Designing for millennials boosts employee recruitment and retention and increases workspace value.
By Joshua Zinder AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, and Marlyn Zucosky, IIDA, Assoc. AIA
For the savvy developer, the oversupply of underperforming, leasable office space in older buildings and suburban parks represents a wealth of opportunity. Shrewd, targeted renovations and repositioning can transform tired assets into competitive spaces.
Hear architect Marlyn Zucosky talk about what’s involved in designing millennial-oriented workspaces.
To carry the day, however, the renovation must take into consideration how office users are changing. In particular, developers need to consider how companies today recruit and retain talented employees. They need to think about amenities that appeal to a rapidly evolving workforce. With this in mind, owners looking to strategically reposition older assets are consulting with designers who have experience creating workplaces with millennials in mind.
Why millennials? Consider the research conducted by Amy Lynch of Generational Edge in Nashville, which shows that millennials made up 36% of the U.S. workforce in 2014 with that figure projected to grow to 46% by 2020. And yes, they really are very different from previous generations. They view their relationship with work in very different terms—and employers know this. In particular, younger members of the workforce:
- place a premium on amenities
- prefer a sustainability-oriented workplace
- enjoy breakout spaces for relaxing, collaborating, or both.
A strategic approach to repositioning a Class B asset can create a millennial-friendly, branded work environment that is Class A competitive, for a moderate investment. The result is a revived property that tenants want to occupy because they can capitalize on it in support of their recruitment and retention efforts. For the greatest success, more and more are working with an experienced and integrated design team, beginning from the project planning stage—or even earlier.
Applying a “collaborative design” method, our firm, JZA+D, Princeton, NJ, has been working with clients to develop strategic plans for office-portfolio rehabilitation. Then, on specific repositioning projects from within the portfolio, we apply smart, market-focused upgrades with an eye toward a mid- to long-term return on investment. Some of these strategies are unsurprising, while others are less intuitive. All of them produce high-impact improvements for moderate cost and work scope, and most are oriented toward appealing to the emerging millennial demographic in the workforce.
Amenities. Millennial employees typically enjoy informal, stylish spaces in which they can collaborate, work, and relax. Since they tend to prefer the rich mix of retail and social elements found in urban environments, millennials who accept positions in suburban environments still want these services, making amenity space critical. For multi-tenant properties, we often recommend carving out shared amenity space. This may seem counter-intuitive since it reduces rentable area, but the increase in per-square-foot value creates a win-win scenario—the owner earns more overall while tenants shrink their footprints (and their monthly rents), since some of the amenities that were located in the offices are now shared by the whole building.
This strategy worked for the upgrades of 101 and 506 Carnegie Center in Princeton, NJ, with owner Boston Properties, a national commercial developer. With millennials (and amenities) in mind, a great deal of effort has gone into upgrading food-service areas for both properties while adding a lounge and fitness center with showers in 101, and after-hours service kiosks in both. The kiosks are particularly noteworthy. The concept recognizes that today’s workers do not always work standard hours, and the kiosks provide new revenue streams for the property owner. Since those hours can be longer, having food and a gym available in the building make it more responsive to the habits of an evolving workforce.
The redesign will also make the properties brighter and more appealing. At 101, for example, heavy brick in the lobby is covered with light-colored surfaces interspersed with a pop of cherry-wood paneling, and the space is brightened further with elegant ceiling-hung LED pendants.
Sustainability. Sustainable design strategies add value by making workplaces healthier and reducing operating costs through energy-efficient elements. On top of that, they also help prospective tenants make sustainability part of their brand, which is helpful when recruiting among millennials. The trick is to make the green design elements noticeable. At 506 Carnegie Center, for example, upgrades to the cafeteria include environmentally friendly elements such as furnishings with natural wood finishes, porcelain tile, LED light fixtures, and daylighting. As part of the cafeteria project, the design team worked with the food-service operator on providing healthy food options, which many millennials prefer.
Other high-impact strategies for repositioning include simple rebranding efforts. Some of these are for curb appeal, as with 1 & 5 Independence Way in Princeton, NJ, where the redesign of signage and the addition of canopies at the property entrances created a noticeable visual connection, even though the two office buildings are separated by a third facility. Combined with a lobby redesign, the owner’s modest investment in integrated design produced an attractive and recognizable brand identity.
Current owners of what some developers call “opportunity properties” may be less than inclined to invest in upgrades, preferring to sell. And so we say to the savvy buyer, “Opportunity is knocking.” Repositioning for the millennial workforce—when developed in consultation with experienced designers—can have a high impact for low to moderate cost.
Joshua Zinder, AIA, and Marlyn Zucosky, IIDA, are partners in Joshua Zinder Architecture + Design. Located in Princeton, NJ, the integrated-design firm’s global portfolio includes commercial, hospitality, retail, and residential projects, as well as product, furniture, and graphic designs.