Demand for healthy workplaces and prime offices is rising fast. For 2021: Our Air in Review, Gabrielle McMillan advises commercial landlords to focus on creating the best tenant experience to gain premium rents – and describes the office of the future.
Who is Gabrielle McMillan?
Gabrielle McMillan is founding CEO of tenant experience platform Equiem, leading it from its 2011 inception to become the world’s leading tenant experience platform, used by 200,000+ people across 120 million sq ft of commercial real estate worldwide.
How can we create productive and healthy workplaces that people actually want to be in?
Creating the office of the future is all about the ‘soft services’ that people don’t often think about. That’s why we say to our team that the best way to actually think about this is to put yourself on the journey. Physically walk the journey of various stakeholders in your customer community – think about the CEO experience, for example. Think about the person who’s cycling to work. Where do you bring your bike into the building? Where do you put your things? Where do you have shower? What does that experience look like? It’s the little things.
In one of my earlier workplaces, one of our focuses was about how to make the office building more like a hotel. We wanted to create a place that people want to be, somewhere that they enjoy coming to for a variety of reasons; to do this you have to think about how you remove friction and create those little moments of delight.
Could we shape the security in this building and replace more traditional security guards with professional, friendly hotel concierge? This way, they could be brand ambassadors for the building, welcome visitors, hand out water bottles and create this experience.
These things really cost next to nothing for a premium building where you’re generating top rents; these are actually very cheap services to provide that you can easily recover from a material increase in topline rates by improving overall satisfaction. Everyone likes to feel welcomed: it’s how you generate repeat business.
How are things changing for commercial landlords?
The interesting thing about offices is that the need to create repeat business hasn’t really been a focus; yes, lease terms may have been shortening a bit, but even in London fewer than 10% are on leases shorter than three years. So, realistically, landlords are still primarily living in a world where leases are five to 10 years and repeat business is just not a focus.
But now two things have changed at company level: those leases are getting shorter, and the demand for flexibility is real because we’re in such an uncertain time. Now that many employees no longer even have to come into the office, that will have a real impact on renewals in a couple of years time. If a company is choosing whether to keep an office that has barely been used, they’ve already proven they don’t need that space.
Landlords need to work hard to find ways to bring people back. That can be as simple as communicating, building trust, and making people feel safe. People are more interested in air quality than ever before, which isn’t at all surprising. But people are newly knowledgeable about why air quality matters, and they suddenly want that transparency.
Especially in terms of building quality, they’re expecting the landlord to have invested in the right technology to make sure the air is clean and the environment is safe. They want to see it easily, ideally in an app. It’s small things like this that make people realize they’re in a really high quality building, and that makes them feel safe. Once you move past the hygiene factors of a building – like is the building clean and safe – it’s actually about the experiences that give people a great first impression that makes them want to come back.
Overall, people do want to see and be around other people; there’s a desire to get back into the office, maybe not five days a week, but there’s certainly a desire to have some level of in-person collaboration.
How good this office experience is will definitely drive the frequency with which people return to the workplace. And the difference between two days a week and three days a week has a huge impact on how much space is required.
Landlords and property managers will have to work much harder, as will workplace managers too. A lot of companies would like to see employees back in offices, but they’re unwilling to force the issue. And I think that’s how it should be: employees have demonstrated that they can work from anywhere and still be productive. I think, above everything else, people want flexibility and choice. And most companies are open to giving people the choice because they fundamentally believe that’s good for wellbeing, productivity, and innovation.
So workplace managers and building owners really need to ensure they provide safe, healthy workplaces, and effectively communicate this back to their employees. This signals a real opportunity for landlords to really partner with their customers on that effort, because ultimately everyone is aligned in wanting the same thing.
How will things continue to move forward in 2022?
Landlords need to shift their way of thinking away from simply providing four walls and a floor, and more towards partnering with the companies in their building to provide the ultimate workplace experience, that caters for everyone – be they working from home or in the office.
There is a really exciting opportunity for landlords to try and transcend beyond the built environments that they have traditionally provided, and start thinking instead about what other services they can provide.
But over the last decade or so, we’ve had this slow shift to open plan and hot-desking – basically the thinking was, how many people can we squash into a space? For a lot of people, their jobs can’t be done like that. A lot of phone calls can’t be taken around other people, especially if you work in HR or a sensitive department like that.
I’m not suggesting that we go back to the corner office, but I do think the pendulum will swing a little bit back in that direction as people assess the different elements that need to work to make up a successful office. What are the elements of the office of the future in terms of maximising productivity?
It’s really complex. Today, you can boil it down to individual choice, and people will continue to have this choice. So in a world where people can choose how they work, how do you create an environment that is productive, but also one that people actually want to choose to come to?
Download 2021: Our Air in Review to read more interviews with industry leaders and experts.