Intersect, Hines’ four-building, 452,203-square-foot, class-A office campus in Irvine, California offers a well-appointed communal area in which employees can take a break during the workday. | Courtesy JLL; architect: IA Interior Architects

Workplace Strategy and the Instagramable Office – September 2018

Carrie Rossenfeld Features

From SoCal Real Estate’s September 2018 issue:

Millennials are demanding the “wow” factor

It’s not enough just to have pleasant surroundings in today’s office sector. Millennials — perhaps the largest segment of today’s workforce — are demanding that spaces be Instagram-worthy, i.e., impressive-looking enough to post on social media. At the same time, commercial real estate brokerages and architectural/interior design studios have been emphasizing the phrase “workplace strategy” to describe today’s modern, efficient, amenity-rich offices that lean heavily on open floor plans, paperless operations, and collaborative space — what used to be called creative office.

Eschewing the old term, which many say has been overused and doesn’t accurately convey the purpose of this product, cutting-edge office executives say younger employees are demanding that offices not only be conducive to collaboration (their preferred mode of getting things done), but also have that “wow” factor. The line of thinking seems to be if the corner office has gone out of fashion, fashionable offices are replacing it.

Exposed ceilings, natural lighting, and a combination of open floor plan and private workspaces define JLL’s San Diego office. | Courtesy JLL; architect: ID Studios

Why does the look and function of their office matter so much to millennials? Scott Wetzel, a VP in JLL’s Irvine, California, office and a millennial himself, recently told SoCal Real Estate that in Eventbrite’s highly cited poll, 72 percent of millennials stated that they would rather spend money on experiences than material things. “For the millennial (and non-millennial) human condition, this emphasizes the importance of experiential design … and can you snap a pic of it?! It’s well known that everyday experiences (even some of the most mundane, e.g., your commute to the office) are worthy of a Snap or Instastory post.”

On the surface, this appears as vanity, but it hints at something deeper, Wetzel says: employees want a sense of place, purpose, and community — often more than compensation. “And whether it’s acknowledged or not, they want a platform (i.e., office space) to promote it. So, when trying to unwrap the ‘why’ behind the banal ‘creative-office’ tagline, it’s important to remember that the youthful-leaning tech companies that first adopted this environment did so because it reflects the university experience they just left and carries it forward to the modern workplace.”

This sentiment carries through to industries that are not traditionally creative, including finance, accounting, law, and brokerage firms. In fact, several CRE brokerages (including CBRE, Colliers International, and JLL) have jumped on the bandwagon by moving to offices that reflect their own brand of workplace strategy. Andy La Dow, managing director of Colliers International San Diego Region, said in a recent statement, “Our office has been transformed from a traditional, closed design to a contemporary, open design that fosters collaboration and connectivity between our brokerage teams to accelerate our clients’ success.” The office, it seems, is no longer just a place to get work done; it’s an end in itself.

A covered, lighted outdoor gathering area with pool table, ping-pong and modern seating distinguish Intersect. | Courtesy JLL; architect: IA Interior Architects

Aside from the visual aesthetics, what office qualities are most important in attracting and retaining younger workers today? Similar to the Eventbrite poll, 47 percent of millennials surveyed by Reality Mogul said they would rather spend money on traveling than on a home, Wetzel says. “Translation: mobility is key, regardless of locale. And mobility without destination isn’t very enjoyable, so creating touchdown locations within your office space, project, or campus is paramount to achieving experiential design. As Motley Crue once famously said: amenities, amenities, amenities.”

It’s key to acknowledge that everything isn’t solved by a ping-pong table, Wetzel points out. “People need places to focus and places to congregate, to operate privately and to interact publicly, to plug in and to unplug. The greater the variety, the greater the mobility — and thus, the better the workplace experience.”

Experience also stems from company culture, which is more important now than ever. No matter how nice an office may look, employees young and old will turned off by bad culture, especially a bad boss. “Environment is key, but the cultural component will always win out over the physical,” Wetzel says. “That’s a common thread amongst generations: millennial, Gen-X, or baby boomer.”
But oftentimes, companies who place an emphasis on the ethos of their company reflect this in their tangible work spaces, he points out. “Houzz, Alteryx, Xponential, and Stance are at the cutting edge of the new-age workplace. Things you won’t find here: a water cooler, vending machine, dropped ceiling, visibility-blocking work stations, poor natural light, lack of indoor/outdoor access, or one or two conference rooms.”

The kitchen area adjacent to the conference room in JLL’s San Diego office | Courtesy JLL; architect: ID Studios

Down the road, Wetzel sees future office-space amenities including helpful technology, such as a personal assistant/concierge service for tenants and their employees. “By offloading the burden of pre-9 a.m. and post-5 p.m. errands, building concierge services will help employers maximize work output during the 9-to-5 grind. Projects like Intersect, Park Place, Boardwalk, and The MET all offer the standard package of services that include dry-cleaning, auto-detail, conferencing, fitness centers, and on-site cafés. But these workplaces of the future also include grocery services, gas fill-ups, bike shares, Uber drop-offs, meditation rooms, and hosted tenant events. Just because it’s corporate doesn’t mean it has to be soulless.”