Being Together Turns Out to Be a Big Office Amenity After All

This article is originally from the Commercial Observer, published April 09, 2024.

Mitch Goldenberg, a 35-year-old financial lines worker at Willis Group in New York City, shared his perspective on the return-to-office mandate. He expressed his preference for in-person interaction over remote work, stating, “I live in a one-bedroom in New York City. That gets old.” He emphasized the value of face-to-face interaction in building relationships, suggesting that companies should focus on creating environments conducive to drawing people back to the office rather than enforcing mandates that could create a negative atmosphere.

In considering the effectiveness of various office amenities in enticing employees back to the workplace, Amanda Kross, Head of Americas consulting at JLL, highlighted the issue of loneliness among hybrid workers. She noted that those in hybrid settings reported increased levels of loneliness compared to remote or in-person workers, indicating a need for balanced schedules and opportunities for both physical and virtual interactions.

JLL’s 2022 study on brain waves among employees in Singapore revealed that being together enhances engagement, particularly during creative and focus-oriented activities. Caroline Gadaleta, JLL’s New York Tri-State Property Manager, emphasized the innate social nature of humans, stating, “People are social animals. They crave and desire interaction with other human beings.”

To understand employee motivations and preferences, Cushman & Wakefield introduced a program called “experience per square foot,” gathering extensive data since the pandemic began. Bryan Berthold, the company’s Global Lead for Workplace Experience, highlighted the importance of assessing the impact of remote work and the return-to-office on factors such as bonding, socializing, and collaboration.

Despite efforts to encourage office attendance, data from suggests that the “remote work war” is ongoing, with a significant portion of employees still opting to stay away from the office, especially on Mondays and Fridays. Nonetheless, face-to-face collaboration remains a primary motivating factor for companies, with over 80 percent of respondents citing its importance, according to JLL’s study.

At Vocon, an architectural firm with offices in New York and Cleveland that specializes in workspaces, Sarah McCann, the firm’s Real Estate Strategy Director, said the focus is on combating the “isolating” impacts of the pandemic. That includes having dispersed workers to remote locations.

“We’re hearing a lot about creating a lot of comfortable social spaces in the office, to encourage friendship,” she said. “It’s not just putting a foosball table in and providing free beer after work.” Instead, it’s about creating “good acoustic space, where people feel they can actually get to know people in a comfortable, casual way.”

The firm is also being called upon to design more spaces where people can collaborate, McCann said. Studies show that friendships at work are linked to retention of workers. Clients want to provide “true socialization, not forced socialization,” she said. “That’s what’s really been missing since the pandemic.”

McCann offered two examples, both crafted by Vocon. One is a club designed for tenants only at 1 Willoughby Square, a skyscraper going up in Brooklyn, and the other is a 15,000-square-foot former retail space in a tower in Manhattan’s Plaza District, which has been turned into a cafe for building workers and their guests.

Tishman Speyer, a global real estate company, emphasizes the value of creating environments that make employees feel valued and comfortable. The company’s approach includes providing amenities and designing spaces that support community and employee well-being.

In summary, as workplaces evolve, landlords and employers are encouraged to adopt a comprehensive approach to engaging employees, recognizing the importance of community, well-being, and effective workplace environments.