Quality, culture and community – that’s what modern occupiers want

| Leanne Forshaw Jones

Quality, culture, and community are essential when creating spaces that appeal to modern workers, something our client Rob Morton explores in this new article.

Rob is an investment manager at CEG, an investment and development company with a nationwide portfolio of approximately six million sq ft of space, home to around 500 businesses. Here, he talks about creating spaces that cater for a new working era, and the importance of partnering with proactive and highly experienced agents.

The values, attitudes, and behaviours that define today’s working environments have changed greatly, with modern businesses prioritising flexibility and the work-life balance of their colleagues.

The physical working environment is a big contributor to a company achieving these goals, meaning that workspaces are put under more scrutiny than ever before. Occupiers want great aesthetics, a great location, and more importantly than all – a base which fosters community and collaboration.

CEG’s commitment to occupiers

It’s something that’s particularly important to CEG. Our national portfolio is filled with great businesses, and we invest heavily to ensure that our buildings help them operate well – helping them retain their staff, attract new colleagues, and operate in a sustainable way.

CEG’s deep understanding of its occupiers is a result of a skilled in-house team of sustainability experts, interior designers, and investment managers, who tirelessly monitor our portfolio. That in-house team is bolstered by an equally impressive supply-chain – notably top-notch agents like Canning O’Neill, with whom we have established a longstanding working partnership in Greater Manchester.

The role of a good agent

Canning O’Neill not only help us attract new tenants to buildings like 196 Deansgate, a prominent building in the centre of the city that’s packed with heritage, Altrincham Business Park, or Jackson House in Sale, but their local market knowledge gives us the confidence to invest in them too.

Jackson House is an interesting example of this. Once occupied by call centre organisations, it arguably lacked culture and vibrancy and, when a significant  occupier went into administration and a lease break option was exercised at another, we suddenly found ourselves with 60% of vacant space.

We therefore managed a £6m investment programme to rejuvenate this building. Canning O’Neill was key in guiding us through what tenants wanted – forget the four walls and blue carpets of old, we knew that Jackson House could redefine workspace for Sale town centre, with something new and beautifully designed that would appeal to occupiers, their staff, and future talent.

In 2019, the refurbishment  of the 130,000 sq ft building began, resulting not only in top-tier workspaces, but also a range of amenities, including a fully equipped gym with scheduled classes throughout the week, a café, cycle hub, garden, leisure club quality changing facilities and lockers, event and meeting space. The culture is thriving now, and there is a greater sense of engagement amongst those working in such a modern, high-quality environment..

The cost of quality

Although the improvements resulted in rent increases, we noticed a trend among occupiers willing to pay more for higher quality spaces that foster a sense of community and wellbeing.

Our partnership with Canning O’Neill was instrumental, they were able to add further value through  knowledge of local rents and terms  and helped us sell our unique ‘Let Ready’ product, which provides occupiers with fully furnished, ready to move in space with three-year leases and annual break options.

Canning O’Neill’s strength in this area isn’t just confined to Jackson House; the team’s knowledge in other markets, including at 196 Deansgate in Manchester, has helped us usher in changes coupled with rent rises, that again have been well received. That’s come from a strong foundation of trust and collaboration with our agents and with our occupiers.

What else do occupiers want?

That trust will only deepen if CEG continues to show occupiers that we truly do want our spaces to be the best, and while aesthetics are important, we know there is more we can offer.

Getting greener is key here and we have implemented energy-efficient measures in our buildings in recent years.

Health, wellbeing and sustainability were a key focus of the refurbishment. Power is sourced from a 100% renewable tariff, 100% of waste diverted from landfill and the EV charging, bike and shower facilities enhance sustainable commuting.

Energy efficient lighting, heating and ventilation solutions and new feature ‘pop out’ thermally efficient windows, have all significantly improved the energy rating of the building from an EPC D rating to EPC A. As well as reducing customer’s operating costs, this has delivered an appealing working environment for staff.

Tenants have control of the building management system and, through education, are further helping to reduce the building’s operational footprint – helping workspace be part of a company’s ESG.

The same goes for 196 Deansgate where all electricity comes from 100% renewable sources, while all shared spaces in Altrincham Business Park are powered by renewable sources.

Positive workplace wellbeing is also crucial, and as landlords, we recognise the need to promote it. To that end, we have hired community managers, front-of-house people who bring people in our buildings together. It’s a big investment and one that has seen us recruit from non-property talent pools – notably the hospitality sector. I believe the property elements can be learned further down the track, and it’s more important that our tenants benefit from a brilliant smiling face each day, someone committed to events and interesting activities that continue to help business owners as they lure colleagues away from home and back into the office more regularly. Take Jackson House, where a member of our on-site Life team welcomes tenants each day and works to make their lives easier, happier and healthier,  planning regular events that are really popular and forge relationships that wed occupiers to the building.

While our in-house team has played a crucial role in driving changes across CEG buildings, we welcome  the  significant contribution from partners like Canning O’Neill.

Working together, we are strengthened and better equipped to navigate the challenges and opportunities ahead, providing well-designed, inspiring workspaces that help modern businesses thrive.

Find out more about CEG here.