No building is an island: Developing neighborhood connections as an office owner
Updated: Apr 18
“No man is an island”, as the saying goes. It is a phrase that applies not just to human society but also to sports, the workplace, and even buildings. Regardless of how productive, happy, or successful an individual can be, they’ll usually be more so on a team, in a group, or with a community. The same is true for real estate as well. For tenants, managers, and individual workers alike, it isn’t just what is in the office that counts towards experience quality and efficiency – it is what is around the office as well.
Unless your workplace is surrounded by untouched wilderness or an endless sea of parking lots and roads, that inevitably means neighborhood. While workplace culture and design is understandably more critical, factors associated with neighborhood quality can also play a noticeable role in worker productivity. As these researchers found out, for worker productivity, "it seems to be more important where you live/work within the metro than in what metro you live/work in."
It makes sense: being surrounded by–and having access to–like-minded people; being able to enjoy a well-designed, local area with plenty of opportunities for activities, food, and relaxation; all these things make a difference to how the average worker feels when he or she walks into the office, influences their mental state throughout the day, and can make a difference for whether they view their workplace and its surroundings as a place where spending time is pleasant or a chore.
It’s clear that providing a strong neighborhood experience can be beneficial for commercial property owners, but the question remains: how exactly can a building owner hope to impact the quality of an entire neighborhood?
Most of the progress towards smart cities and inviting neighborhoods happening around the world is coming from either cities themselves, who are capable of effectively moving on urban planning initiatives, major developers who can build entire new neighborhoods in one fell swoop, and highly-focused startups specifically targeting urban issues bigger than a single building.
For property owners, the answer could be to invest in attractive, well-designed streetscapes that allow tenants as well as the public a healthy and inviting space to relax and socialize. Of course, this may not be possible or financially viable for many owners. The other option, that doesn’t require an extensive construction and landscaping budget, is to build partnerships with neighborhood businesses and nonprofits. As in so many parts of the workplace, collaboration is key.
In my past blog post I discussed developing “perk cards” for your tenants to receive discounts at local restaurants and businesses, or choosing to go local with exercise class providers, caterers, and other services at your building. Those are excellent, easy to implement strategies. But there are others as well.
Consider utilizing your common areas to host local events. It could be a neighborhood discussion on some issue of local relevance, auditions for a local performance, poetry readings, or anything else.
By inviting the local community into your space, you’ll be positioning yourself as a true partner and allowing your tenants to begin to build familiarity with the faces of the neighborhood (as long as the guests don’t monopolize tenant space or resources). In addition, you’ll likely win some goodwill from local decision-makers for your future plans.
Alternately, organize a volunteer program to help improve the quality of the neighborhood. Perhaps you organize teams to plant trees, perform a fundraiser for a local project, or start a mural. Depending on your area, you could always “adopt a street” to keep clear of trash. Or start a community garden – produce could go towards a local food bank, or the gardeners themselves!
Next, encourage your tenants to attend local events outside the confines of your building. Whether that is a farmer’s market, art festival, or whatever else, the goal is to connect with the neighborhood, and there’s no time that local communities put on a better face.
If you have social media channels with strong adoption (a goal you should be working towards), use those to publicize the local event and get it in front of your tenants. Perhaps consider using your own internal rewards program, similar to those already employed for individual health and wellness, to encourage social and locally-active behaviors.
While none of these ideas cost nearly as much as redesigning your exterior and landscaping, they certainly won’t be free, whether due to tangible costs (like setting up a rewards program), or the simple time costs for your staff. But always keep in mind the big-picture goal: providing your tenants a better experience in order to increase their productivity. That in turn leads back to the ultimate goal for any real estate owner: increasing leasing success and consequently property value.
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