Aesthetics, amenities key elements to attracting younger employees

Edwin Cohen, a principal in the real estate firm Prism Capital Partners LLC, has seen the evolution of office space from up close during his 56 years in the business.

“Once, people were just glad to be working, and they weren’t too concerned about office amenities,” he said.

But today, to attract Generation Y (the millennials) and Generation Z — generally, people born after 1997 — companies have to do more. So landlords are providing more enticements, ranging from in-house, high-end food service to upgraded fitness centers and relaxation areas.

“The process has accelerated in recent years as the unemployment rate shrinks and companies fight to find talent,” he observed.

When Prism Capital did a conversion at 399 Jefferson Road in Parsippany, a Class A office building, the company incorporated enhanced building services that included a fitness center and grab-and-go cafe. “Another tenant request was for ‘huddle areas,’ where individuals could be in an open space, but with ceiling treatments and furniture layouts that encourage collaboration,” he said. “It’s different than the traditional four-wall conference room.”

In a bid to attract millennials, some companies are also moving away from the traditional, isolated suburban office park and are instead either going to mixed-use environments, either in an existing downtown location or to new “live-work-play” settings like On3, Prism’s redevelopment of the former Hoffmann-La Roche campus in Nutley and Clifton.

“People are looking for a place that doesn’t roll up and shut down at 6:00 p.m.,” noted Cohen. “Instead they want an experience that continues into the evening hours.”

Other real estate professionals agree that mindful landlords, developers and companies are considering the tastes of millennials and other younger workers when they design office space. With tenant companies continuing to grapple with a low unemployment rate, millennial-friendly work digs are seen as a competitive advantage in the race to capture talented workers.

“Aesthetics and amenities are definitely a focus of building owners and developers,” according to Timothy Greiner, an executive managing director at JLL’s New Jersey office market brokerage group. “Millennials are the largest segment of the labor force, and companies that we speak with want to attract them and are looking at where millennials want to work and live.”

That trend was a big consideration for Edison Partners — owner of Ironside Newark at 110 Edison Place — said Greiner, who is one of the office brokerage representatives for the building. Originally built as a warehouse, Edison Properties and the architectural firm Perkins Eastman spearheaded a renovation — which will include office and retail space — that’s already attracted tenants like Mars Wrigley Confectionery.

“The building has a loft-style look, with amenities like a multitenant roof deck, high ceilings and lots of natural light, in an urban setting that attracts millennials,” he added. “It’s the right kind of aesthetics.”

Greiner also pointed to 8 Campus Drive, located in the Mack-Cali Business Campus in Parsippany, as another example of millennial-friendly design. “There’s a lot of outdoor space with seating areas — that’s a huge attraction — and amenities like a glass facade, an on-site, full-service cafeteria and a full fitness center. It’s all part of an effort to bring a hotel-like atmosphere to office properties.”

The redevelopment of 56 at Roseland, a 56-acre property on Livingston Avenue in Roseland, is a good example of today’s trend, noted Mountain Development Corp. President Michael Seeve. His firm and Square Mile Capital acquired the then-vacant property and proceeded to upgrade its amenities.

‘Holistic, welcoming environment’

The building features an on-site cafe and catering, a fitness center, outdoor lounge area, roof garden, walking path and conference center. But those are only part of the attractions.

On behalf of two large law firm tenants — Connell Foley, which signed up for more than 70,000 square feet, and Lowenstein Sandler, which took about 170,000 square feet, both in 2017 — Seeve’s firm created space that met their unique needs while appealing to the new generation of employees.

“There’s a balance between open spaces that encourage collaboration between firm members, and private areas that are necessary for discreet matters,” he said. “As part of the effort to reduce barriers, senior partner offices are smaller than they used to be, with more glass in the office walls; and law firms in general increasingly use mini-conference or breakout rooms where small groups can gather.”

The idea is to create a “holistic, welcoming environment,” Seeve added. “Traditionally, law offices had mahogany doors and lots of corridors, but the move now is towards offices that are more airy and open with more natural light.”

An environment that’s more open also gives newer professionals more opportunities to interact with experienced ones, “so they can grow their own skills while bringing in fresh ideas,” he said. “That kind of opportunity is a key part of attracting and retaining talent.”

Upgraded common areas are also important.

“56 at Roseland features a cafeteria serving high-quality food with diverse offerings, and a design that enables people to easily move through the cafeteria with fewer lines,” said Seeve.

Interior public space near the cafeteria makes it more likely people will get together and interact, he added, while exterior lounge areas, with a green wall and fire pit, “encourage people to sit outside and relax. Landlords and companies recognize that when employees are happier and can work in an efficient and collaborative way, the work product is better and everyone is satisfied.”

Ross Chomik, managing partner of Vision Real Estate Partners, sees a kind of growth curve in the changing tastes of millennials.

“They’re experiencing changes in colleges and graduate schools, and when they complete their education, many expect the workplace to have a similar appeal, or ‘buzz,’ that makes them want to go to the office each day,” he said. “This means tenant companies are looking for exciting buildings with attractive lobbies, amenities, upscale fitness centers and creative dining experiences.”

In August, Vision announced the completion of Phase 1 of a multimillion-dollar retrofit and expansion of Barclays Village in Whippany — formerly The Crossings at Jefferson Park — for owner/occupier Barclays Capital. In June 2017, Barclays purchased the 525,000-square-foot campus from a joint venture of Vision and Rubenstein Partners.

As part of the project, Vision “completed a gut renovation” of one structure, Building 400, installing a new facade and adding a 1,100-space parking deck behind the building. “Furthering the office complex’s work/play environment, Building 400 now features modern offices and collaborative workspaces as well as a pool table, game room and a salon,” according to the company.

Renovations at another facility on the corporate campus, the standalone amenities center Building 100, include expanded gourmet dining facilities and farmer’s market, a new 10,000-square-foot day care center and 6,000-square-foot fitness/wellness center with state-of-the-art equipment and massage therapy facilities.

“Barclays Village epitomizes the best in a lifestyle-focused workplace that promotes wellness and collaboration,” added Chomik.

Owners, developers and operators see these improvements as an investment, according to Chomik. “It’s not just for the millennials. It’s also for Generation Z and beyond. A collaborative, open environment with lots of natural light makes everyone feel better, mentally and emotionally. This is a long-term development.”