We sat down with Tom O’Connor, Senior Vice President of JLL’s Project and Development Services (PDS) group to understand some of the trends affecting office space usage in the Greater Boston market. The 35-person PDS team serves as project managers and advisers for many of our clients as they design fit-out and move into their new office space.
Q: What stands out to you as different in this cycle compared to the last tech cycle (the dotcom era)? The hunt for talent! The difference today is that Boston has become home to companies like Amazon, Ebay, Twitter and Google. These high-tech giants were not in Boston in the year 2000. Having them here has stepped up the hunt for talent and has elevated the playing field.
Q: How has having these tech giants active in our market affected real estate decisions? Small to midsize firms are competing with large tech firms for talent. These large firms offer benefits such as free breakfast/lunch/snacks and offer great work environments. Small to mid-size firms are taking more interest in choosing office space that reflects their culture and their brand. They want to create a destination and a work environment that is appealing to their employees and gives the employees a sense of pride and loyalty in the firm and space in which they work.
Q: Everyone has been talking about how firms are increasing their space utilization and putting more people in less space. What are your clients doing today? Yes. It’s true. We did for some time really see a trend towards increasing space efficiency. And high- tech firms were at the cutting edge of the trend, bringing in benching and shrinking personal space. Today, the trend towards efficiency is less a focus. The trend is more about reallocating the use of the space. Firms are still shrinking personal space but providing more collaborative space in exchange. Employers are asking to build various types of space that allow for different type of work. So lounge space, heads down space, collaborative space, and social room/game room space are a few examples of what we are building out. In all, the total square footage may remain the same, but how employees use the space continues to evolve.
Q: Is benching still “in”? Benching continues to be a good alternative for technology firms. Having walls that separate personal space gives a false sense of acoustic privacy. And today’s younger workers are used to getting stimuli from a lot of places while they work. They also like to see what’s going on around them and feeling that they are a part of something. We are seeing this trend continue to be sticky with our clients at the moment.
Q: Speaking of the younger workforce, while the millennial generation is expected to make up 50% of the workforce by 2020, there is still another 50% of the workforce with differing expectations with whom organizations need to be in tune. How are firms accommodating the differing needs of multiple generations? Firms need to remember not to focus on just one segment of the workforce, especially if they want to be in the space long term and they want to be holistic in their approach to employee retention. Many firms need to take a hard look at their employee profile. Do they want to groom young workers and hope they stay for years? Do they expect to see high turnover and always draw from a young workforce/recent graduate pool? Do they expect to grow over the next few years? Are they already inter-generational? Answers to these questions will guide firms in making space design issues that reflect their generational profile and workforce goals. We worked with one firm that conducted an internal survey to answer these questions. LevelUp asked its employees questions about the type of space they would like to be in. But the employees were only allowed to answer the questions with pictures. We were able to identify what the employees find relaxing, inspiring, motivating and what type of space they feel would help them best do their jobs. The findings will be used as they build out their new space.