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Can Real Estate help attract and retain talent?

Company culture and employee engagement are central to attracting and retaining talent, but the physical workplace has an underappreciated role to play, says Kuldeep Gadhary.

‘So what can you offer me?’, asks the interviewee.

In a change to the status quo, employers now have to sell themselves to prospective employees. Career progression, flexibility at work and staff benefits may be some of the obvious answers, but gyms, beer on tap and climbing walls are now increasingly making the list.

According to the British Chambers of Commerce, skills shortages are at critical levels, with 60% of London businesses encountering difficulties last year when looking to recruit. Furthermore, London First reports that 72% of employers are concerned about the impact of London housing costs on staff recruitment and retention. With such a tight labour market (UK unemployment rate at 4.3%), vacancies are harder to fill.

And will the capital and the UK still prove attractive to employees post exit from the European Union? The details of what this will look like are still hazy, but it may be that this is another factor that compels UK employers to work harder to attract and retain the best.

Company culture and employee engagement are part of the solution, but can the physical workplace also contribute? Renting office space accounts for a relatively small share of total staffing costs – approximately 8% according to the Property Industry Alliance in 2017. Improving the office environment therefore provides a relatively easy win for occupiers and a good way to gain a competitive advantage.

With ‘employee experience’ now increasingly at the centre of company strategies, employers are adopting health and wellbeing practices to attract and retain employees. A notable example of this is 22 Bishopsgate, which is currently under construction and due to complete at the end of 2019. 100,000 sq ft of the building has been allocated for amenities that “enhance working life and productivity” including yoga classes, a fresh food market and a climbing window.

As the lines between work and life become increasingly blurred, commercial real estate landlords are helping employees to bridge the gap between these two worlds. Tishman Speyer for example has designed an app to connect their tenants to services including health screenings, dry cleaning and emergency day care.

Technology is even being used to improve office harmony. The battle of the thermostat has been at the centre of many office disagreements since the arrival of air-conditioning in the workplace, but temperature and lighting can now be personalised according to the preferences of different teams and departments.

Greater control over the office environment has been reported to boost employee productivity, while landlords gain a better understanding of how their buildings are being used – a win-win for all parties involved!

While amenities, services and smart buildings prove popular with some employees, most expect the workplace to provide the basics well. The 2017 Leesman Index reports that the highest-performing workplaces deliver well on basics like quiet space for creative thinking, video conferencing and visitor hospitality. Interestingly, allocated desks also featured heavily in the best performing workspaces, contrary to the belief that shared or flexible desks are the preferred choice.

Individually, fast connectivity, natural light, easy-to-book meeting rooms and good coffee may not determine whether a prospective employee decides to take a job, or if a current employee decides to stay. However, taken together and done well, these portray company culture in a positive light. Furthermore, they are relatively achievable, even to those employers not based in brand new buildings.

One size certainly does not fit all. However, when landlords work closely with tenants, the real estate industry can better understand and potentially overcome some of the challenges facing businesses in this uncertain climate – helping to attract and retain talent.

Kuldeep Gadhary
Associate Director
Central London Office Research

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