Reimagining How and Where We Work

December 1, 2022 • Liz Wolf

Commercial office buildings are being built or modified (sometimes radically) to make them more appealing to employees who’ve embraced hybrid work schedules.

“It’s about exciting people to come into the office,” says Adam Showalter, managing director of National Office Investor Services for Dallas-based Stream Realty Partners, which leases and manages roughly 300 million square feet of office space in the U.S. “We’ve seen employers in all industries look to their office building as an incentive for employees to return to the office.”

The office is no longer viewed as a “workplace,” he adds, but instead a space where workers can engage, collaborate, communicate, and find a new sense of belonging. This culture is “impossible to achieve from 100% work from home,” Showalter says.

Mike Flanagan, chief growth officer at Rockville, Md.-based Arch Amenities Group, a provider of wellness, amenity and meeting services for commercial and residential properties, hotels and private clubs, echoed Showalter.

“There’s not a day that we don’t have a conversation with somebody who’s strategizing how to redo their amenity space to get people back in the office,” he says. “We believe you have to create environments that are better than people's homes.”

Innovative ‘Third Spaces’

One office tower that’s upping its game with standout amenities and a flexible workspace is One South, a 40-story building in “Uptown” Charlotte, N.C., the city’s central business district. 

Its owners, Monarch Alternative Capital LP and Tourmaline Capital Partners, acquired the 1970s-built tower a little over a year ago. They made a significant investment in an amenity floor powered by their new concept described as Onsite, a hospitality-forward and technology-enabled managed amenity offering.

“With the way that we think about the role of the workplace in an evolving office landscape, our objective is to really be a partner to our tenant base,” explains Lou Merlini, a principal at Tourmaline. “That means you're not only providing particularly innovative ‘third spaces’ in the building to foster productivity and collaboration, but also a layer of people, experiences and technology that really brings it all together.” 

Amenities Include Café, Bar and Wellness Options

At One South, the property owners gutted the tower’s third floor and transformed it into roughly 23,000 square feet of amenity space. Arch Amenities manages the amenities space for One South. The new amenities include a large lounge, a full-service cafe that transitions into a bar for happy hours, and a sports simulator room.

In addition, they peeled the curtain wall off the building and installed a moveable NanaWall system that spans 120 linear feet to create what Merlini describes as an “incredible indoor/outdoor lounge connecting to the corner of Trade and Tryon [streets], which we think is the heartbeat of Uptown.”

The amenity floor also provides conferencing options, including large multi-purpose training rooms that can be divided into smaller spaces. The Connection Lab includes a 120-inch LED video wall with integrated cameras for videoconferencing. 

The room also offers occupants flexibility with modular and movable furniture. Additionally, the floor includes work-oriented small offices and meeting rooms as well as large wellness rooms, which can be used as mothers’ rooms, meditation rooms or for other wellness-focused experiences.

Providing Hospitality Powered by Technology

“What makes the Onsite program special is this idea of activating these spaces with the human component,” Merlini says. This includes a large third-floor staff of a general manager, an events manager, an IT manager and a food-and-beverage team.

The goal is to provide employees with a true hospitality feel, he says, and it’s all powered by technology.

“When you enter the space, you're greeted by somebody who knows your name and knows your preferences,” Merlini explains. “Or if you're sitting anywhere on the floor, there's a sign on your table that has a unique QR code.”

Scanning the code allows guests to order food and drinks that are brought to their seats. Tenants also can book conference space through the building’s app.

“Our takeaway from the last two years is that the workplace is playing a shifting role in how companies think about their organizations and, in a lot of ways, it's an even more important role,” Merlini says. “As landlords, we’re able to partner with tenants and provide solutions, and they're very receptive."

Team Connection and Collaboration

The goal of these new office designs and developments is to offer space where employees—whether they’re working a hybrid or full-time, in-office schedule—can be most productive, various stakeholders say.

Thanks to hybrid working, employees can work anywhere they feel productive,” says Susan Wasmund, CBRE’s senior managing director and global occupancy management lead. “This means employees gravitate to the office for those in-person experiences that are hard to replicate virtually, mostly for team connection and collaboration.”

Wasmund says the most important amenity in the return to the office is other employees.

“No one wants to commute to an empty office. Investing in workplace technologies like employee experience apps that create transparency to who is in the office and when helps to ensure that time in the office is meaningful,” she says. “And for building owners, things like building amenities, tenant experience apps and retail—even if it needs to be subsidized—might be a magnet to bring employees back into the office.”

As an incentive to return to the office, some tenants are working with building owners to offer onsite amenities such as nursing rooms, childcare, gyms, wellness suites, meditation rooms, massage therapy rooms, prayer rooms and access to outdoor spaces, stakeholders say. Outdoors is also a top amenity today. These amenities help employees manage their work/life balance. For businesses, employee mental health and physical wellbeing are top of mind.

Building owners and tenants are providing concierge services to help reduce the resistance of workers coming into the office. Such perks might include picking up their laundry, filling their car tank with gas, or having their oil changed.

New Building in Texas Designed for Hybrid Workplace

In Texas, the 15-story RiverSouth office tower, a Class A building south of downtown Austin, opened in early 2022 and was developed on what previously was the site of a Hooter’s restaurant.

This new 372,000-square-foot building features large floor plates with wrap-around panoramic views. It is a joint venture between Stream Realty Partners and global real estate company Quadreal.

The building, which is 60% leased, is home to companies such as AlertMedia, an emergency communication provider that leased the top two floors. The company said its new headquarters at RiverSouth is more than double the size of its previous office and was intentionally designed for a hybrid workforce.

“When we began developing our new headquarters, we wanted to create a space that supports different work styles, enables easy collaboration, and serves as a destination for both our local and remote teams to come together,” Christopher Kenessey, CEO at AlertMedia, says. “After multiple years of isolation and fully remote work, we are grateful to have the opportunity to set an example for what the modern, hybrid workplace can look like.”

Perks Include a Bike Valet

RiverSouth tenants have access to amenities that include a sky lounge cocktail and coffee bar, a fitness studio, private rooftop areas, multiple floors of underground parking and a bike valet. Additionally, the building includes roughly 17,000 square feet of ground-floor retail/commercial space. Arch Amenities manages the amenities space for RiverSouth.

RiverSouth also offers concierge car wash and dry-cleaning services, smart parcel services, notary services, conference rooms and terrace meeting spaces.

“RiverSouth was designed to promote the balance between work and wellness,” says Genevieve Evett, senior property manager at RiverSouth. “From the ‘Jewel-Box’ fitness center and spa-inspired locker rooms to the 15th-floor SkyLounge, we made the decision to elevate the amenity spaces to encourage employees to return to the office.”

The tower also is located near parks, trails and waterfront break areas.

In addition, RiverSouth is the first building in Texas to receive a platinum rating from SmartScore for its innovative technology, user functionality and sustainability. This certification identifies best-in-class smart buildings that provide exceptional user experiences.

RiverSouth’s smart design elements include separate tenant sub-metering so each tenant receives its own electric bill, a cleaning protocol based on occupancy that senses when shared areas need to be cleansed, and sensors that collect data on light, temperature, noise and air quality. Other high-tech features include license plate recognition for authorized users and voice activation for building amenities.

Such innovation shows no sign of slowing down.

RFR Holding’s $25 Million Investment

In an example catering to millennials that made every effort to impress, Arch Amenities is managing The Playground + Conference Center for Manhattan-based RFR Holding. It’s a newly opened, multi-level, 35,000-square-foot recreation, fitness and conference space in the Seagram Building on Manhattan’s Park Avenue. RFR invested $25 million to convert the space from a parking garage.

Pictured above: RFR Holding's Playground space

It’s RFR’s “hospitality-driven” approach, which includes a multi-level complex with a 3,500-square-foot fitness center; sports courts for basketball, pickleball, floor hockey and volleyball; wellness rooms; a climbing wall; stadium seating for 150; a 50-seat boardroom; and a 40-seat training room.

The facility was conceived by RFR four years ago but gained urgency post-pandemic as the building's tenants looked for incentives to urge their employees to return to the office. RFR’s vision was to "breathe oxygen into the workplace" by offering tenants "a whole life"—a community where people can work, socialize and exercise.

The strategy appears to be paying off. The building had 250,000 square feet of vacancy before The Playground opening, and RFR has leased 95% of that space.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Liz Wolf is a Twin Cities-based freelance reporter in Minnesota who frequently writes about commercial real estate. She previously served as editor of the Minnesota Real Estate Journal.