Hybrid horizons: How 3 Manhattan office tenants are retooling the workplace

Balancing flexibility and culture, employers reckon with what the office actually means to their businesses

New York Issue /
Jul.July 21, 2021 03:16 PM

Deutsche Bank Center, formerly known as the Time Warner Center

Like countless Manhattan office workers, employees at professional services firm Mazars USA are returning to a Midtown workplace notably different from the one many of them left behind last year. The most immediately significant change: no more assigned seating.

Desks adorned with family photos and personalized coffee mugs are out; in are smart lockers, seating options from high-back breakroom rocking chairs to outdoor terraces, and hydraulic workstations with ultra-wide computer monitors.

Mazars is one of several employers that now find themselves in a debate over the role of the workplace in their businesses. To strike the right balance between flexibility and culture (and potentially reduce overhead costs), nearly three-quarters of Manhattan office tenants plan to adopt a rotating or “hybrid” office model, under which employees can continue to work remotely, but only for a few days a week, according to a recent survey by the Partnership for New York City.

One of the primary challenges these companies face is how to manage the hybrid model “so that not all employees come in on the same day,” said Jamie Feuerborn, a workplace strategist with architectural firm Ted Moudis Associates, whose clients include Mazars. “And how you make sure that you’re building team camaraderie in the physical space.”

Efficiency rules

In late June, the Legal Aid Society, which provides legal services for clients who cannot afford to pay for counsel, was deliberating how to implement a hybrid model when the nonprofit’s offices officially reopen this fall.

Chief Operating Officer Archana Jayaram said the nonprofit’s 2,200 staffers adapted well to remote work during the pandemic, and many want to maintain that arrangement. 

Come September, the law firm plans to have a flexible working model for those who want it. Though details are yet to be finalized, if employees choose their schedule to be less than a few days a week in the office, they are likely to be part of a “hoteling” group, meaning they won’t have assigned seating and will have to reserve desks before coming in.

This system will help alleviate the nonprofit’s space crunch, particularly at its Downtown Manhattan offices that have been at capacity, Jayaram said.

The hybrid model will be carried over to the firm’s future 200,000-square-foot office at 49 Thomas Street, also known as 40 Worth Street. The nonprofit currently has a 76,600-square-foot office in the GFP Real Estate-managed building, but with the lease expiring in October 2023, it recently signed a 30-year expansion deal to consolidate its three other Downtown offices under the same roof.

In the coming months, the added space will undergo renovation, with the first phase move-in happening by the end of 2022. Renovation of the existing office will follow and be completed in 2023.

The future office is about 19,000 square feet smaller than the old offices combined. By eliminating duplicate facilities such as reception areas, the new space will offer more communal areas where people can gather to work together.

“We’re a nonprofit,” Jayaram said. “We want to be extremely responsible and careful about building more space than we need.”

A “sense of purpose”

Attracting staffers back to the office became a priority for Mazars’ renovation of its 85,000-square-foot office at George Comfort & Sons’ 135 West 50th Street.

Mazars designed the new space in late 2019 and took remote working into consideration even before the pandemic. The firm’s staffers — who provide services such as auditing, accounting and consulting — often spent time away from their desks, visiting clients or attending training sessions. No more than 60 percent of its 400 New York City-based employees were in the office on a typical day.

The pandemic proved that the flexible working model works, said Mazars’ Chief Operating Officer James Blake, but the experience also showed that having people together in the office is vital for mentorship and apprenticeship, important aspects of the company’s culture.

“It’s not just what you learn in the classroom or at training sessions, but it’s on-the-job training,” said Blake, who believes that the office environment helps cultivate collaboration, innovation and creativity.

The firm still maintains a flexible working style, but with the new office design, it aims to create a “sense of purpose for you to come back,” he added.

In a flexible setting, employees reserve a workstation for the day, but providing additional meeting rooms and seating options where they can work from “helps lend itself to a better experience for employees,” said Ted Moudis Associates’ Feuerborn.

Mazars’ new office — which has been open since last July while social distancing — is filled with natural light from big windows. Staffers have plenty of additional seating options in the cafe, breakout rooms and outdoor terraces if they want to work away from their reserved workstations. Meeting rooms of different sizes are equipped with videoconferencing technologies, along with writable walls on which employees can easily exchange ideas.

“We’re seeing people come back more for the collaboration than they are for just the daily use of the facility to do their individual work,” Blake said.

Coming attractions

Deutsche Bank, the last major bank with a Wall Street address, was in the midst of designing its new 1 million-plus-square-foot office at the former Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle when the pandemic hit. In the works since 2018, the original plan was to move 5,000 employees at 60 Wall Street, its current North American headquarters, uptown to the Related Companies-owned mixed-use complex by the third quarter of 2021.

As a vast majority of its employees worked from home, the bank reevaluated what its future office might look like. With an understanding that employees can work efficiently while remote, and that some might prefer to maintain the lifestyle after the pandemic, the office design was updated to invest in convertible work spaces amenable to videoconferencing technology.

About 10 percent of the workforce — people whose jobs require them to be in the office for regulatory compliance reasons — have already been back at work at 60 Wall, and when the new office opens at the now-renamed Deutsche Bank Center complex after Labor Day, they will be there full-time. But other employees can work remotely two to three days a week, depending on their roles.

A spokesperson for the bank familiar with the office design confirmed there will be seating for all staff, whether or not they work from the office every day. The office will also feature co-working spaces and is designed to be “very flexible compared to the more traditional office spaces of the past.”

The top attraction will be a trading floor and three massive outdoor terraces overlooking Central Park where staffers can bring their laptop computers to work. Wi-Fi enabled, the terraces can accommodate up to 650 people at once.

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