Commentary

The role that's putting community into office life

To attract and retain tenants, and talent, businesses are recruiting people to introduce organised perks and customer culture to the workplace


International Towers, a trio of commercial skyscrapers in Sydney’s Barangaroo precinct, has a property management team of 33 people who undertake routine tasks such as maintaining lifts, overseeing security and collecting rents. 

But one team member is different, dedicating time to fostering a sense of community – a focus that is becoming increasingly prevalent in big office complexes.

The property ‘community manager” curates bespoke offerings with a creative flair: book clubs, theatre groups, yoga classes, Easter egg hunts, and even bringing in artists-in-residence. The objective: enhancing the workplace experience to assist businesses in their quest to be an attractive place to work.

“Attracting and retaining talent is the number one driving factor behind most major property decisions of any corporate business,” says Richard Fennell, JLL’s head of client services for Property and Asset Management in Asia Pacific. “People are what makes a business successful, and a fantastic environment is what makes them stick around.”

 The property management strategy is being employed the world over. Offices have adapted hotel-type concierge services – dry cleaning, ticket bookings and baristas are standard in many workplaces – because younger generations demand engagement. If corporations want to keep their talent, they need to provide the goods, says Fennell.

“Millennials fundamentally think and act differently to previous generations of office tenants,” he says. “They expect an environment that reflects their values and their desires by way of design, amenity and community.”

When community is a clincher

Office tenants at International Towers Sydney include Westpac, KPMG and Facebook among others. There is also an exclusive rehearsal studio for Bangarra Dance Theatre, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performing arts company. Bangarra’s presence complements a curated calendar of cultural programs, says Tony Byrne, general manager of International Towers.

“We take a holistic approach to community engagement and that resonates deeply with our tenant partners. Certainly, it played a key role in attracting high profile brands to International Towers,” he says.

Property community managers, or customer relationship managers, first appeared in offices in Australia over 10 years ago after a group of enlightened landlords and asset managers sought to change the landlord’s relationship with the tenant to that of valued customer.

The past five years have seen a surge in their numbers as co-working and flexible space operators rigorously push the concept of community. Landlords who were slow to recognise the customer imperative are quickly catching up.  

“The bigger the building, the more likely it is to have a concierge service already, arranging things you’d get in a five-star hotel. The property community manager connects all that with retailers, office tenants and the wider community.”

Must have great personality

That customer centric mindset – being able to make every employee feel valued, connected and part of the community – is a prerequisite for someone in a property community manager role, says Nathan Sri, JLL’s head of human experience in Asia Pacific.

Who would he look for? An empathetic personality with a great customer service background, who will not only help solve clients’ problems, but often pre-empt them through the understanding that every client is important yet unique.

The simple things need to be delivered well and expectations are high. Dirty desks, broken chairs and a lack of office workstations prompt “moments of truth” that will undo the value of any events or activations, says Singapore-based Sri.

“Managing end-of-trip facilities and office lockers can be a big problem. People forget their PINs, towels, socks and then risk running late for work and starting their day full of stress. These things really matter.

“Simple thoughtful things like a reset facility for the PIN, a towel service, and even a dispenser in the change rooms that has spare socks, toothbrushes and deodorants show that you are pre-empting those critical moments of truth so people can come to work and fly.”

As office buildings are used more flexibly and businesses respond to the changing needs of employees, the role of the property community manager will inevitably move with them.

”They are a true partner in the workplace ecosystem, and one thing is for sure, demand is far outstripping supply,” says Sri.

Find out what else is unfolding in Australia's workplace scene with our Tenant Trends report.

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