Tech Company Workspace Trends Spread to Other Firms

Spring 2016
Glaxo Smith Kline’s four-story atrium, known as “the Street,” provides horizontal and vertical connectivity, with ground-floor amenities as well as informal seating and meeting areas on all floors. ©Halkin Mason Photography

Trends that began in tech company workplaces have spread to life sciences and financial services companies.

WEST COAST-STYLE TECH workspace designs are migrating across the U.S. and showing up even in the offices of more traditional sectors like financial services and life sciences. But few of these companies can afford to build amenity-rich offices like Google’s, offering employees free food, transportation, pet care, dry cleaning and more.   

As Bernice Boucher, JLL managing director, workplace solutions, notes, “The challenge becomes, how do you engage your employees without indulging them?”

Brian Cohen, vice president and city manager, Liberty Property Trust, concurs. “In the knowledge industry, there’s competition for knowledge workers, similar to what has been seen in the tech industry. Compelling workspace has become another tool for attraction and retention of top talent.”

This trend poses an opportunity for office property owners and developers, as tenants seek to leverage real estate as an asset to protect their employee base. Rather than building random amenities into a facility, Boucher sees companies trying “to understand, for the talent you want to attract to the organization, what will be important to them? The idea is to create an environment that is both efficient and expressive of creating your brand and your values.”

Location Matters

When it comes to site selection, life sciences tenants in particular are drawn to the idea of locating their headquarters and labs in a mixed-use “scientific village.” To meet this demand, many developers are trying to re-create Boston’s Kendall Square in other locations. “The secret sauce in developing a successful scientific village,” says Erik Lustgarten, director of Gensler’s life sciences practice area, is choosing a location with a nearby pool of talent from academia and industry capable of conducting and commercializing high-level research.

Liberty Property Trust’s Philadelphia Navy Yard project houses a mix of life sciences and financial services firms, including the U.S. headquarters of Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) and Franklin Square Capital Partners. Says Cohen, “We work on the theory that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Great buildings attract great tenants. Weave them together with exceptional and active public space to create a great place and provide a stage upon which these companies can be successful.”

Trading Silos for Connectivity

The lobby at GSK is intended to make a powerful statement about the company’s commitment to breaking through silos to create strong networks across the organization.

aerial view of open area

The Philadelphia Navy Yard’s Central Green offers workers an active public space with recreation and fitness amenities including a running/walking track, TRX Crossfit station, pingpong tables, bocce courts and hammocks in a landscaped setting.
©Halkin Mason Photography

Gensler introduced a similar concept to the pharmaceutical company Mylan at the Robert J. Coury Global Center in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. The concept of “transparency” was one goal, explains Gensler’s Lustgarten. Mylan wanted its headquarters facility to communicate confidence in the company’s products. It also wanted its employees to be visible to one another. Gensler responded by designing a soaring central atrium with stairways and views to multiple floors. “You walk in and you can see right into the organization and see what is going on. You see other people doing things as they move through the space,” Lustgarten adds.

Similarly, in GSK’s lobby, a four-story atrium anchors the middle of the building, with bridges and connector points across the atrium. These provide what Cohen calls “horizontal connectivity,” while a monumental staircase offers “vertical connectivity.” The system proved to be so popular that Cohen reports, “we needed to reprogram the elevators; everybody is taking the stairs!”

As employees move through facilities like these, the entire space becomes the workplace, with what Gensler calls planned and unplanned connectivity. “Forcing serendipity into the workplace means that people bump into other people, and ideas get exchanged,” explains Cohen.

Well-being in Well Buildings

In “How to Create a Workplace That’s Fit for the Future,” JLL’s Boucher contends that “there’s a major shift underway in the workplace from employee wellness to well-being.” Although these two words may sound much the same, Boucher explains that wellness is “typically centered only on the physical aspects of health …. By contrast, well-being is more holistic … acknowledging the connection between the body and mind.”

“Franklin Square Capital Partners has embraced a healthy, high-performance work culture. Their LEED Gold-certified office space offers sit-to-stand desks and on-site wellness rooms. The program also includes access to a full-time dietician, a fitness facility staffed with four trainers and a nutrition-focused cafe offering a variety of healthy food options, all at no cost to employees.” notes Cohen.

At the center of the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Liberty Property Trust has situated a five-acre, $10 million park with a full range of amenities, including a running/walking track, amphitheater, bocce courts, TRX Crossfit station and pingpong tables. “The park functions as a ‘third place.’ It is not only an amenity for fitness; it’s another place where communication and collaboration can happen, creating more effective teams …. Often, ideas get shared on that walk.” Cohen contends that “the spaces between the buildings have become as important as the buildings themselves,” and have helped the Navy Yard reach full occupancy.

Looking forward, Liberty Property Trust is exploring WELL Building Standard certification for the Navy Yard tenant buildings. Not to be confused with LEED certification, this program, which is administered by the International WELL Building Institute, aims to measure, certify and monitor the performance of building features that impact health and well-being.

The Bottom Line

Some might question the value of investing money in non-income producing projects like parks and other amenities, but Cohen is firmly onboard with them. As companies vie to recruit and retain talent, a strong management team needs to be in place. “We’re not really talking about a change in the company’s workplace. We’re talking about change in a company’s culture.” Adding amenities and parks “doesn’t often pencil out on a spreadsheet. They may represent the most expensive options that a manager has, with regard to utilizing real estate.” It is critical, Cohen contends, that “management fully understands the value proposition and can communicate that value.”