Crystal Fisher, managing director of the commercial portfolio for Fisher Brothers, spoke as a panelist at the National Associati

©Chris BeDell

Crystal Fisher, managing director of the commercial portfolio for Fisher Brothers, spoke as a panelist at the National Association of REALTORS® C5 Summit in New York.

‘Leaning in’ to Bring Tenants Back

September 30, 2021

The future of office real estate, post-pandemic, remains unknown. Office workers have proved they can be productive working remotely. Does it make sense for them to return to the office? And what will it take for them to do so?

“It won’t be the hub-and-spoke model, which companies didn’t do” in the past, said Doug Jamieson, corporate managing director for Savills North America, speaking Tuesday at the National Association of REALTORS® C5 Summit. Instead, it will likely be more like “hub and roam,” with companies purchasing co-working credits for employees working in the suburbs.

But companies will still need their hub, said Jamieson and his fellow panelists in a “future of office space” session talked about what that would mean for building owners and managers.

“Innovation will always come through collaboration, face-to-face meetings, white-boarding, hearing the tone in a person’s voice,” said Crystal Fisher, managing director of the commercial portfolio for Fisher Brothers, “but we’re together differently, probably more intentionally, probably using space differently, and with a digital component.”

“Some of these large corporate campuses are creating a Google-like environment for multi-tenant use,” Schultz said.

“Only a third of my team works in the same city anyway,” Jamieson said. “Events, company retreats, off-sites will become increasingly important. They have to be prioritized and planned.”

“On a personal note, I went back to the office last July,” said Scott Evans, chief digital officer for Related Companies and for New York’s mixed-use Hudson Yards development. “There are only so many Zoom calls a person can take. Interconnectivity helps people innovate. That’s tough to do unless you’re face-to-face.”

“I met a ton of people over the past 18 months,” said Jonathan Schultz, co-founder and managing principal of Onyx Equities. “But I don’t feel the same bond with that person until I get in a room with them. Most of my ideas were not my idea; they were from a conversation I had. I’m not saying you can’t work in collaboration with all these tools. They’re amazing. But they’re tools, and we’re why they were created.”

When moderator Kristin Beck, principal and vice president of  Project Management for Avison Young, asked about attracting workers back into the office, panelists said New York building owners and managers aren’t just paying attention to safety and hygiene protocols, which are the baseline. They’re building or adopting online amenity platforms, where tenants can participate in a range of services and activities.

“We’ve been leasing space throughout the pandemic,” said Fisher. “There’s a flight to quality. Everyone’s looking for more now. We were building amenities before the pandemic. Now we’re building lifestyle solutions. They’re not coming to a job that doesn’t offer a lifestyle solution, starting at the sidewalk and continuing throughout the office throughout the day.”

“At Hudson Yards, we look at whether we’re providing the right health, food, and other options that are compelling across the campus. There’s a whole digital component,” Evans said. “Apps are where the experience happens.”

@Ease, our amenities solution, blends the physical and digital gap. It includes a conference center that’s a recruiting tool for tenants,” Fisher said. “They can use the spaces to recruit new talent looking for elevated amenities.”

“I think of myself more as a hotelier than as a building owner,” agreed Schultz. “It’s fun and it’s where everything has gone. We’re starting to see occupancy rates increase, and we don’t want to have any resistance to someone wanting to walk in that door.”

In a separate session on Monday, Tishman Speyer’s Thais Galli, managing director of innovation, shared information about her company’s own amenities platform, Zo. It gives tenants “exclusive access to clubs, dry cleaning, dog walking, car washing, and happy hours,” Galli said. “How can we innovate to offer what Google and others are doing so companies don’t have to think about that themselves?”

“Everything we do, we’re leaning into it,” said Fisher. “The buzzword is experiential.”