What distribution centers can learn from high-end offices

Gyms, comfy break rooms, cafeterias with vegetarian fare, a climbing wall: these workplace perks aren’t just for offices anymore.

December 13, 2018

Companies have been adding such amenities to workplaces in an effort to attract talented employees, and keep them from leaving. But the benefits are making their way into warehouses and manufacturing facilities.

“The biggest challenge faced by companies today is attracting and retaining labor,” says Rich Thompson, who leads the global Supply Chain & Logistics Solutions team at JLL. “If you’re going to be in a nice working environment – with restaurants you enjoy, with a state-of-the-art gym – you will put more weight on joining that company.”

Thompson notes an industrial distribution center on the outskirts of Toyko that has integrated amenities like a rock climbing wall, a daycare center and common spaces that you would typically see in office buildings.

“And why not? People want those amenities. They’re an attraction,” he says.

Attracting labor in a shortage

For years, office landlords have been designing spaces with a focus on employee wellbeing, happiness, and ultimately, productivity.

But vast industrial properties on the periphery of cities – which house and ship the products that populate our everyday lives – typically have been developed for functionality: getting goods in and out as efficiently as possible.

Break rooms often have “folding aluminum chairs and a vending machine selling potato chips, and that’s it,” Thompson says.

The rise of e-commerce is changing that. There has been a proliferation of high-tech distribution centers that require legions of skilled workers. In the U.S., warehouse employment has risen 90 percent since the start of the millennium, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The need for workers to manage complex operations, compounded by the more recent skilled labor shortage in America, has left warehouse operators hungry to attract talented workers to their facilities. So they’re providing amenities, from standard offerings like comfortable cafeterias to luxe perks like bouldering gyms, Thompson says.

The necessary ingredients

The number of warehouses with benefits is still slim. But with American corporations vying for staffers from a tight labor pool – national unemployment now stands at 3.7 percent – the shift is coming, Thompson says.

For companies looking to make their real estate a recruitment tool, modern and well-designed common areas, multiple break rooms and cafeterias are a must, Thompson says. Subsidized food service and plentiful opportunities for refrigeration and the microwaving of lunches brought in are also important perks.

There should also be outdoor areas for the staff to gather, ideally with stylish features like fire pits and cozy seating.

Fitness amenities, even if more pedestrian than the Tokyo climbing wall, are also important, from gyms to walking paths and jogging tracks.

In order to attract a city workforce, the workplace also needs to be close to public transportation.

“Developers of industrial parks are collaborating more closely with local jurisdictions to add bus and train services to facilities,” Thompson says.

From the ground up

The impetus for change will most likely come from tenants, but developers of industrial real estate need to play their part too.

Prologis, the world’s largest developer of logistics real estate, is experimenting with the world’s first WELL-Certified industrial property in Tacoma, Washington, which is designed to enhance the wellbeing of those who work inside it.

“Amenities are the next step in this workplace evolution in warehouses,” Thompson says.