Companies are going retail style

November 15, 2022
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by Nellie Hayat, Density's Workplace Innovation Lead

Have you noticed that companies who are adopting remote-first or flexwork are also fighting over ground floor leases? It's odd, isn't it? Facebook, Google, Okta, Shopify have all recently opened multipurpose spaces in New York, Austin, and Los Angeles while allowing their entire staff to work from anywhere at any given time. Over the past few months, I've had the same conversations with hundreds of workplace leaders; they're all looking for the perfect mix of work flexibility while creating curated, branded spaces for in-person interactions.

One solution might be to go retail style. Indeed, the ground floor has always been reserved for retail, but we're now witnessing companies merging these places of sale with their places of work. They're mixing their employees and customers inside an immersive experience that has the comfort of your cozy corner coffee shop and the excitement of a product showroom.

There's a trend rising here. As we step closer to the metaverse and our world becomes more digitized, we'll need to create a reason for our communal spaces. The solution is the reincarnation of the brand experience, where employees and customers meet, mingle, and interact within a physical space.  

Brand and employee experience

Happy employees make happy customers. This truth is revealed in the surveys from the Best Companies to work at. Not only do these top companies dedicate resources to their employee experience, but they're also the ones reporting the most revenue, growth, innovation, and engagement from their customers. There is an undeniable correlation between the employee and customer experience.

"Shaping employee experiences through the framework of your brand helps find and retain the best and most committed talent for your organization. It attracts those whose values align, who possess an intuitive understanding of the brand, and who have an ability to interpret it at every customer touchpoint. This creates an improved customer experience." — Mark Attard, President of Livewire, Forbes contributor.

The Apple store might be the best example. There's a certain energy when you pass through those glass doors and surround yourself with their minimalist design. Employees, or so-called Geniuses, are troubleshooting problems with a smile on their face while customers are spending hours checking out the latest Apple Watch update or MacBook Pro. Inside, there's a sense of belonging, a world created by the Apple brand where everything is perfect, and everyone is magic.

The reinvention of our presence inside a space

Everyone had the same thought when the pandemic started, "Well if we're all working from home, can't we save millions by opting out of our office lease?" During the mass WFH exodus, we saw companies like Yelp and Mckesson Corp drastically cut down on their real estate portfolio and allow their employees to work from home. It was the obvious choice, but there may be an alternative.

Although companies can downsize their office spaces, they might be missing out on an opportunity to reinvent their brand and create an entirely new experience. It's not about minimizing your real estate portfolio, it's about maximizing the value you can provide for your employees and customers.

It's not about minimizing your real estate portfolio, it's about maximizing the value you can provide for your employees and customers.

Shopify has just opened a new space in NYC dedicated to its customers, employees, and fans. This 8,000 square-foot space is dedicated to their customers with on-hand support providing consulting and creative studios, while building pop-up shops for customers to try products. They're doubling down on their employee experience and at the same time providing workshops, classes, and recording studios for their customers.

The Shopify NY Podcast Studio

They are building an immersive experience bringing employees and customers together around the product, service, and brand they love. They're providing a space where customers can touch, feel, and test drive the brand while employees can engage and collect feedback on the product. Essentially, mixing employees and customers in a brand new experience because both groups need a good reason to leave their homes today.

"Experience" is the best new amenity you can offer

It is motivating to see companies renovate their spaces and design for new amenities, but the reality is that amenities solely won't bring employees back to the office. It'll be the experiences created by organizations and its teams. This is why we're seeing an overhaul of community managers, events planners, employee experience designers, and internal communication experts.  

We're seeing a massive change in how we use our office spaces, indicating the shift and focus on the employee experience. "What will our employees need when they come into the office?" "How can we re-engage and produce an experience worthwhile when they're here?"

As we adopt a more hybrid workforce and asynchronous work, we're accepting new spaces where employees can come and go as they please — much like customers do. Companies are answering the call and are now transforming reception areas into inviting coffee shop settings, opening storefronts inside of their offices, and providing space where customers and employees can interact. Okta's new office space is a prime example of fusing these two worlds under one roof.

"The unique space, which will cover more than 6,500 square feet, will feature advanced technology and tools to enable Okta customers, prospects, partners, and employees to experience Okta's products while also serving as a place for them to deepen connection and build community." — Armen Vartanian, Senior Vice President, Global Workplace Services, Okta.

There's no turning back. Companies are fully aware of the changes needed in order to keep their bottomline in the green and retain their best talent. In other words, they'll need to focus on their employees and customers. These groups are equally the two biggest assets of companies that have the greatest potential to become brand ambassadors. By offering a space for them to gather and meet, they're providing a foundation for brand love, new ideas, and new bonds.

But brand love relies on more than just a product or service. Today, people care about the identity of the brand, the kind of leaders behind the name, and the way they treat their employees. By focusing on creating an amazing experience for employees and customers, companies are investing in their long-term success.

A human touch

In a world becoming more and more "remote", people are craving connection, belonging, authenticity and community. So your best recipe: mixing fans, users, customers, employees and even shareholders in a curated environment, allowing them to bond over barista-made latte art, testing out the new product, getting some branded goodies at the store and why not recording an episode in the brand new podcast recording studio on the first floor. This is the recipe for success to increase your brand popularity, motivate your employees to deliver their best work,  and create a loyal customer base.

The future is now, and it's beautiful.