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Tenant experience in the wake of the pandemic

“Diving deep into your tenants’ businesses, helping them to grow and facilitating experiences that fill gaps within their organizations creates greater loyalty.”

That quote comes from a report entitled “Building the Tenant Experience", and it could serve as a ground rule for landlords and property managers struggling to lure tenants back into their office buildings post-COVID. In fact, it comes from a report from NAIOP, The Commercial Real Estate Association . . . written in 2016.

It underscores the important reminder that, as Kris Cramer, CPM®, points out, tenant experience did not start with the pandemic. “It didn’t matter how small a tenant’s office was, as long as there was accommodation for congregation with other people,” says the senior property manager for Colliers in Chicago. “It was already a growing trend among office tenants.”

As the Harvard Business Review reported earlier this year: “For knowledge workers, the office shouldn’t be a place to tackle a to-do list. It’s a place for collaboration, creativity, and learning, where an employee feels nurtured and a sense of belonging.”

That sense of belonging only intensified during the depths of the pandemic, explains Cramer, who manages two Chicagoland office buildings as well as 20 industrial assets. She says that tenant experience essentially boils down to the need for amenities, something that property managers have recognized for years.

“Colliers has always offered tenant appreciation days and other events” that bring the community into their spaces. These have included events sponsored by Bon Appetit and the Hoffman Estates (IL) Chamber of Commerce. And again, while those were nice touches pre-COVID, “You almost have to offer them now, because they are expected.”

Happily, the advancement of collaboration and congregation spaces aligns nicely with the advancement of technology, and Cramer says that tenants now have the opportunity to streamline all building services and amenities on their smartphones. Colliers calls its app “Neighborhood,” which she describes as “a great way to stay connected” to local-area and building-specific services and events. (Of course, the app can also be used to alert management to building issues.)

In terms of how they approach their spaces, tenants in Cramer’s charge cover the spectrum of post-pandemic leasing needs. Yes, some are cutting back on their space allotment as they embrace more hybrid work strategies, and at least one tenant, a call center, has opted for full remote work.

But others are actually taking more space. “We thought most tenants would cut back to make way for more hybrid work and use their desks for hoteling,” she says. “But we’re seeing many tenants taking larger spaces, so they’ll plan for, let’s say, 100 people even though only 30 or 40 are in the office. So, tenants are edging back slowly and planning for future growth, as well as allowing for more room for collaboration and congregation.”

Since Cramer says that “tenant experience” is really code for “amenities.” Topping the list of expected service offerings is “food on site. The type of food service depends largely on the type of building. It could be a deli or a full restaurant. It could even be just grab-and-go sandwiches. Whatever it might be, it seems everyone wants food in their building.”

But the wants and needs of tenants do not begin and end with food, and Cramer reports that other amenities are more popular than ever, such as recreation areas providing everything from conversion spots to “foosball and bag games.”

The reality of the tenant experience in all of its forms is more than fun, games, and a place to grab lunch. Cramer points to the current labor shortage and tenants’ attempts to attract new talent. “Everyone is having trouble hiring,” she says. “After COVID, many people decided to retire. Others wanted to work for companies with more robust hybrid work policies and an amenities-rich environment. Whatever the reason, more employers recognize that potential candidates expect such things in their places of business.”

Whatever the driver, the goal is to make the workspace more than the place where we work. “More than ever,” she says, employees want that feeling of comfort and a sense that they’re appreciated. “They want to have the option to decompress, sit down, and get some sunshine, rather than constantly sitting in a cubicle.”

Office spaces are slowly filling up once again, albeit under new rules of engagement. So, in a sense, we’re in a transitional time in the post-COVID office recovery. But an emphasis on that above-mentioned “sense of belonging,” and an amenities-rich environment are not a passing fad.

“The tenant experience, in all of its forms, is here to stay,” Cramer concludes.

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