The investment company Nuveen has spent $120 million renovating its office tower at 730 Third Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, overhauling the lobby, devoting the second floor to amenities and refurbishing a 22nd-floor terrace.
And the finishing touch? Two beehives on a seventh-floor terrace.
Following the latest trend in office perks, Nuveen hired a beekeeper to teach tenants about their tiny new neighbors and harvest honey for them to take home.
“In conversations with tenants, I get more questions about that than anything else,” said Brian Wallick, Nuveen’s director of New York office and life science investments.
Office workers who were sent home during pandemic lockdowns often sought refuge in nature, tending to houseplants, setting up bird feeders and sitting outdoors with their laptops. Now, as companies try to coax skittish employees back to the office and building owners compete for tenants when vacancy rates are soaring, many have hit on the idea of making the office world feel more like the natural world.
The effort seeks to give office workers access to fresh air, sunlight and plants, in tune with the concept of biophilia, which says humans have an innate connection with nature. Designs that include nature are shown to promote health and wellness.
Some of the more unusual nature-themed offering include “treehouse” lounges and vegetable plots that let desk workers dig in the dirt. Beekeeping programs — complete with honey tastings and name-your-queen contests — are, ahem, all the buzz. One upcoming project in Texas will include a bird blind, allowing workers to peek out at other winged creatures.
There’s a lot more focus on amenities and how to make an office better than working from your dining room table,” said Richard A. Cook, a founding partner at CookFox Architects.
Some companies say nature-centered amenities have won them over. And some workers find the outdoorsy vibe reassuring.
But it is unclear whether nature will be enough to attract tenants after the success of remote work over the past year and a half. Some companies have already shrunk their office space, and many employees, having ably performed their duties from home, are questioning the need to go into an office at all. The surge in coronavirus cases from the spread of the Delta variant has caused some companies, like Amazon, Apple and Facebook, to postpone their return to the office to next year.
Two weeks ago, office buildings in 10 major metropolitan areas were 32 percent occupied, down slightly from the week before, according to Kastle Systems, a security company.
Incorporating nature in office buildings is not entirely new. Before the pandemic, developers, owners and architects were already adding terraces and rooftop lounges and bringing plants and natural light inside — part of a drive to make offices healthier. Scientific studies show that biophilic spaces are associated with increased cognition and productivity, lower stress levels, fewer sick days and less staff turnover.
But now a connection to nature has gone from being “a nice-to-have to being a risk if you don’t do it,” said Joanna Frank, the president and chief executive of the Center for Active Design, which operates Fitwel, a healthy-building certification program.
Adding natural features to offices can be expensive, but the costs can often be offset with higher rents. Commercial buildings with healthy-building certifications (such as Fitwel and the Well standard, administered by the International Well Building Institute) can fetch rents up to 7.7 percent higher than noncertified buildings, according to a recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Work from home is here to stay, and corporations had better get used to it, and fast.
Nobody wants to spend two hours in the car per day just to get to a PC they can remote into from home when they spent the last year-plus proving they 100% could do the job from their couch.
Especially if your job primarily involves PC and phone work and not physical lifting, making, fixing or delivering, you're going to see more and more workers be okay with less pay or fewer office benefits for the benefit of working from home and coming in on a limited schedule...or not at all.
If you want to mess with the office beehive, that's great. But I'm thinking that the majority of us will be working from home well into the future.