This article was written for our sponsor, JLL.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the average American works 44 hours per week. For many of these employees, this means showing up to the same office or place of work, day in and day out. Knowing our daily environment has a big impact on things like our mood, productivity levels and overall health, companies would do well to consider how their spaces are influencing their employees and affecting their culture.

Big companies like Facebook and Google have spent a lot of time, energy and, yes, money creating impressive spaces that are not only appealing to employees and clients alike, but also representative of who they are. However, cost isn’t as important to culture as thoughtful strategy and planning is for the people who work in these buildings.

This is where commercial real estate firm, JLL, comes in.

“When companies hear that employees want options in an office space, they immediately see a big dollar sign. But innovation can happen even in a budget space,” said Kimarie Ankenbrand, managing director and office lead for JLL Raleigh. “It’s not just about fancy furniture or the latest technology — commercial real estate should be strategic, creative and inspiring. That’s how you create and maintain a good company culture.”

Ankenbrand said 10 years ago many companies embodied a more “traditional” office environment — think large offices, clunky work stations, a closed-in break room, one big boardroom and a large, inefficient lobby. However, there’s been a disruption to these traditional spaces, especially in the Triangle.

Companies are using their real estate to be a conveyer of culture and brand, while also attracting talent that buys into the reflected culture. When it comes to attractive office space, it is not how fancy the four walls are, but rather, what’s going on inside of them.

And as Matt Winters, a JLL office tenant rep broker, pointed out — bigger isn’t always necessarily better.

“There are plenty of examples of smaller companies who occupy smaller spaces that have been able to achieve the goals of an amenity-rich office space, a great culture, high levels of employee engagement and low levels of employee turnover through the way the space is designed and built,” Winters said. “The way that companies plan their offices can lead to long-term productivity and better company culture.”

JLL research has discovered, on average, a company spends $3 per square foot on utilities, $30 per square foot on rent or real estate costs, and $300 per square foot on employee compensation annually. Winters said this data speaks for itself; if a company is spending 10 times as much on its people as it is on its real estate, people should come first and the real estate considerations should come second.

“If you start with the real estate, it’s really not going to move the needle that much,” Winters said. “If you have a high level of turnover, if your employees are not engaged, if the space is not the right fit for your company, the best place to start is planning for your people.”

This people-first approach is how JLL helps its clients select real estate options that best suit the company, and JLL strategizes on how it can help businesses leverage their office space to create their ideal company culture and increase productivity.

Additionally, appealing office space can promote employee retention and contributes to an alluring environment that makes people want to come into work everyday instead of opting to work from home. Having a team that is excited to be at work each day certainly contributes to a more positive company culture.

“Companies must think strategically when it comes to being competitive and hiring talent. If a worker is spending 40 to 50 hours per week in an office space, which accounts for roughly half of their weekly waking hours, their office environment offering is key,” Ankenbrand continued. “Think of how residential floor plans have evolved; many houses are now boasting open concepts. People don’t have formal living rooms and walls around their kitchens anymore. The same evolution has happened to office space. People want flexible work stations, collaborative meeting rooms and places to escape to be more productive.”

Winters helped secure a space in downtown Durham for his client, software company WillowTree. WillowTree was recently awarded a Glassdoor Best Places to Work award and an Employee Choice Award. Winters believes WillowTree’s real estate strategy helped create a culture that contributed to these accolades.

The WillowTree team embarked on creating a space where their employees would want to work, and built the space around that goal by incorporating unique features in the historic, renovated warehouse building that it occupies.

“They have collaborative areas, an onsite-fitness center and a wellness room. They literally have nap pods where employees can go take a nap while at the office,” Winters said. “They really pushed the bar for what could be done in an office space because they wanted to create this unbelievable atmosphere where people wanted to work. I think the proof is in the pudding, as they were ultimately awarded a national award.”

WillowTree Office Space

The WillowTree team embarked on creating a space where their employees would want to work, and built the space around that goal by incorporating unique features in the historic, renovated warehouse building that it occupies. (Photo Courtesy of JLL)

Top talent will continue to take note of companies that are mindful of what they’re delivering to their employees, and being thoughtful about real estate, according to Ankenbrand, “definitely factors into an employee’s decision of where they’re going to work.”

Additionally, employees want to be proud of where they work — both of the brand, and the physical environment they go to each day.

Added Winters, “Our physical space has such an impact on the work that we do, on our productivity and on company culture. It’s so important that a company get that right. And the ones that do, I think they see the long-term benefits.”

This article was written for our sponsor, JLL.