The concept includes hotel-style lobbies, gyms, activities to allow employees to socialize and learn, changing rooms with towel services, lockers, showers, bicycle storage facilities, wellness therapists, conference centres, lounges, meeting rooms and game rooms.
It’s being trotted out in large office buildings managed by Canderel.
“We’ve obviously been having these challenges post-pandemic attracting employees back to the office,” Canderel CEO Brett Miller says.
“The dialogue that we hear most often from corporations and even within the real estate industry is ‘Employee, get back to the office, we need you.’ It’s kind of a demanding tone.”
Miller says employees’ needs and perspectives should be considered instead. Companies should look at the return on investment from coming to the office when workers can easily do their job at home.
The office is more than just a desk
He says the office building should be seen as much more than just a desk at work, but essential to employees’ lives in terms of their abilities to connect, socialize, learn, keep active and nurture their overall wellness.
“Call it the club away from home,” Miller says of Okkto. “It’s about creating an environment where there’s a synergy between work and life. Work happens at home now and life also happens in the office.”
All the large office buildings Canderel manages are being considered for Okkto, including 1981 McGill College Avenue, 2000 McGill College Avenue and 2020 Robert-Bourassa Boulevard in Montreal, 777 Bay Street in Toronto and 3500 Steeles Avenue East in Markham.
The concept works best in properties with 300,000 or 400,000-plus square feet, Miller says. “It’s hard to have the array of services and the large staff that it takes in small buildings in the suburbs with 100,000 square feet.”
Change comes with a price
Converting office buildings to the Okkto concept isn’t cheap – a lobby renovation can cost several million dollars, building out a gym costs at least $250,000 and a conference facility can cost more than $500,000.
“These decisions aren’t made lightly and the owner of the building has to make the decision to provide that quality environment and invest in the property," Miller says.
"We are convinced that it is a very high return on investment because happy employees, make happy tenants, who improve the revenue of the property.”
“The phones literally have been ringing off the hook as word spreads about Okkto)," Miller says. “We’re getting a number of owners for whom we don’t manage calling us to say, Hey, can we introduce Okkto in their buildings?”
“Our leasing teams are obviously very excited about this because they’re not just selling the square footage; now they’re selling an experience.
“We feel that’s a very significant value add to the tenant and will help us attract more demand.”
Miller notes Okkto’s components have existed in other buildings for years, “but what I suppose is innovative about this is that it’s pulled together as a real package and a declaration to employees to say, ‘Hey this building caters to you, the occupant and employee.’
"It’s a real differentiator.”
Before introducing Okkto, Canderel conducted focus groups with tenants and employees, and Miller and Canderel’s property management team toured some of the newest office towers in cities like New York and Chicago.
Just about all the triple-A towers delivered in the U.S. in the last few years have very high-end features, he says, including facilities that would rival those in the best hotels or third-party conference centres.
Office buildings with a comforting feel
Lobbies in buildings that convert to the Okkto concept will be welcoming, unlike those in the past which were conceived to impress, intimidate and avoid loitering, Miller says.
“It should kind of feel like it’s coming to a place like it’s home. So, it’s soft, it’s inviting, it has sound, it has an aroma and there’s a concierge to say 'hello.' ”
Miller notes that when you walk into a boutique or hotel, “it smells really nice. It’s the same thing with the scent we want to put into the lobbies.” Canderel is still experimenting to find the Okkto aroma.
In the buildings that have had their lobbies redone, “you see employees sitting around, chatting, hanging out . . . impromptu meetings, having a coffee. It’s got a very different feel than a typical office building.”
Okkto buildings will also have wellness providers from naturopaths and nutritionists to physiotherapists.
Employee activities will include yoga classes (all to date have sold out), walking clubs at lunch hour, book clubs, courses, and activities intertwined with the food and beverage offerings in the buildings.
Miller says surveys and focus groups will be conducted to assess Okkto’s success.
“It’s new, it’s exciting, it’s very appealing. We’re tweaking the concept as we learn.”