Landlords and companies alike are still struggling to pinpoint the perfect draw to lure employees back into traditional work environments, while careful to not present any indication of force.

Because the great work-from-home experiment has worked so well for so many people and industries, certain employees are considering this arrangement to be permanent. In response, building owners and their tenants are teaming up to more adequately demonstrate new safety measures, stage special events and create a sense of FOMO, according to a recent webinar sponsored by HqO, a company focusing on fostering customer-centric workplace experiences. The webinar was moderated by Caleb Gonsalves, Manager, Customer Success for HqO.

As the pandemic continues, “our tenants have generally allowed its employees to work from home, but the rules were not defined and many are still practicing this between one to three days per week,” said Melanie Colbert, Principal of Operations for Irvine, California-based LBA Realty.

Without creating mandates and making things appear forced, both landlords and tenants continue to search for creative ways to lure employees back into the workplace where the environment is more conducive to collaboration, creativity and direct communication.

“We know workers want to have a sense of safety and security in their workplaces so, throughout our portfolio, we are making day porters more visible, adding hands-free systems in the parking lot and the common areas of the building and bringing in a third-party company to validate these upgrades,” Colbert added. “Constant communication remains vital, so we have significantly increased the volume of messages to explain our new processes and always provide safety alerts and reminders. As an example, if a positive test is detected, we make the entire stakeholders in the building aware of this situation.”

Don’t force employees back into the workplace

“The most important thing is to not force employees back to work,” stated Joyce van de Velde, Manager, Smart Buildings for Croonwolter&dros, headquartered in Rotterdam, Netherlands. “Companies saw many positive aspects of working from home but also realized that many employees suffered from lack of mentorship and oversight. So, they are looking for the right mix and demonstrating that there is tremendous value from working in the office. Or, they can start their day off with an early meeting from home and then drive to the workplace after rush hour.”

“Strategic workplace research is indicating a shift to hyper-focused, human centric design that directly correlates to wellbeing and performance, not productivity,” explained Kelly Ennis, Founding and Managing Principal for The Verve Partnership. “The lure will be 100% dependent on an organizations’ ability to understand and respond to providing a range of spaces that addresses the occupants’ needs.   We need clean air and air exchanges. We need acoustical control. We need temperature control. These are all basic needs, we as humans require again to perform – not produce – to our highest capacity in the workplace. And then we can design really amazing spaces that support the need. Design is the easy part. It’s the strategy that matters and has the power to influence behaviors in our efforts to go back.”

Make the workplace a desirable destination

It’s now imperative for landlords to make the workplace a destination for productivity and connection.

“We want to make the office a place where tenants can get everything done in one place,” says Tina Urquhart, Founder and CEO of Simpli. “That means not only making it the best place for them to concentrate and collaborate on work, but also adding amenities, experiences and services that make employees want to make the commute to the building.”

Simpli added conveniences – such as auto-detailing days, spa services and touchless meal delivery on-site – to allow employees to make the most of their time.

“Amenities and experiences are no longer nice-to-haves,” says Urquhart. “Now, having wellness programs in the office gym, made-to-order lattes in the lobby and themed happy hours on the rooftop are must-haves for the future workplace.”

The workplace offers a unique experience and one that cannot be replicated from a remote work environment, a point that LBA Realty consistently emphasizes to its tenants, according to Colbert.

“You cannot partake in a random conversation by the watercooler or get mentored by a senior executive at home,” she explained. “We’re also trying to instill a sense of FOMO by organizing wine tastings, ice cream socials and distributing chocolate-covered strawberries. When we sponsor events such as these, attendance jumps 30-40% higher.

“The return-to-work percentages vary widely from region to region, but we continue to add amenities at our buildings that hopefully provides a draw to employees, including outdoor working spaces, food and walking spaces. It is important to make sure employees know their decision to return to work is completely voluntary,” Colbert added.

van de Velde also emphasizes that it is not wise to force employees back. “We continually poll employees to see what they want from the workplace, while also explaining the new safety, air quality and cleaning protocols we’ve administered. Every industry is making its own decisions and, for example, employees engaged in the financial services are still not allowed to return. It is important to demonstrate empathy for and patience with your employees.”