Colleen Werner is the Founder + CEO of lulafit, a company transforming office buildings with amenity consulting and management.
Commuting to work is one of the biggest pain points I hear employers confronting when planning a return to the office.
When faced with returning to the same office spaces they were happy to leave behind, many employees are pushing back—in many respects, rightfully so. Requesting employees to take the time to commute to an unfulfilling space is a big ask from employers, and because of this, they are receiving no shortage of feedback.
I argue that those first 15 minutes that employees are back on-site are the most influential when it comes to their decision to return and stay. After all, first impressions are everything for an office space.
By focusing on resolving a few key issues, real estate operators and employers can transform that first 15 minutes of the office experience into something that will appeal to—rather than detract—employees.
Make It About Hospitality
It’s been proven time and again that humans are social creatures. By using people from the community to serve as the face of your offered amenities, you are fostering connectedness and building relationships. There’s an opportunity to surprise and delight users through hospitality, allowing them to form a positive attachment to the office that can help enhance work.
Plenty of offices have on-site amenities. Many go underutilized because they are not embracing the hospitality mindset. Are employees receiving quality, welcoming service in these spaces? It’s one thing to have a fitness center open and ready for visitors, but what about having bright, friendly staff there to greet them?
I don’t think having equipment available is enough. It’s about activating the spaces through programming to create a positive experience. Shared amenity spaces can truly be a destination for tenants to explore outside of their offices and discover places to foster new ideas and collaboration.
Reimagine The Lobby And Access Points
The design of a lobby is everything—think of it as the face of the building. Is it welcoming and inviting? Atmosphere is created through the physical environment, meaning those tangible items in your lobby can make or break it. Take into consideration the lighting, cleanliness, warmth and even the smell—yes, smell—of the space. I find that scent is often an overlooked but powerful tool in creating the right lobby atmosphere.
Another consideration is the social environment of the lobby and the simplicity of various access points. Is there someone there to greet building users and anticipate their needs? Is the parking garage well-lit and safe? Are the elevators quick? Is badge access efficient? After all, you don’t want to create barriers for the tenants looking to access the building. Consider changes to create an atmosphere that makes it easy to enter the space and helps it be a place where people want to work.
Bring The Comforts Of Home To The Office
A good portion of the workforce has become well-acquainted with the luxuries of working from home and employees are not looking forward to parting ways with them any time soon. Making some of those creature comforts readily available to employees the moment they enter the office can make it feel like less of an abrupt, unwelcome transition. Things like setting comfortable temperatures, installing more natural lighting and even offering popular snacks and beverages can bring some of the appeal back to the workplace.
But snacks and beverages should really just be the jumping-off point. To truly retain the workforce, focus on what the office can offer—those things that employees couldn’t get at home. Are there staffed fitness centers to jump-start the day or get a midday workout to boost energy and focus? Are there spaces that encourage employee interaction and collaboration? Are there programming and services to make amenities more effective in activating employees? Take the time to assess what your space conveys to employees when they walk through the doors. Is it enough of a “home with benefits” atmosphere to keep them from turning around and walking out?
Perspective is key when seeking to improve return-to-office participation. Employees should enter a space and feel, within that first 15 minutes, like they want to stay.
By focusing on providing exceptional service, enhancing lobby and access points and instilling some of those comforts of home at the office, real estate operators and employers can leverage those first minutes back in the office into a truly welcoming experience that employees will want to return to again and again.
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