After two years of working from home, many companies are facing a seemingly impossible task: convincing workers to return to the office.
Some businesses are enticing employees back with in-building fitness centers and cafés, while others are reconfiguring their entire office setup to create a more relaxed, living room-like feel. While all of these can be effective strategies, one of the best things companies can do is move their office to a new, more suburban location near where people actually live.
Pandemic Reveals The Human Cost Of Commuting
A 2021 LinkedIn survey of nearly 3,000 full-time workers in the U.S. found that nearly 40% reported working from home had a positive impact on their mental health because they didn’t have the anxiety and pressure associated with a daily commute. Helping employees avoid long commutes is one of several factors behind the growing trend of companies moving away from cities and toward the suburbs — a trend that started years ago but has only been accelerated by the pandemic.
Census data from 2010 to 2019 for cities with a population of 1 million or more showed that from 2010 to 2016, populations grew more rapidly in cities than in suburbs, but that trend reversed in 2017. Millennials now represent the largest share of homebuyers in the country, and research shows that while searching for a home, this population is more focused on proximity and convenience than their older peers. All of this has led Cushman & Wakefield to predict demand for suburban office space will continue to rise.
“People are now looking for office space that has the amenities and appeal of big-city high-rises, but in a more convenient location,” said Esther Pulver, vice president at Oliver Tyrone Pulver Corp., a Philadelphia-based developer. “You need big-city style — formal lobbies, high-end finishes, dramatic windows — but with suburban accessibility and charm.”
It’s not just the convenience of short commutes driving this trend toward the suburbs. Employee wellness is also a critical factor. While being a demonstrably sustainable building remains a minimum requirement, there have also been increased calls for buildings that have earned WELL or Fitwel certification, which signals developers and building owners have prioritized employee wellness in the design, development and operations of their property. It also demonstrates employers’ growing focus on employee experience, engagement and retention. Some of the ways to achieve this include creating an office space that maximizes natural light, offers access to nature, has bike paths and trails, and has several walkable healthy food options nearby. Achieving all this in the heart of the city can be difficult — but it’s possible if companies find the right suburban location.
A New Type Of Suburban Office
One example can be found in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. Located 12 miles outside of Philadelphia, this community has been ranked the No. 1 Suburb for Young Professionals in the Philadelphia Region by Niche.com, thanks, in part, to the dozens of restaurants, bars and fitness centers that are all within walking distance. Along with that, the area features walking and bike trails, as well as the Schuylkill River for rowing, canoeing or simply taking in river views.
For all of these reasons, OTP partnered with American Real Estate Partners and Partners Group to co-develop a new class of office building in Conshohocken — Seven Tower Bridge — offering downtown trophy quality and everything people have come to expect from an urban office, but with the river views and access to nature that can only be found in the suburbs.
“Our goal was to engage all of the senses at Seven Tower Bridge, to offer that connection to nature that is uniquely found in the suburbs with an urban enthusiasm and activation,” said Doug Fleit, co-founder and CEO of AREP. “Skidmore, Owings & Merrill designed the building to have all of the drama of a midtown high-rise, but in an environment where we have wildlife and waterfalls flanking our busy campus.”
Along with Class-A office space, Seven Tower Bridge features full-height windows to let in the maximum amount of natural light and best views of the Schuylkill River, and 20K SF of amenity space, including fitness facilities and indoor and outdoor conference spaces, with WiFi and more. The building is in the process of earning LEED Silver certification for how it addresses carbon, water, energy and indoor environmental quality concerns. The building has also achieved Fitwel certification, which recognizes workplaces that strengthen the health and well-being of occupants.
Seven Tower Bridge’s proximity to interstates 76 and 476, as well as the SEPTA train station, makes it a short commute for the majority of the region’s talent pool. And if employees are looking for an even quicker commute, there are three new apartment buildings within walking distance.
Americans are changing where they want to live and work, and it may be time for companies to look outside of the urban core if they want to attract and retain the best talent.
“In Conshohocken, we’re closer to the talent than ever before,” Pulver said. “This is a semi-urban environment with all of the fundamentals a city needs, and Seven Tower Bridge encapsulates what this area is all about. I’m glad we’ve been able to come in here and meet the demand.”