West coast office culture is invading NYC.
Last year, real estate brokerage Savills made major changes to its 63,000-square-foot Midtown office that included the installation of a smorgasbord of tech-driven gizmos.
The space now has a podcast room, 11 Zoom rooms, soundproof phones, collaborative spaces of various sizes and huddle rooms.
The company also renovated its 399 Park Ave. space to promote environmental sustainability, with features like living walls and other plants as well as water stations, standing desks for all 208 employees, a cafeteria with cold brew on tap and high-end espresso machines, a contemplation room and a wellness room.
Plus, there’s a “happy room” (with cold brew, Nespresso, Bevi bottle-less water dispenser, snack bar and other beverages), which Matthew Barlow, a vice chairman at Savills, said was akin to a “first-class business lounge.”
It’s just one of a bevy of major Big Apple firms that are aping the Silicon Valley campus culture of IT giants and offering fancy amenities to try and lure workers back to the office as the pandemic wanes.
Investing in employees “helps with recruiting and also retention, and I think it helps with productivity, with creativity and problem-solving and everything in between,” Barlow said.
But for Ojay Obinani, a project manager at the renowned architecture firm Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM), reworking NYC’s work spaces is about more than high-tech bells and whistles.
“There’s a shift to sort of democratize the space and experience of every employee,” he said. “You’re moving the private offices away from the window … so that every employee can experience daylight.”
So rather than build separate amenities exclusively for leadership — like private restrooms, gyms and cafeterias — amenities in post-pandemic offices are becoming more communal, another idea that Obinani says is being borrowed from the tech world.
Even the stuffiest and most traditional industries are starting to mix a kumbaya philosophy with the latest gadgets.
When Deutsche Bank made plans to relocate its American regional headquarters to the 1 million-square-foot Deutsche Bank Center, formerly the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, they sought to trick the space out with tech.
Since moving into the new Gensler-designed offices last September employees have had “access to a number of technologies to support their hybrid work model,” a bank spokesperson said.
The most significant perk “is the expansion of virtualized computing connected from laptops which, when combined with building-wide high-speed Wi-Fi, enable staff to work from whatever environment is most comfortable for them — a traditional office, open-air terrace, collaboration rooms, etc.” they said. “These locations are bookable by a reservation system and touch panels on the outside of each meeting space.”
Offices are even getting apps to give employees a sense of control and spaces that integrate augmented and virtual reality, according to Johnathan Sandler, a principal at Gensler.
In September, the architecture firm Spectorgroup (known for designing Uber’s Chelsea offices) will relocate to a new 15,075-square-foot office at 183 Madison Ave. where there will no longer be a front-facing receptionist. Instead, it will have a “hospitality zone” with multiple seating areas and seating options. Town halls, panels and seminars will be held in the space. While there will be workstations with permanent monitors, company honcho Scott Spector said, “We’re 100% laptop, and everybody can work just about anywhere within the space.”
All of the enclosed rooms, which accommodate different-size meetings, will be Zoom- and Microsoft Teams-enabled. There will be phone and huddle rooms, multiple pin-up scrum areas and an additional 110 flex seats beyond the 60 permanent ones for his employees.
In the pantry, there are touchless features and cold brew on tap. Plus, the firm has food available all the time, a beer cart once a week for everyone “to shoot the breeze” and there is a twice-weekly free lunch on work-optional days. Spector said he is working on including a virtual reality room.
“Given that everyone is competing for talent, especially tech-savvy talent, all industries in the area need to be creating workplaces that use technology to better the employee experience, not to mention their collective success,” Sandler said.