Lobbies in major downtown office towers were originally designed to intimidate and impress, with hard surfaces and bright lighting, offering a less-than-cozy place to hang out, says Brett Miller, CEO of Canderel.
His company, which manages more than 24 million square feet of real estate across Canada, is changing that approach through a new philosophy that not only transforms lobbies into a boutique hotel feel, but fully focuses on employee needs across the entire building.
The traditional view of locking in a tenant for 15 years and collecting the rent is outdated, says Miller. “Now, the office building is a community to fulfill your life. It’s a welcoming place to learn, network, connect, stay fit.”
Such is a crucial approach at a time when companies are figuring out how to convey the value of their office space to talent who have shifted to remote work arrangements.
Over the next three months, Canderel will begin rolling out a workplace hospitality program called OKKTO across its buildings in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary. The idea is to help tenants entice their workers back by offering much more.
The transformation includes adding a conference-meeting floor with a co-working lounge, individual work pods, conference centres, and a cold kitchen for catering—open spaces where employees can interact across various layouts with new technologies fit for hybrid meetings. “Tenants can take a little less space in the leased area because they don’t have to have a large boardroom or employee lounge,” says Miller.
Lobbies will be reimagined with soft seating and lighting, signature aromas, calm music, lower ceilings and a hospitality-trained concierge team.
Club-like building activities for socializing could include an art exhibit in the lobby, a lunch-time walking club through the local park or a five-to-seven cocktail hour.
Spa-like gyms with mindfulness rooms, spin bikes, towel services and trainers might encourage people to swap their fitness club membership for a free pass in their office building. The program will connect with professional wellness service providers, from massage therapists to life coaches, to create a holistically healthy workplace.
All buildings across Canderel’s portfolio are set for an OKKTO make-over, although some might feature a few components of the brand, say, a smaller suburban office building under 200,000 square feet. Larger towers might offer all amenities, such as at Constitution Square in Ottawa, Edmonton City Centre and Stantec Tower in Edmonton.
Advisors will help employers along the way. One large tenant renewed its lease on condition that a property manager partner with them on animating and engaging their employees. “You used to just collect the rent and now it’s much more about running a community,” says Miller.
Some reasons people do want to come back were explored in numerous focus groups that were instrumental for developing the program. “People said the reason I want to come back to the office is I feel I can contribute to the culture of the company, training young people, being social or giving ideas,” Miller shares. “People are motivated to give back, not just take.”
Across the portfolio, the number of employees currently working in-person varies. Small and medium-sized companies are “pretty much back,” with more reluctance among large companies. Some have found they can work more remotely; others are cautious to make any statements. A reason for the OKKTO program is to avoid a draconian approach and mediate the conversation into a two-way dialogue.
“I think it’s a discussion,” says Miller. “To say, here is the value as to why we want you back from a company perspective and here’s what you get back as an individual. It will be a much more complete experience.”
Feature photo: The lounge at Edmonton City Centre. Photo courtesy of Canderel.