commercial property

The Best Office Buildings Are Adaptive, Not Prescriptive

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There are a lot of ideas out there about how to maximize tenant satisfaction. Whether it’s designing better amenities, offering more perks and promotions, or how structured the office environment should be, these debates were common before COVID-19 hit and have only gotten more urgent. According to CBRE’s 2021 U.S. Real Estate Market Outlook, “Occupiers may reduce their amount of leased space in the future, but the quality of that space will become more important.”

Yet before the pandemic or after, these conversations miss an important point, which is that not all workplaces are the same. From law offices to engineering firms, government agencies to tech startups, there is a huge amount of variation in the working styles and personalities of the professionals involved. Different buildings imply different needs, too. From downtown skyscrapers to suburban business parks, there is a tremendous amount of variation in the character and needs of each property.

Take Colliers, for instance. According to Jason Meidhof, senior director of marketing and communications for Colliers’ real estate management services team, one of their major client buildings is a government office located near the airport in Los Angeles, far from most restaurants and cafes. Because of their location, the occupiers of that building tend to want their property managers to help them access food during the workday. “Our property team instituted a program to help bring food trucks in every day of the week,” said Jason, “and then communicate that to the building’s tenants.” Meanwhile, another large Colliers property located in a city’s central business district, doesn’t need help with restaurants at all.

If there is so much difference from one office to the next, why should we assume that there is a single best way to optimize them? To begin honing the workplace experience in a more nuanced way, owners and managers need to step away from the top-down, cookie-cutter approach and instead spend some time finding out what their tenants actually want. And the right way to begin doing that is by listening. By hearing what occupants are saying in terms of the spaces, services, and experiences they want and need, landlords can target their offerings to drive greater occupier value.

That’s where surveys come in. By directly and candidly asking occupiers what they want, property managers can arm themselves with insights they would never otherwise receive. Asking questions directly can also help management staff better understand and account for differences from occupier type to occupier type. It may turn out, for instance, that tech firms want services tailored to workers who are often remote, while financial companies may place more of an emphasis on in-office work.

Building managers may not be able to determine their tenants’ office design down to the smallest detail, but what they can change is how spaces are accessed, rooms reserved, visitors greeted, information consumed, events attended, food and drink purchased, and so on. This is where surveys can be particularly useful, in helping landlords gain insight into their tenants’ workplace wants and needs.

Yet with so many ways to try to reach one’s tenants, like flyers, wall posters, lobby and elevator screens, and emails to office managers, it can be difficult to ensure that your surveys will reach every occupier or guarantee a response. This is one area where a workplace experience technology can be particularly useful. According to Robyn MacNicol, Director of Customer Success at workplace experience platform Lane, it’s a good idea for properties to “bring their communities onto the workplace experience app, so that instead of going to five different places for communication, they can go to just one.” Centralizing communication with a web and mobile platform can dramatically increase both reach and response rates. And with smart targeting features, managers can collect and compare survey results from different groups with ease.

Clear communication from property managers can also help tenants know which amenities and services their buildings offer in the first place, as well as how to access them. And since a workplace experience technology tracks utilization data, managers have the opportunity to see what their tenants like most.

There is a community element here, too. By using an app to facilitate intra-building communication, tenants can more easily network amongst each other and build connections with the surrounding neighborhood. As Jason from Colliers US remarked, “One of our east coast assets is in an amenity-rich area, so our property manager there worked with the local business improvement district to bring their occupiers into the community. Before COVID-19, that meant shopping and events, and now we’re sharing information on local street closures, new businesses, and other relevant community news.” Just as good communication is a two-way dialogue between landlord and tenant, it is also a two-way dialogue between tenant and the surrounding community. In a year where over half of office leasing activity is coming from renewals, according to data from JLL, improving the tenant experience and making occupiers feel more at home for the long haul is more important than ever.

In the midst of COVID-19, tenant communication strategies are top of mind for property managers around the world. And while this is critical, it’s also important to think about how they can open up feedback channels to create a two-way dialogue. COVID-19 has forced a traditionally slow industry (real estate) to become more nimble and reactive, and there are ways managers can keep that spirit going. The simplest answer is to keep listening to occupiers long after the outbreak passes. Making surveys and polls a core part of the tenant engagement strategy will continue to reveal valuable information well into the future. Spot-collecting feedback after every maintenance request, every networking event, and every new tenant onboarding will provide a continuous stream of feedback that managers can use to optimize their efforts. And collecting behavioral data through a technology-first approach will provide you with insights that allow you to deliver an even better tenant experience moving forward.

Listening to what occupiers want and need can help property management staff avoid wasting time and effort providing things that their tenants don’t want and allow them to focus on the areas that will make the most difference. Whether it’s ease of access for a tech company, or extra privacy measures for a law firm, being able to respond to the specific things tenants want as opposed to providing the same approach globally is something every management team should strive toward.

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