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Closing the Experience Gap: Bringing People Together

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By Convene’s Head of Product James Frankis and Head of Real Estate Brian Holland

There has been a lot written over the last few years about what “return-to-office” post-pandemic might look like and, now halfway through 2024, we know there is no going back to the way things were.

The trends we saw in flight prior to 2020 have been solidified and normalized. And while five days in-office per week may no longer be the norm, you also can’t run most businesses exclusively on Zoom and Slack – so what does that mean for the physical office space, and the landlords and flexible operators that run them? 

The supposed battle between employer and employee to “lure” them back to the office is becoming a tired trope; in fact, there is no successful product in any vertical that uses words like “lure” to describe how they attract and retain customers.

In reality, many workers want to come into the office more than they currently do, but less than the inflexible “five days a week no matter what.” If employees want to be back in the office and employers want them back too, yet in many global cities there is still a lag in the return-to-office, where is the gap coming from? 

Alongside macro factors like commute times, there is an “experience gap” between office provision and employee requisites. Offices need to be better productized, amenitized, and culturized, providing a key focus on “customer” (employee) satisfaction and brand.

A view of a Convene workspace.

Photo courtesy of Convene.

Businesses that are striking the right balance of in-person attendance have downsized their office footprint and focused instead on using real estate budgets to create a smaller but more collaborative and more exciting office space to highlight their culture while creating a workplace destination: half the space, twice the experience. 

A fulsome return to the office has become more about a resurgence of experience-driven, in-person moments that drive attraction, retention, and engagement. Here are some considerations to weigh as return-to-office strategies evolve in 2024. 

  • Meetings and events are the center of a modern workplace strategy. In Gensler’s 2023 Workplace Survey in the UK, 3 of the top 5 reasons for coming to the office were, meeting, interacting, and socializing with colleagues. The time has come to rethink the office and the purpose it serves, the workplace is no longer just about a desk and a monitor. Especially for teams on hybrid work schedules, bringing people together strategically for impactful meetings and events – such as a once-per-quarter all-company summit – is crucial for helping teams connect and collaborate.  A recent JLL report delves into organizations’ changes in space types and indicates an increase in collaboration spaces by an average of nearly 30% – offering this in-building, whether via a flexible operator or as a communal building amenity, is sure to be seen as an attractive offering for existing and prospective tenants.
  • Rise of the building amenity center. We’re seeing high-quality, high-design, experience-driven workplace destinations – like Class A and other trophy buildings – outperform every other asset class.  Investing in amenitizing buildings to accommodate our new way of working and offering more meeting rooms and collaboration spaces helps companies implement a dynamic workplace strategy. Office buildings dedicated to remaining relevant to our modern way of working are leading the evolution of property management replaced with experience management via a hospitality-driven third-party operator.  
  • Employees become “members” of the places they work. It’s clear that “flight-to-experience” is driving the modern workday experience, leading to the “social club-ization” of the office, and buildings partnering with brands like Convene to provide tenants access to amenities, perks, and experiences designed to make offices attractive social spaces with a thriving community. This will be an enticing offering as Gen Z more prominently enters the workforce and will be especially helpful for addressing the current loneliness epidemic in the United States. 
  • The “living room-ification” of the office. After nearly four years of working from home, workers have become accustomed to a new level of comfort in their work environment.  The office of the past is no longer a viable option, we need to adapt not just the purpose of the office, but the design and layout.  For employees to return to the office regularly, the space needs to feel homey and comfortable. Some design tenets to consider include light color palettes, limiting harsh fluorescent office lighting, and providing a mix of seating types such as soft seating, dining room table-style seating, and cafe seating. Procuring nice mugs for coffee and tea can also help a space feel more comfortable – and is more sustainable. 
A view of a Convene office space.

Photo courtesy of Convene.

The future of work is all about choice, flexibility, and human experience. While the genie is out of the bottle on hybrid work, high-performing organizations still need places to come together to collaborate and create, and their people want them to create them. Commercial real estate’s reckoning is much more complex than return-to-office: it’s about rethinking what the office is and the purpose it serves, adapting to new ways of working, and leveraging hospitality-driven experiences to close the “experience gap” and bring people  back together in-person. 

Related  Flex Office Demand in Orlando Up 81% in 2023 Compared to Pre-Pandemic

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About Convene:

Convene is a global lifestyle hospitality company that designs and operates premium meeting, event, and flexible office spaces. It is the largest single provider of dedicated meeting and event venues in the U.S. and U.K. with a network of 37 locations across nine cities; Convene’s portfolio of brands includes etc.venues, Club 75, and the “by Convene” label for bespoke locations in partnership with other organizations. 

With a combined 44 years of experience, Convene brands bring hospitality and lifestyle into traditional commercial real estate assets, partnering with the industry’s top landlords to deliver increased building value while also creating premium experiences for tenants. The company counts Ares and RXR Realty among its investors, and has been named one of America’s 100 Most Promising Companies by Forbes and a Best Workplace by Inc. magazine, Fortune magazine, and Built In.  

About James Frankis:

James Frankis currently serves as Head of Product at Convene, a premium hospitality company that designs and operates premium meeting, event, flexible office, and building amenity spaces. In this role, he oversees the design, product standards, customer experience, and packaging across the company’s portfolio of brands, including etc.venues. He leads a team of seven and is responsible for designing thoughtful meeting and event venues, flexible workplaces, and building amenity centers; defining product metrics and pricing; and working cross-functionally to curate the company’s elevated workday experience delivery and brand standards. James and his team also work to inform the company’s expansion strategy, create the brand identities and standards for an evolving and growing portfolio, and manage a Client Advisory Board to define and implement the product roadmap.

Over his six-year tenure with Convene, James launched the company’s first UK location at 22 Bishopsgate; developed the Convene landlord product strategy aimed at helping building owners and developers amenitize and monetize assets as a means of tenant attraction, retention, and engagement and has been instrumental in growing revenue from that side of the business; and led the product integration of etc.venues as part of the Convene portfolio of brands.

Prior to joining Convene, James was a senior strategist and European practice area leader for consulting at Gensler. He has worked with a range of clients including British Land, HSBC, Mitsubishi Estates, Blackstone, Hines, AXA, and Rockefeller Group. He holds a bachelor’s degree in information design from the University of Westminster and a master’s degree in transdisciplinary design, a programme focused on human-centred design practices, from Parsons School of Art and Design in NY. 

About Brian Holland:

Brian Holland is Head of Real Estate for Convene, a premium hospitality company that designs and operates premium meeting, event, flexible office, and building amenity spaces. In this role, he is responsible for expanding the company’s global portfolio of brands via market growth, landlord partnerships, and acquisitions. Brian was instrumental in stabilizing the company’s real estate portfolio during the pandemic, its expansion into San Francisco, and continued growth in New York City and London. 

Prior to Convene, Brian held senior-level positions at real estate development firm OliverMcMillan and commercial real estate company Brookfield Properties, where he was integral in the acquisition and development of more than $2 billion in real estate projects nationwide. His experience across the real estate sector is all-encompassing from site selection through to entitlements, capitalization, construction, management, and disposition; and he also serves as principal at HollandandCo, a boutique real estate development and investment firm based in California. Prior to his real estate career, Brian clerked for a federal judge and worked for a regional law firm in San Diego. He holds a B.A. from Westmont College, and a J.D. from University of San Diego School of Law.

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James Frankis, head of product at Convene, and Brian Holland, head of real estate at Convene.

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