• Workplaces are changing to respond to the needs and values of Gen Y.
  • Companies seek healthy workplaces for recruiting and employee health.
  • Bike lockers, showers, mediation and yoga space, and healthy food are key amenities.
  • Holistically healthy workplaces offer a distinct financial advantage, improve productivity, and reduce absenteeism.

Workplaces exist for people and must evolve for them, said Robert Jernigan, principal and managing director for Gensler in Los Angeles, at a panel at the ULI Fall Meeting in Chicago. “Baby boomers are being replaced by Generation Y, and for the new generation, workplaces are not merely for jobs–it’s a lifestyle,” said Jernigan. “They expect more, but they’ll give more too.” Generation Y wants a richer urban-ness and mix, in large walkable transit-linked environments that emphasize sustainability and active health.

Clare De Briere, executive vice president and chief operating officer for The Ratkovich Company in Los Angeles, talked about the firm’s Hercules Campus in Playa Vista, California. The 28-acre site, the former home of Hughes Aircraft, was redeveloped into a mixed-use workplace campus, adaptively re-using 11 historic buildings. “Finding commonality of values for the project to create a story for healthy design was integral to the place,” she said.

“We went through buildings, wrote an anthem about the site as the home of innovation, and packaged the project as place where true creativity could take place,” said De Briere. Google became their first tenant, then media, architecture, and gaming companies. “One thing these companies share,” she said, “is wanting to be innovators, creators, and have healthy places for employees. We have barbeque [grills] in common areas, walking paths, surfboard racks, and give tenants bicycles.”

“For developers to be successful, we’ll need metrics and measurements of effectiveness” in delivering healthy workplace environments, said Kenneth Hubbard, senior managing director for Hines in New York, the developer of  7 Bryant Park, a 30-story glass and steel office tower under construction at Bryant Park and the Avenue of the Americas in Midtown Manhattan. Hines develops measurements and creates metrics for factors like proximity to transportation, parks, and fitness opportunities, as well as air quality and energy use. Developers are starting to measure air quality outside buildings, he said, as well as reduced heat from roof terraces with gardens, and the effect of natural light, interior temperature, and humidity on productivity and effectiveness.

Robert Aaron, senior director for real estate marketing and leasing for Vulcan Real Estate in Seattle, said Vulcan included operable windows in Alley 24, a hybrid office and multifamily project in a redeveloped historic structure at South Lake Union, and found that productivity increased while absenteeism declined. “There are cost issues, but we will be moving more toward operable windows.”

“We give tenants a list of green suggestions,” said Aaron, whose firm has developed workplace buildings for Amazon and other companies. “Most used to ask, ‘Will this cost more?’ But now many ask, ‘Is there more we could be doing?’ Particularly in the tech world, having a healthy workplace is a recruiting and retention tool.”

Flexibility of work space is critical, and square footage of workspace continues to shrink, said Jernigan. “Let’s not be afraid of shrinking square footage. It allows us to spend more per square foot for better space.”

“We put more emphasis on shared space and the elements in that space—large conference rooms with the latest technology, rooftop gardens, and having big servers for buildings that all tenants can use,” said De Briere. “We’re charging a premium for space and getting higher prices per square foot because the space is very efficient.”

Developers are also finding that bike lockers, showers, spaces for yoga and meditation, and providing healthy food in kitchens, cafeterias, or ground-floor restaurants are workplace amenities that add value and attract and retain tenants and employees.

For more on ULI’s Building Healthy Places Initiative, go to uli.org/health.

Kathleen McCormick, Principal of Fountainhead Communications, LLC in Boulder, Colorado, is the principal author of ULI’s new publication, Intersections: Health and the Built Environment.