September 05, 2018
Urban environments are treasured for embracing individualism and self-expression, however we seem to be experiencing a culture clash in the multi-tenant office environment. Class-A standards have evolved to include a diverse tenant mix, assumptions about how and when tenants use buildings have changed drastically. As property managers, we strive to provide each tenant with the unique experience they expect, though it is not always easy to satisfy such a broad audience.
The downtown office tower of yesteryear has typically appealed to a healthy roster of traditional tenants that pride themselves on stark and stoic institutionalism. The Class-A trophy building serves as a visual representation of the message its tenants want to send to clients: We mean business. You can trust us.
Throw a tech tenant into the mix, and overnight we’ve seen lobbies fill up with skateboard-yielding tech-bros – sipping kombucha with their $400 tennis shoes propped up on the designer imported leather lobby furniture. Traditional “FIRE” tenants tighten their grip on their Tumi attaché as they walk by, wide-eyed wondering if their new office neighbors are homeless or tech startup millionaires. Sometimes hard to tell.
Beyond the played-out stereotypes and superficial differences, building operators face the very real challenge of meeting the sometimes-conflicting needs of different users of the same environment.
The first step in managing a potential culture clash is pursuing a thorough understanding of tenants’ different uses, cultures, expectations and lease obligations. Consider how each tenant will compliment, conflict or influence the building’s vibe. An open mind and honest discussion about general standards for dress codes, work hours and security access needs with all stakeholders will help satisfy the collective needs of the tenant mix. After identifying such differences, it is the property manager’s role to decide where the potential conflicts may exist and how tenants can successfully co-exist under the same roof. In some circumstances, allowing tenants to operate in perfect isolation is a simple solution. However, in most situations, a common ground–at least in the common areas–must be identified, and expectations must be managed on both sides.
The following are some strategies and solutions for addressing polar-opposite tenants:
- High Density Tenants: Tenants with more employees have a higher demand for building resources such as toilet paper, plug load and cleaning services than tenants with fewer employees in the same amount of space. Despite this, expenses are typically allocated based on square footage percentage. Converting buildings with standard Base Year leases to Industrial Gross leases will allow tenants to pay directly for high-demand services that they use in excess of typical users, such as janitorial and utilities. Gross-ups just got grosser, but it results in a more equitable allocation of operating expenses across the tenant base.
- Restroom Capacity: A common complaint we get is waiting in line for restrooms, primarily the men’s room due to tech firms typically employing more male than female workers. [Gender inequities much? A topic for another day.] Regardless, in most jurisdictions you cannot add another male restroom without also adding another women’s restroom, which may be cost or space prohibitive. To solve this problem, building unisex restrooms or converting all restrooms on a floor to unisex can be a solution. Also, unisex restrooms have been a successful strategy to accommodate transgender tenant employees.
- Security Needs: Many creative tenants are highly conscious of preserving intellectual property and need systems in place to control access to their space. Adopting technology that allows tenants to enter and approve their own visitor lists for processing clearance with the building security protocols will minimize backups of visitor registration in the lobby.
- Pets in the Office: If your building allows dogs inside, develop a code of conduct for pets that is distributed to all tenants. Require dogs to be registered with the building and establish a zero-tolerance policy for aggressive pet behavior. Establishing a cleaning fee directly with your tenants (not the pet owner) per doggie accident is a good accountability measure. Dedicating a “pet path” with a designated pet friendly elevator will help regulate where pets can be outside of their leased space, allowing others to avoid or embrace Fido as they see fit.
- Bike Parking: Bikes these days cost more than my first car and owners like to keep an eye on them. Many tenants are reluctant to leave bikes in a crammed and/or not-secure area. Much like pets, you may dedicate an elevator for bike transport and identify the path of travel through the lobby or repurpose a parking stall into a private bike room. End-of-trip facilities that cater to the needs of the active commuter (think bike spas, high end showers and lockers) are highly sought-after amenities and market differentiators that can be enjoyed by all.
As property management experts, embracing challenges and finding practical solutions is our core competency. By taking the time to truly understand every tenant’s needs and maintaining the perspective of serving the best interest of the client, property managers can identify simple, creative solutions to manage a culture clash. A new, fascinating wave of commercial office users are here, and we are embracing them without abandoning the needs of our traditional tenants. We are prepared to provide an environment where the Dilbert’s, the pocket square set and the man-bun crew can collectively compliment and coexist together in the workplace.
– By Blake Peterson, Senior Vice President, San Fransico, California.