Disengaged at the office? Here’s How Your Employer’s Trying to Change That
This month, FirstBank ushered its employees, including returning remote workers, to their new top-of-the-market Class AA headquarters overlooking downtown Nashville.
The upgraded home base at 1221 Broadway establishes the 115-year-old Tennessee bank’s presence in the thriving Midtown gateway and upgrades the office experience, bank President and CEO Chris Holmes said.
“We had everybody pack up last week and work from home on Friday. On Monday, we had everything set up in the office and people are putting their things away and working,” Holmes said. “There are a few folks who have been home a couple years who said, ‘It is so great to be back in the office’.”
New Midtown office buildings are thriving but the overall value of offices in the Nashville market was nearly flat in the past 12 months and investment in the sector slowed significantly in the first quarter of 2023.
Direct office and sublease vacancies reached a record high of 20.9% as lease contracts dried up in the first quarter and companies scaled back their office space, commercial real estate firm Avison Young’s quarterly market report states.
While businesses like FirstBank rely on full-time, in-office workers, the popularity of remote work — and the reality that companies with subpar office environments have a harder time attracting loyal employees — is straining a sector already under pressure.
‘Trying to get people back to the office’
The office landscape is defined by two contrasting trends — the heated demand in Class A and “trophy” workspaces and the overwhelming dismissal of Class B, C and D buildings.
In the first quarter, overall asking rents reached $32.58 per square foot, a 2% year-over-year increase, according to Avison Young. Meanwhile, new Midtown office properties boasted record highs at $46.54 per square foot. Cushman & Wakefield reported that 82% of office sales this year have been for Class A and above properties.
“People are actively moving away from lower-class buildings. This is a direct result of them trying to get people back to office,” said Christopher Goggin, co-managing director of Gensler’s Nashville office. “While hybrid work is here to stay, the office is needed more than ever. More people are coming back to the office to focus, not just to collaborate.”
Several major employers are inviting workers to bring their dogs to work, including Amazon’s two-tower downtown campus and Chewy’s fulfillment center in Wilson County.
Gallup’s 2023 State of the Workforce reports that two-thirds of North American workers are disengaged with their jobs and most of those surveyed are actively looking for other employment.
Holmes said the bank’s new amenity-laden digs and a more flexible approach to scheduling are part of its evolution to remain well-positioned in the marketplace.
“You have to have some flexibility these days,” Holmes said. “We’re one of the biggest banks in the Southeast but we still very much believe in a community style of banking. That person-to-person collaboration is natural to us.”
FirstBank occupies two floors of One22One Broadway, a reflective angular 24-story tower. Private lounges, a fitness center and an 11th floor garden patio are open to employees. Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant Chotto Matte will open a on the ground floor and leasing agents advertise the building’s proximity to grocery stores, restaurants and shops.
Rooftop views, childcare at work
Nationwide, office buildings are one of the weak points in a commercial real-estate industry beset by high inflation and a slowing economy with a tight labor market.
Global architecture and design firm Gensler, which opened a Nashville office last year, advises its office clients to turn working spaces into places where people want to spend time.
“It’s difficult to convince someone to commute for an hour to work in an uninspiring office building or space,” Goggin said. “The current workforce is craving amenities and tools that foster community, connection, and collaboration, and that support their overall health and well-being.”
Pinnacle Financial Partners will move to a more high-profile address in a new Nashville Yards high-rise near Amazon’s campus and One22One Broadway next year.
To be named as one of the 90 Best Banks To Work For in America, we work every day to ensure that associates are engaged, having fun and enjoy what they are doing. American Banker bases their rankings on extensive workplace surveys and reviews of employer benefits and policies.
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