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My professional history and current role are unique in real estate. I studied to become a writer, actor, and director/producer, taking a holistic approach to storytelling. Later, I worked at the fast-paced intersection of design, operations, production, and creativity, producing large-scale onsite events.

My work in operations led to a role in property management, and later, asset management, working on large-scale capital projects. Most recently, I have helped Columbia develop a flexible leasing and workplace experience platform to meet the demands related to the current ‘flight to quality’ in real estate.

I now have the opportunity to create my own role at Columbia, focused on the workplace experience sector. I go beyond operations alone, focusing on tenant experience, and incorporating design and technology into service areas for tenants to improve customer experience and drive continued satisfaction.

Christa Collier Christa Collier
Christa Collier, Director of Asset Management: Workplace Strategy and Development, Columbia Property Trust.

In this day and age, what’s driving employees and tenants to the office?

Even back in 2019, office design had begun to shift to accommodate the ‘hoteling’ model, and flexible onsite work schedules due to travel, vacation and offsite work. The pandemic helped to accelerate this trend which was already in motion.

When comparing actual weekly office occupancy rates pre- and post-pandemic, we’re not that far off from 2019 at this point.”

Therefore, I don’t believe we have to solve for 100% office occupancy, or even close to it. We’ve simply recognized and accepted the reality of hybrid schedules, and while some companies are undeniably looking to downsize their space, employees are still coming into the office. An interesting result is that both landlords and employers are now looking at how to strategically design space for a variety of uses.

So, the real question is: how do we design office space more intentionally to serve the reality of the hybrid model? People leave home to work elsewhere in order to experience a specific environment: the smell of roasted coffee, the buzz of being around others, the prospect of networking, the need to meet with a client, and – most obviously – the need to collaborate in real time, to drive successful and meaningful results.

People can now choose where to be productive. Because each of us has different productivity drivers — it will be the most flexible and agile spaces — that will ultimately be the most desirable.”

The solution is about designing rooms that can be used for multiple purposes by multiple people. It’s about providing goods and services that energize people throughout their day, like appealing food and beverage options, and mobile technology services.

It’s about experiences that inspire an employee to believe they will enjoy being productive here rather than anywhere else.”

Again, this shift began before the pandemic, but now both developers and employers are aware of this transformation and are designing to embrace it.

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What real estate technologies have you found to be the most impactful for Columbia as an owner? For your tenants?

Both landlords and employers are now willing to take their day-to-day needs and activities online. If someone had told you ten years ago that we’d all be banking entirely by phone – making money transfers, depositing checks, etc., we’d have thought it was madness (and a great way to lose money).

But today, we probably wouldn’t use a bank that didn’t offer a mobile app, and we rarely go into a physical bank. As an industry, we’ve been trying to bring this frictionless ease into commercial real estate for quite some time, with mobile access to lobbies, elevators, and office suites; mobile room bookings, food orders, and more. Residential and co-working entrepreneurs have already proven the demand for paying rent and managing facility requests via mobile app.

Now, the integration of app-driven systems into commercial real estate – for tenant comfort, convenience, and real-time data and facilities management – is having an immeasurable impact.”

What amenity and design trends are we seeing the most demand for, and why?

On the tenant side, while gyms and cafes are certainly ubiquitous, private outdoor space has always been in high demand. Whether private to an office or a building, having a well-cared for and beautifully cultivated outdoor space as part of the office environment will always be one of the highest drivers of rent, occupancy, retention and value.

Recently, landlords and office owners have been investing heavily in both co-working operators and property technology. Demand for co-working and short-term leasing is expected to increase, and many landlords are turning to experienced co-working operators for the expertise to run white-label amenity spaces in anticipation of meeting that demand.

The short-term data is certainly positive, but you could also argue that both co-working and property technologies are table stakes. Much like the banking app, mobile apps and access have become a must-have operationally for buildings, and experientially for tenants, and are no longer differentiators.

You have to consider these trends – especially when the ‘flight to quality’ is further delineating certain classes of offices, and the ability to demand net effective rents at competitive rates.”

What are two key design features that you have seen make the biggest impact in terms of operational wellbeing?

The first design feature that has been making the most buzz-worthy impact is the new wave of IoT’s (Internet of things) and app integrations that provide information from building systems related to energy, lighting and air quality.”

Being able to view and react to this data from a mobile phone is proving revolutionary for landlords, engineers, and property teams. It not only makes tenants’ lives easier, but substantially reduces operating expenses. I categorize this a design feature because it must be factored into the architectural design of a space, whether it’s in a new build, redevelopment, or part of a multi-year capital improvement plan.

A second, and equally important design feature is the intentional connection between indoor and outdoor space. Augmented and extended-reality technologies may help to alleviate this need somewhat, but I believe the desire for connection with the natural world will always be there – through floor to ceiling windows, terraces, indoor gardens and waterfalls.

Biophilic design provides the additional benefit of making us less reliant on energy to create the ambience we want. If a tenant can open a terrace door to enjoy natural cooldowns instead of running the HVAC, or utilize natural light, we all benefit.

I know these aren’t new ideas, but we need to continue to be inventive and creative, and most importantly, thoughtful when we look at a space and determine what its users will need most. Sometimes that will involve high-end tech and screens, and sometimes it involves more flexibility. Sometimes it involves making the indoors feel like the great outdoors, the boardroom room feel like a collaboration room, and the workday feel like the best day.

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