With COVID-19, office building property managers have been faced with the greatest challenge of their careers – designing offices that people will want to return to more than they enjoy the comforts of working from home. To that end, Equiem has released, “The Ultimate Welcome Back Playbook,” a 38-page booklet filled with ideas, based on survey responses from occupiers, for attracting workers back to the office. Partner Insights spoke to Jon Lesquereux, Regional Head of Asia Pacific at Equiem, about how property managers can make offices more appealing than ever.
Commercial Observer: How has the job of property manager changed over the past few years?
Jon Lesquereux: There is an expectation that property managers today will have a deeper knowledge of technology and, in particular, smart buildings. They will need to be able to collate, analyze, and interpret data from a wide range of sources. They need a refined concept of, and approach to, customer service. They need to be able to introduce and manage flexible space. And they have to be able to manage an ESG strategy.
Why is strong data capture essential for property managers in creating strong tenant experiences?
Improving customer experience is an iterative process. By collecting data and running sentiment surveys, the property manager can assess the performance of an initiative, adjust their next initiative, and more accurately target content, goods, services, and experiences.
Was “community” a topic property managers gave much thought about prior to the pandemic?
The concept of creating communities within and around office buildings has been around for a while, but COVID has accelerated the trend. More property managers now realize that the tenant isn’t their primary customer group; it’s the individuals who work in the tenancy that they need to pay attention to. If they don’t, those people will simply work from home.
How has that changed, and why is community an important concept now?
It is considered more important because it forms part of the “workplace experience” that will ultimately help businesses attract and retain talent. There is plenty of evidence that the personal connections formed through strong community are an important aspect of enhancing workplace experience. If that community is tied to a certain piece of real estate, then it builds customer loyalty around the building, and thereby increases the likelihood of an individual or company wishing to either come to a property or remain there. Our very own Global Office Tenant Report (GOTR) asserts this very thing: When asked what the main purpose of the office is, 73 percent of global occupiers said “to stay connected to colleagues,” and 71 percent said, “collaboration.”
What are some of the best ways property managers can shore up community in their buildings?
We have just released a complete step-by-step playbook to help property managers with this very thing: Our “Ultimate Welcome Back Playbook.” There are many ways to create and sustain community in an office building, such as providing a lively calendar of events and activations. People love seasonal celebrations, just-because drinks mixers, and freebies. And, of course, the fastest way we’ve found is to deploy a tenant experience platform. A digital hub, accessible from phone and laptop, enabling everyone in an office building to commune and socialize, bridging the gap between the real world lobby and its online equivalent – it’s almost the definition of community in the modern world.
The best thing for a property manager to do, when getting started with the concept of community, is find out as much about their customers as possible. Don’t speculate – ask. Send out polls, surveys. Hold focus groups. Once you’ve found out that there’s a massive appetite for fitness classes or seminars, you can provide them. That’s good customer service – as traditional as it comes – and is your best way to build a community that people will want to belong to for a long time.
In addition to community, health and wellness are important values for tenants that need to be addressed. What are some of the best ways to communicate to tenants that health and wellness will be a priority moving forward?
Owners need a workplace experience platform. You can brand a platform as a “health and well-being hub” for an entire building, if you choose, or it can form a key pillar of your building’s digital strategy.
How has the return to work resulted in different approaches to office community in different markets?
Australia continues to lead the way in terms of developing and sustaining workplace communities. The U.S. is more likely to focus on “proven ROI,” whilst Australia is more able to accept that there is element of intangible or hard-to-measure benefits in community building.
What are some of the new technologies making the return to workplace easier?
Many building owners are developing touchless technology for security access, lift calling, etc. In our Global Office Report, 54 percent of occupiers said they want touchless smartphone access control. We are working with a number of clients to deliver this seamless functionality through our app.
Also, technologies that enhance productivity, flexibility, and convenience, such as desk-booking systems and occupancy sensors, and smart initiatives like air quality monitoring, which is sought by 38 percent of GOTR respondents.
Technologies that offer active and effective communication channels, and tenant engagement platforms that provide connection between the asset and the individual, are also highly desired, including by 48 percent of GOTR respondents.
What are some of the biggest obstacles to getting workers back to the office?
People want safety and security, first and foremost. The deck is already stacked against the office, with work-from-home being as convenient as it is, so when you don’t have an Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) platform telling you how clean your air is or how the CO2 level is at optimal levels for productivity, why would you bother?
Property managers need to realize that by boosting the workplace experience beyond expectation, they have the best chance to get a higher percentage of workers back. It can start with something as obvious as physical fit-out: 50 percent of global occupiers said they want relaxation zones in their workplace; 34 percent want their desks to be spread farther apart; 34 percent want more workout areas; and 33 percent want more breakout areas.