As landlords begin to retrofit HVAC systems, implement cleaning protocols and enact other tenant wellness and safety measures to encourage a return to the office, it is important to focus intently on the specific needs and concerns of tenants. This has led to the rise of virtual amenities, flexible work options, increased food ordering choices and the blending of the physical and virtual world, according to the recent “Navigating the Return to the Office” webinar sponsored by Bisnow. 

“It is worth repeating that employees are a company’s most important asset and to always give them what they need,” explained Katherine Hu, Advisory Real Estate Director for PwC.  “Companies have entered the analysis phase of paralysis in which they are carefully examining their real estate commitment to determine if they intend to shed or increase the amount of space being leased. Many are rolling out a hub-and-spoke model that essentially maintains the primary office location, with the addition of smaller offices contained where people live in the suburbs. These conversations started pre-pandemic but accelerated and were pushed to the extreme last year. Now is the time to hit reset based on all the information available to them about the impact of remote work and productivity.” 

Crystal Fisher, Managing Director – Commercial Portfolio for Fisher Brothers, provided details on the company’s recently-launched @Ease brand, an amenity program that improves tenant experiences using mobile applications.  

“The backbone of a company’s physical space is technology and serves as its ecosystem and, as organizations work through a transition back into the office, we wanted to provide amenities that enable employees to work more comfortably and feel safer,” Fisher said.  

Through their mobile device, tenants can now book a conference room for a meeting and order food. The physical space is outfitted with a lounge that contains a game room and café, fitness center and makeup bar in the women’s locker room.  

“We learned that employees are 15% more productive when surrounded by nature so we incorporate elements into this design,” Fisher said. “The true landlord is always looking for the tenant-centric approach and we wanted to look for ways to encourage employees to leave their cubicles or home and interact in the traditional office environment.”    

“We’ve spent a considerable amount of time making offices attractive places to work and for employees to come to as we realize the limitations of the home,” stated Tracy Hawkins, Vice President, Real Estate and Workplace and Remote Experience for Twitter. “People need different environments to thrive and we believe a hybrid model, in which employees shift seamlessly behind the home and office, represents the future.” 

Employee surveys indicate 10% wish to work in the office full-time and 20% prefer a WFM situation but that it is “too early to make any definitive determinations about long-term sentiment,” Hawkins said. “We know the relationship with the office is going to change and the key is to offer the most flexibility as possible.”     

“Employees that worked from home felt like second-class citizens but that sentiment has come full-circle,” explained Laura Walsh, Senior Director, Global Real Estate and Workplace for Avid Technology. She stated that 30% of its workforce expressed the desire to return to the workplace now, with an additional 30% looking to come back mid-year. Based on that sentiment, the company has implemented a hybrid model that provides extreme flexibility. 

Employees are expected to return to suburban-area office buildings more quickly than those located in higher-density areas based, in part, on public transportation issues. The companies that offer satellite offices, hybrid work models, updated office layouts with larger workspaces and virtual amenities will score the most points with their employees and build long-term loyalty.