While many businesses have adapted well to supporting a mobile workforce, developing a sense of community among employees this past year has proved to be more elusive. As office workers continue to return to the workplace, major employers are optimistic about the opportunity to reinvigorate their company culture, create an atmosphere of collaboration and take advantage of all of the benefits that the physical environment has to offer.
Astute landlords and building owners will find ways to activate their entire property to help tenants drive this activity. The evolution of the built environment is more critical today than ever before in establishing a sense of culture. Perhaps no portion of an office building is better suited to support culture than retail space.
Employers and, by extension, landlords will be competing now with the comfort of the home environment. Many workers are excited to get back to the office for the change in routine or to improve their work and home life balance. However, some workers have likely enjoyed some of the conveniences working from home can provide, and they may be less apt to venture back to the office. Enticing these workers with unique offerings and perks they cannot get at home will be a way to draw them back to the workplace. Retail will play a key role.
Retail offerings that enhance the common area space and drive the communal and collaborative environment employers want will be desired. New food offerings and casual dining and coffee concepts will create a buzz among tenants and provide the atmosphere for which many workers have experienced pent-up demand. The office should be more than just a place to plug in a laptop. Extending that concept and creating areas for meetings and collaboration outside of the actual office and throughout the building, including retail space, will be a strategy that smart, forward-thinking landlords adopt.
Technology and convenience will also play huge roles in this new environment. Employees want connectivity and convenience. It’s tough to compete with home, but retailers and owners should make the effort. Imagine a worker commuting to the office on a train, ordering a coffee from their phone, walking into the common area of their office 20 minutes later, and having their order hot, ready and waiting at the new, hip coffee stand that just opened. That is what workers will want. This practice needs to be constantly evolving. As new technologies and applications come to market, retailers and landlords need to find ways to integrate and connect with their office population.
The retail space in a building is a huge part of driving the creation of culture in an office building. Just as building owners are stewards of allowing people to work more efficiently and effectively, they can also help promote the culture and experience of being in an office environment daily—and these experiences are rooted in retail. It’s going to be exciting to see the new environments we can create coming out of COVID-19, and approaching the workplace as a holistic environment—one that drives continuity and connectivity throughout the retail, office and common spaces—will be the strategy that wins the day.