What are your amenities saying about your business?
Suzanne Maynard and Darin Squires of GP Pro explore what tenants and employees are looking for in the 21st Century workplace, including how to keep your expenses under control while still providing up-to-date amenities.
*This podcast was created in partnership with GP Pro.
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Read the transcript below:
Janelle Penny: Hi, this is Janelle Penny. I’m the editor-in-chief of Buildings Media and I’m here with Darin Squires, the general sales manager of the commercial real estate vertical for Georgia Pacific Professional, as well as Suzanne Maynard, real estate and asset manager for Georgia Pacific Professional.
This podcast is a partnership with Georgia Pacific Professional and we’re here today to talk about tenant amenities. Welcome, Darin and Suzanne.
Darin Squires: Thank you.
Suzanne Maynard: Thank you very much for having us.
Janelle: So, GP just went through its own renovation and updated its own amenities. Could you tell me a little bit about what sparked that project and why other companies might think about upgrading their own amenities?
Suzanne: Absolutely. I’m happy to share. Georgia Pacific is housed in an old 1982 tower in downtown Atlanta. Our work environment had not been touched or changed since it was built in 1982.
We knew that the work environment, amenities, the thinking around amenities, was significantly changing in the workplace, both in our region, throughout the country, throughout the world.
And so, the organization really embarked in a significant research effort to understand what trends, what workplace preferences for employees for tenants in buildings, were top of mind.
This really became the significant driver for how we sparked and started that initiative to understand the renovation of our work environment.
Janelle: Great. What do you find that tenants or building occupants are expecting from buildings in terms of amenities, both in your own facility and generally in what you’re seeing in the industry?
Suzanne: What we’re really finding is that tenants are looking for from the buildings to provide amenities as well as amenities within their own work environment, their own personal office environment.
So, multi-tenant buildings are looking at having shared amenities like a full cafeteria, restaurants, tenant lounges, dog walking areas, dry cleaners, all the sorts of things that make life easier, to make coming to work be a blend between your day-to-day life and the environment that you work in.
And when we look at what the employees are looking for from their office space—so not just the shared tenant spaces, but their office amenities—it’s really a great café and break area, where there’s natural light, where there’s multiple different options of seating.
“Multi-tenant buildings are looking at having shared amenities like a full cafeteria, restaurants, tenant lounges, dog walking areas, dry cleaners, all the sorts of things that make life easier, to make coming to work be a blend between your day-to-day life and the environment that you work in.” - Suzanne Maynard
No longer is it the day of the coffee area is one in the same as the copy area. It’s really what are the areas that allow them to step away from the grind and change their setting?
In addition to that, things like walking treadmills, health and wellness rooms, where you can take a break and get away for a minute, so it’s really those variety of amenities that individuals and organizations are prioritizing.
Darin: Yeah. And I also see a lot—the last few years, we’ve launched a connected dispensing platform, or IoT platform. And in doing so, I got to visit with quite a few forward-thinking organizations and buildings. Those are kind of the ones that are looking for this technology, and I saw a lot of amenities really being stretched.
Really amped-up workout fitness centers. We saw some farm co-op services. Break rooms have now really become a place for meeting space, for collaboration within a building.
It’s no longer the place where you just go to grab coffee or your lunch. It’s more where you actually set meetings and there can be audio-video capabilities in these farm table style breakrooms.
Pretty unique spin on how we’re interacting with people throughout the entire day, including over the break or lunchtime hours by incorporating these newly designed breakrooms.
Janelle: Absolutely. So, that leads me into my next question. What trends are you seeing in tenant amenity offerings now?
Darin: Yeah. So, I’ve visited with many forward-thinking companies over the last couple of years as I’ve been a part of launching our IoT-connected dispensing platform in the washrooms. And those companies that are interested in that kind of technology typically have very unique buildings.
When you think about it, attracting and retaining really good talent now with unemployment pretty much at an all-time low, sometimes it just falls on the facility itself where people choose to work.
So, something like bringing your dog to work, many buildings now have outdoor dog areas as well as indoor floors dedicated to doggy daycare. Many people think, ‘Okay. I can bring my dog to work rather than a doggy daycare situation. That’s why I chose to literally work for this company.’
I’ve seen rock climbing walls that people are utilizing. Many amenities include barista service, snacks and meals and food included as a tenant of the building.
“Something like bringing your dog to work, many buildings now have outdoor dog areas as well as indoor floors dedicated to doggy daycare. Many people think, ‘Okay. I can bring my dog to work rather than a doggy daycare situation. That’s why I chose to literally work for this company.’” - Darin Squires
So, you’re starting to see a lot more amenities, I feel, to drive people to certain buildings or certain companies.
Janelle: Great. Darin, do you find that people are asking GP Pro to meet different needs than they used to? Or do you find that clients are asking for different things now compared to a few years ago?
Darin: Yeah, we certainly are. And we’re kind of seeing blurred lines between what you expect at home and what you can expect now at work.
So, commercial-brand products are now being required in Class A or Class AA, or suggested, I should say. You’re seeing a lot more premium properties—buildings moving from Class B maybe to Class A.
From GP Pro’s perspective, we can provide that with stainless steel and full automation washroom. When you consider the expense of upgrading a building, the lobby is the most impactful and washrooms are secondary.
So, quite an intense capital investment to improve a lobby. But if we can take the washroom and just upgrade it, enhance it through technology, it’s one way to improve the experience of a tenant in the building at minimal cost.
Janelle: Great. Looking specifically at GP Center, Suzanne, what were some of the key amenities that GP Pro considered with the renovation?
Suzanne: Yes. Well, we looked, as I mentioned, the cafés with access to the windows, upgraded conference center coupled with a central hub within our 21 floors that serves as a micro market.
We have a manned technology bar. We have a variety of different seating postures and settings. Quiet places, energetic environments—those were really important for us to include as we heard from our population.
The interns we interviewed with, “Why do you come to work for Georgia Pacific? What are the things you want out of a new work environment?”
And it was all of those things. It was a mix and a variety of amenities where the different generational preferences, the different tenure preferences that we have as individuals.
And so, that was really important for us to hear that and incorporate that and give back to employees.
Janelle: Can you put those answers in context compared to what the market looked like 5 or 10 years ago? How have the things that people are asking for changed over that period of time?
Suzanne: Absolutely. I think as Darin mentioned, the unemployment is the lowest in history. So, attraction and retention—and the way that organizations and leadership are looking at the things they probably need to pay attention to, as well as what employees are starting to demand—is what’s really changing from how we might have thought about it if we’d started to look at a renovation 10 years ago.
In saying that, it’s things like we may not have invested in as much space and premium window access to a café with televisions and speakers and ability to choose what groups are watching in an open shared area. Because that was not a standard amenity 10 years ago.
“Satisfaction—self-reported satisfaction—was up significantly higher, increases of 20-30% from group to group. And self-reported opinion that they felt as though the organization invested in them as an individual by listening to and providing the amenities that they were requesting through the research.” - Suzanne Maynard
But it is today. And it’s important. And when employees or prospects come, clients come, they see that there’s an investment in creating social break spaces for our population.
And so, those are really some of the changes that we’re seeing in the workforce and the amenity standards, amenities, whether it be in the work environment or the building, as Darin mentioned, are really where those significant investment of dollars are being placed.
Darin: Yeah. And I would add to that that we’re also seeing because of what was just mentioned with the neighborhood concept in buildings now or hoteling or densification, whatever term you want to use, you’re adding maybe a third or double or even more people per floor than you previously did with the open concept. And a big concern is health and hygiene.
So, we’re seeing another amenity, which is minute clinics pop up in buildings. We’re seeing pharmacies as an amenity in buildings. And more importantly, we’re just seeing amped up opportunities to sanitize or wash your hands.
The germ spread in these open environments can be quite significant versus a traditional closed office environment.
Janelle: So, looking at amenities more broadly, how do they impact the way that people perceive your organization?
Suzanne: I’ll touch on that from having just gone through an upgrade in our own amenities.
We conducted pre- and post-occupancy for all 3,000 employees, multiple opportunities to do so. And one of the things that we heard loud and clear is that the increase in investment in amenities was highly appreciated by our employees.
Satisfaction—self-reported satisfaction—was up significantly higher, increases of 20-30% from group to group. And self-reported opinion that they felt as though the organization invested in them as an individual by listening to and providing the amenities that they were requesting through the research.
And so, really, not only do employees feel like they’re being invested in, but our clients see that we’re investing in our employees. And that is important that we’re providing a healthy work environment for all of our employees.
Darin: I think also at GP Pro and other companies we realize that with technology capabilities nowadays, you can pretty much work from where and whenever you want.
So, the idea of trying to still get people to the office is important as well. And a lot of that again, that comes right down to how the facility is, the uniqueness of it, the cool factor if you will, rather than working from Starbucks, we want to go into our office space.
Janelle: What types of innovation has GP Pro brought to market to address some of these building owner and tenant demands that we’ve been talking about today?
Darin: Yeah. I’ll touch on that. I mean since we’ve got so many more folks, tenants on floors, certainly the stress falls in two areas. One is the parking structure when you’re doubling the capacity or more of an office space. But more importantly for all of us is the washrooms.
So, we’ve come to market with dual-roll towel systems, our enMotion® Flex Paper Towel System, pretty much you’re never out of towels, right?
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So, when you’ve got, let’s say you went from 8 or 10 gentlemen on a floor, now you might have 22. Well, the building might have been designed with the same amount of urinals, the same amount of sinks and the same amount of stalls, you’ve got to make sure you have heavy high-capacity systems to handle the additional guys that are utilizing the restrooms.
So, also automation and notification and alerts. So, you’re now having to be considerate of running out of product quite more frequently. You don’t want that tenant complaint when you’re up at a sink bank and there’s no soap.
Through technology, GP’s come to market with the ability to, with your smart devices, get notifications and alerts of when you’re going to run out of the towel, the tissue or the skin care systems.
Janelle: So, let’s talk about putting some of these concepts that we’ve been discussing today into practice. If you’re about to start renovating with the intent of tenant attraction or tenant retention, how do you know where to start?
Suzanne: Well, I think it’s really important to start with research. Start with understanding what are other buildings in your region doing? What types of investments are they making? What’s important for you and the types of tenants that you’re attracting? If it’s high-tech tenants versus professional, there are some different desires and amenities across the different organizational sectors if you will.
But also, getting to the granular level within an organization of engaging your current employee population, understanding what’s working, what’s not working, what are the desires that they have from an amenity base. And how do they weight the value and the importance of them to help you prioritize where to invest and where to put those funds for the greatest return on that investment?
Janelle: Makes sense. What are some ways that you can refresh a building without really breaking the bank? Are there certain areas that listeners can target for upgrades first that kind of give that space a fresher look without a huge investment and a more comprehensive renovation?
Suzanne: Certainly. It’s a combination—we mentioned a couple of times the break area, café, coffee bar concept. That’s the easiest way to have an organization, a tenant, feel as though there’s a major upgrade. Especially looking at taking some primer space in the building with access to daylighting to place those types of amenities.
Secondly as Darin has mentioned a few times, restrooms. Everyone uses the restroom throughout the business day. And having upgraded finishes, upgraded accessories in the restroom, lighting, really are a huge trade and giveback without having to go through a full floor or full building renovation.
Janelle: Great. Darin, can you touch on the ongoing cost situation with refreshes a little bit? Are there certain places you maybe want to keep investing? Or ways to keep those ongoing costs down?
Darin: Yeah, sure. One of the most creative and ways to keep your funds down as I mentioned earlier are the breakrooms. And I think we’re seeing more and more of that, Keurig stations now. You’re seeing quite a few amenities added to the breakrooms as well as the washrooms, like I mentioned earlier, you’d see at home.
“When you consider the expense of upgrading a building, the lobby is the most impactful and washrooms are secondary. Quite an intense capital investment to improve a lobby. But if we can take the washroom and just upgrade it, enhance it through technology, it’s one way to improve the experience of a tenant in the building at minimal cost.” - Darin Squires
We’re also seeing amenities outside the building. Many forward-thinking companies are adding share ride/drop off areas as more and more folks are taking shared ride services to work and when they leave work.
We’re seeing scooter dedicated parking areas as we’ve seen scooters all over most major cities right now.
And then, I’ve even talked to some property managers that have designed buildings who are managing buildings where the actual parking structure itself has changed. They’re forward-thinking that 2025-2028, we’re going to see a lot more cars that will go park themselves. So, you’ll get out at a certain area and your cars will go park themselves in parking lots.
So, parking structures themselves are being redesigned as the need to not have to walk from your car is changing.
We’re seeing biometric screening, so when you walk up to the glass or the entrance of a building, the door knows you work there for security reasons and the doors will open for you, if you’ve got a cup of coffee in your hand and your bag in the other hand.
So, simple things. We’re starting to see more and more cafeterias being removed from buildings. There’s two things about cafeterias. One, they’re being eliminated and they’re designing food truck areas outside for a more diverse menu on a regular basis and multiple options. And then secondly, cafeterias themselves are being leased by restaurant groups. And you’ll see an actual restaurant that you might be familiar with taking that space over in an office building.
Janelle: So, how can you make sure that people will actual use the new amenities or the upgraded amenities that you just put in? Is there something that facilities teams can do to really encourage that personal engagement?
Suzanne: Yes, absolutely. I think key is understanding what people’s preferences are for amenities, so that you’re putting in things that are important to them and they desire.
Secondly, is making sure everyone’s aware that there are these new amenities, how you use them, what’s in it for the individual, where’s the value that these amenities potentially bring to them in their day to increase the desire to use the amenities. And really reminding people frequently that there are new ways of working, new amenities in the building and just again, how they impact the individual or the organization.
Darin: Yeah, and I will add to Georgia Pacific and GP Pro, everything that we bring to market is from market-backed innovation.
So, we spend a lot of the time, a lot of our marketing and innovation teams are out in the markets visiting with property managers, with tenants, with the janitorial firms to try to learn where their pain points are and what we come to market with will be widely accepted.
“Through technology, GP’s come to market with the ability to, with your smart devices, get notifications and alerts of when you’re going to run out of the towel, the tissue or the skin care systems.” - Darin Squires
And we try to listen to the market more than we even do internally when we come out with some of these systems. It really makes sense. And we also come out with—we learn quite a bit in doing this—and you learn just from the custodian that having a ring of keys with six different keys for all the different dispensers, you know, that’s a hassle.
So, just coming out with one key for all of our fixtures has been something that’s been very popular in the marketplace.
And then also, we address all the different concerns in a washroom specifically, but odor is the number two complaint in the washroom.
So, recently we’ve come to market with an air care system that is on-demand. It’s in stalls, it is weighing their body motion activated when you enter a stall. It can also be placed on a wall within the washroom. And it recognizes when someone’s in the washroom. And that’s when you get the fragrance from a system through an automated platform.
So, a lot of things that we’ve learned from listening to the market have been probably our biggest successes in the marketplace. We recently went fairly wide with a survey coast to coast with tenants and with property managers. And through the feedback from the survey, were actually able to go forward making claims with some of our systems that are addressing the needs of the marketplace.
Janelle: So, last question, if listeners only remember one takeaway from this podcast, what should it be?
Suzanne: I think really, today amenities are more important than ever before. From the most granular desires of having immediate solutions at fingertips to the climbing walls and the dog parks of the campuses. And whether you’re in a large campus to an individual building, owners and operators are thinking about amenities.
Janelle: So, Darin, what about you? What do you think listeners should take away from this podcast?
Darin: One thing that I always try to reinforce is no matter how nice or well-equipped or cool your building is, we have to all be able to come to work. And of utmost importance is being healthy.
And so, be sure in these open environments, in these neighborhood type of situations in office buildings that there’s appropriate areas for sanitizing and for handwashing. It’s one of those things that everybody needs to keep front-of-mind.
And there’s a study done by the University of Arizona that claimed when a worker comes to an office with an illness, by noon that day, that germ has impacted over 50% of the surface space on their floor. So, just be sure you have enough sanitizing stations and wipes to be in a safe environment.
Janelle: Absolutely. Food for thought for sure. Well, thank you both so much for joining me today. This has been Janelle Penny, editor-in-chief of Buildings with Darin Squires and Suzanne Maynard.
And thanks for all of you for listening to us today.
Listen to the next episode in this series: Generation Z and the Office of the Future