Barbra Murray, Propmodo | February 2, 2023
Employees at Capital One’s global headquarters campus in McLean, Va., can step away from their desks, take a stroll over to the building’s skypark, called The Perch, and enjoy a friendly round at Perch Putt, an 18-hole mini golf course, and they can do it with a cocktail in hand if they so desire. Like so many office-dwelling businesses in the United States, Capital One is operating with an eye toward courting and retaining the best-of-the-best among the workforce with the assistance of an amenity-laden environment. The financial giant’s 975,000-square-foot headquarters tower, built in 2018, is the cornerstone of its 26-acre Capital One Center mixed-use destination. Described as the public-facing segment of the company’s global headquarters, Capital One Center is still a work in progress, but employees are able to use a growing list of not-precisely-traditional office amenities, including alcohol.
A bevy of social-based perks that are quickly becoming the norm in premier office buildings, particularly amid the widespread bid to lure workers back into the office post-pandemic, may seem like workplace entertainment on the surface, but the investment indicates that they play a vital role in the success of a business. It has something to do with the c-word: collaboration.
“The lines of traditional collaboration, meaning colleagues who are sitting around the table brainstorming, working on a problem, or having a meeting, have all greatly changed with the pandemic,” said John Capobianco, Design Director with IA Interior Architects. “Collaboration can literally happen anywhere two or more people are together.” One of the best ways to get people to collaborate, it turns out, is to do something other than deliberate collaboration. “Gaming has always been seen as a getaway activity, but now, one can easily see two colleagues talking out a problem or brainstorming ideas while playing a game of pool or foosball,” Capobianco said. And it goes beyond table games. There’s a full-size, professional basketball court in the 17th-floor amenity penthouse, Town Hall, at the 750,000-square-foot 167 Green office tower in Chicago’s Fulton Market District.
Completed in 2021 as a co-development endeavor between joint venture partners Shapack Partners and Focus, 167 Green also features a game room with arcade games, including my personal favorite, Ms. Packman. Play, as noted in a recent report by the workplace strategy and design firm Unispace, is conducive to a creative and productive work environment. Unispace supports its assertion with a 2018 study by Brigham Young University that found that workers who engaged in team video gaming were 20 percent more productive on a subsequent task than workers who partook in traditional team-building endeavors.
More is more when it comes to amenities, and to incorporate as many of these highly coveted extras as possible, architects and designers are getting creative. The basketball court at 167 Green’s sky-high Town Hall also serves as a court for volleyball and pickleball, as well as a massive event space that can handle the assembly of 400-plus people. The game room, stocked with the ubiquitous ping-pong tables and the like, is also a function space for hosting up to 40 individuals. “I think what’s important for planning amenities in a building, specifically in a central social district like Fulton Market District, is planning spaces that the tenant, its employees, and its guests are able to use that are not single-focused but have multi-use,” said Jeff Shapack, Founder & CEO of Shapack Partners. Basketball is already a popular game, but pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America, so the multi-purpose sports court at 167 Green is a prime example of how amenities need to be able to adjust to change.
Gensler designed 167 Green and has put its stamp on amenity packages across the country, including that of Houston’s Esperson office building, where the architecture firm transformed the historic structure’s 17th floor into a high-end, indoor-outdoor destination that includes a dog park, speakeasy, wellness facility, lounge areas, and accommodations for catered meetings. Helen Hopton, Principal with Gensler, noted, “The variety of furniture and settings within an amenities space is more important than ones designated for collaboration versus socialization because you’re really trying to design space to be flexible.”
Just as flexibility has become essential to accommodating employees’ changing workspace preferences—once-coveted corner offices have given way to quiet rooms and hot desks—so has the need for the adaptability of amenities packages to appeal to workers’ shifting tastes. Everything from evolving technologies to changing social norms renders the capacity for modification of an amenities space vital.
Lounging in a hotel lobby may not evoke images of deadlines and drafts, yet the hotel treatment is precisely what employees want, and it’s exactly what developers and office tenants are delivering. Property management software firm MRI recently queried 6,000 office workers in the U.S., U.K., and Australia for its latest employee attitude workplace report and found that 64 percent of respondents consider hotel-style amenities hugely important and take such accommodations into consideration when pondering a commitment to a company.
Important to note, though, is that employees’ cry for boutique privileges at the office is based not on a desire to be pampered but on a need to work in comfort. “Everyone is wanting these more home-like, welcoming, warm spaces where it’s feeling sort of like home but with the functionality of hospitality-like spaces,” Hopton explained. “It’s providing more choice in the environment with these more hospitality-like spaces.”
Many employees learned to work from home amid the global COVID-19 health crisis, and as they return to the workplace, they want to bring their newfound workstyle with them–and that workstyle is casual. Being tethered to just one spot from 9 to 5 has become inconceivable for many an office worker, having grown accustomed to taking a break from the makeshift desk in the kitchen to make a phone call on the living room sofa. According to the MRI study, the pandemic-induced prevalence of hybrid work schedules has translated into employees’ appeal for more in-office workspace options that offer both improved collaboration and access to outside spaces. Gensler’s U.S. Workplace Survey 2022 yielded similar findings, with survey participants indicating that they seek increased diversity in their in-office workspace options to buoy their work activity and to simply create a place where they want to be.
And so, a trend has taken root. The hotelification of the office space, the offering of options and services with a whiff of luxury from the lobby to the rooftop, is quickly becoming a common practice in the development of office amenities packages. “I think it’s really all about programming with a lens of hospitality,” Shapack says of his 167 Green development, which leased up over 18 months during the pandemic. “We need people to interact again, we need collaboration amongst each other within a company and within the community, and these spaces create that,” he asserted. “They’re more than just the function that they serve—a basketball court, a Town Hall. They cause us to re-engage with each other, not just with our company.” Shapack kept going back to the three c-words that make a good workplace: communication and collaboration, and community.
The argument for raising the bar on amenities in the workplace continues to rise, but for many developers and tenants, the budget for investing in those employee-pleasing extras is buckling in the face of the rising cost of capital and the increasing expense of building materials. Yet, there are workarounds that can keep high-end amenities packages within reach for the bulk of the office sector, and downsizing is one of them. With the hybrid-work model sweeping the workforce, a substantial number of employers are relocating to reduce their office footprints, and what they consent to lose in square footage, they gleefully choose to gain in accouterments. As these office users downsize, they often make the often-talked-about flight to quality, frequently selecting office properties that already offer big-ticket amenities that allow for the sidestepping of additional tenant fit-out costs.
Developers and owners can find cost-saving measures to install new amenities, but no matter how clever they get, they will always cost money and take up space. The amenities game can get expensive, and given the precarious economic environment, some offices might not have the reserves to make the switch. But those that do will likely be the winner of the talent war that even the Fed can’t squash. People want to work at places that make them happy, even if it means a game of putt-putt and a cold cocktail.
This article originally appeared in Propmodo.