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Incentives or upgrades | How offices tempt workers back

Summer is over, so it’s back to school, back to work and – if you’re in real estate – back to asking workers to give the office another chance.

Earlier this month, WeWork announced a “global initiative” to provide businesses in major cities with incentives they can use to “allow a thoughtful return” to the office for their employees.

Today, Brookfield-backed flex office startup Envoy announced a new workplace system – Envoy Connect –that aims to make communication between a building and its tenant smoother. Property managers, Envoy said, are looking to tech to “reinvigorate” the market.

The numbers are clear. Google’s mobility trends show US workplace visits still lagging pre-pandemic levels by 18.6%. In New York, they’re down as much as 46%. While the gap is less stark in London, the UK capital is still down 39%.

Though the dust has not yet settled on how people choose to work in the long-term, recent research from Leesman shows that 83% of employees work in a hybrid way. More than a third intend to be in the office one day or fewer per week, with another third planning to go in twice weekly.

A company’s workplace could be 40% smaller than it was pre-pandemic and cope with the same number of employees, Leesman found.

Now, strategies to lure workers back to the office have focused on either incentives – offering something new and shiny – or improvements to the existing offer. Sometimes, it’s both.

WeWork for incentives

Given its global portfolio and brand recognition, WeWork was in a position to team up with cities around the world to offer office workers perks.

The company has launched partnerships with 11 cities – London, Singapore, Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle, New York, Paris, Washington DC, Miami, San Francisco and Chicago.

WeWork will offer businesses in these cities access to incentives, including 50% off its subscription membership for new members for three months. The operator will also offer private office space for up to 49 people with various rent-free periods depending on lease length.

WeWork said: “These offers can help enable companies to develop unique, hybrid solutions for their workforce that can both accommodate business needs and help satisfy employee demand for flexibility.”

The bet is that people will be happier to return to the office if their company has access to space – specifically WeWork space – that they can use flexibly.

As part of the deal, cities will get access to data to show them how people are returning to work, which should help steer any future policymaking.

The announcement also gave WeWork the opportunity to quote city mayors stressing why people should be in the office. Among these was Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot, who said: “A return to the office is beneficial for both our city’s downtown revitalisation and an organisation’s workplace culture.”

A few days later, WeWork announced a further partnership with building operating system Latch to give residents in some New York buildings access to its All Access flexible office membership programme.

Low-risk, high-reward upgrades

While WeWork helps other companies offer their customers incentives, proptech startups continue trying to make the office a place where people want to be. Recently the focus has been on improving small annoyances that can quickly add up.

Envoy, which raised $111m at the start of the year with backing from Brookfield, launched a visitor management system today to create a “thoughtful, consistent, hassle-free experience”.

Rolling out across an initial 30 buildings around the world, Envoy Connect syncs building data across different systems and automates processes. For example, front desk and tenant offices will share information with each other in real time, which ensures that scheduling data is consistent throughout a building, regardless of how last minute any changes are.

Larry Gadea, founder and CEO at Envoy, said: “To stay competitive, property managers need to step up hospitality. No more jumping through hoops to get something as simple as a guest into the office.

“Improving the tenant and visitor is the lowest-risk, highest-reward way to maintain an edge.”

Offices should build a community that connects tenants to each other and to their employees, he added.

But Envoy has growing competition in creating better workplace experiences. A week ago, possibly sensing the “back to work” vibes, workplace app HqO announced a partnership with JLL-owned Building Engines to “increase operational efficiency and tenant satisfaction”.

HqO’s platform will integrate with Building Engines Prism, introducing several new features, including visitor registration. While efficiency is a selling point, HqO – like Envoy – is well aware that what real estate wants is a way to keep tenants happy and coming back to the office.

Of course, if innovation fails, you could try what Marx Realty did at 10 Grand Central in New York and let tenants use a branded Porsche to get to work.

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