Retail’s Influence On Office

The impact of the pandemic has created new challenges across all industries, with the commercial office being among the most affected.  With a vast portion of the workforce now working from home, numerous office buildings are vacant or minimally occupied.  While many people prefer the new convenience of remote work, others prefer to return to the office, so the question we must answer is how to make it worth their time to be there.  How can we better position our client’s assets to attract and retain tenants, and how can we help those tenants bring their employees back to the office? As we look for solutions on how to restore and incentivize the in-person workforce, we can learn from another industry that has faced a similar challenge.

On the retail front, COVID-19 has only accelerated the decline of brick and mortar locations, with online shopping already emerging as a consumer preference. The convenience of online shopping, coupled with the ability of online retailers to create a personalized consumer experience, has drawn consumers away from traditional brick and mortar locations.

With in-person visits so crucial to the bottom line, the retail industry has responded with a 3-pronged approach to revitalize brick and mortar shopping – through placemaking, flexible programming, and a focus on omnichannel engagement.

Placemaking involves providing quality spaces that people want to be in.  Retailers are providing motivation for consumers to visit stores or centers for an experience.  For example, several Nordstrom locations feature cafes or spas, enticing consumers to either stay longer or come specifically for the amenities. The retail industry has also placed an emphasis on activating the “in between” – unleasable areas such as walkways and plazas – by providing varying seating environments with power and Wi-Fi access.

Through flexible programming, retail developments encourage repeat visits by offering a revolving schedule of events in amenity spaces.  One Paseo, a mixed-use development in San Diego designed by Ware Malcomb, hosts a variety of functions in the retail village. The range of activities includes art exhibits, yoga classes, arts and crafts workshops and brand awareness events for specific retailers; continually providing new experiences for visitors.

One Paseo

Retailers are also placing an emphasis on omnichannel customer engagement, where they are able to provide multiple, coordinated outlets for interaction. Warby Parker, for example, conducts the majority of its sales online but still operates physical retail locations which allow customers to view products in person. Other retailers offer additional points of interaction through apps, order pickup lockers or pop up locations.

By providing a variety of peripheral incentives for customers to visit brick and mortar locations, the retail industry has continued to draw customers to storefronts. With remote work being the office counterpart to online shopping, what lessons can office learn from retail to draw the workforce back?

Office can borrow from the success of retail’s approach. Through placemaking, building owners and developers can encourage people to return to the office.  One tactic can be to curate leasing efforts to provide complementary uses such as restaurants, daycares, gyms or grocery stores.  Adding these types of tenants creates a convenience factor for the office workforce and helps integrate office buildings into the surrounding community. A centralized destination for work and errands also appeals to those looking to reduce the number of trips out of the home for health and safety concerns.

The Glen Lifestyle Center

Flexible programming such as live music, fitness classes, food truck plazas and other community events incentivize repeat visits to the office by offering a new experience each time, a refreshing change from the monotony of work from home.

An omnichannel office approach will provide tenants multiple ways to work and interact with their building and community, outside of the traditional office setting. Amenity areas can be designed to serve a variety of purposes, functioning as both collaborative work areas and lounges.  Tenant suites that connect to outdoor spaces allow employees different opportunities for their work environment while also accommodating social distancing and occupancy requirements.


Taking this approach into consideration, new office construction must keep in mind flexibility, creating a building infrastructure that will allow tenants to expand and contract the way they use space. This could be done through operable walls, both interior and exterior, that allow the space to transform based on needs.  Collaboration and meeting spaces that can be shared by multiple tenants can replace dedicated conference rooms which take up valuable square footage and are only used intermittently. For existing office buildings trying to entice tenants, these amenity spaces should be a priority.  Investing in areas that provide alternate places to work and interact or that can be reserved on a per-use basis by the tenants adds an entirely new dimension to the workplace.

Flyte, a 3-building creative office campus renovation recently completed by Ware Malcomb, includes a café, rotating food vendors and food track plaza, outdoor fitness classes and an amphitheater for events. Several outdoor seating areas and an outdoor meeting space provide multiple options to work.

Flyte Creative Office Campus

Establishing a leasing plan that emphasizes placemaking by including businesses like grocery stores, salons, daycare, or restaurants can help introduce complementary services not typical to an office environment. In addition, interstitial space must be considered as part of the programming. Exterior areas need to provide space for seating, but also for alternative uses such as farmers markets, exhibits or food trucks. Similar to retail developments, well-programmed outdoor areas and interstitial spaces can be keys to drawing people in.

As the office industry continues to adapt to the rise of work from home, these lessons from retail will be critical to increasing the value of physical office space to tenants. While office occupancy may be slow to return to the same level of occupancy it was before the pandemic, we can still design spaces to engage tenants through convenient amenities, entertainment, or alternate ways of working which will encourage a return to the workplace.