By Nancy Amdur
Finding well-located office space and then transforming that space to accurately reflect a company’s culture can be key factors in attracting and retaining talent, according to corporate real estate experts.
Curt Wilhelm of Electronic Arts, Inc. and Antonia Cardone of DTZ, Inc. are two Bay Area-based workplace strategists who excel at handling these types of challenges daily, and they are being recognized for their work as honorees of the 2014 Corporate Real Estate awards given by the Northern California chapter of CoreNet Global, the trade association for corporate real estate executives.
Wilhelm, Electronic Arts’ vice president of global real estate facilities and corporate services, will receive the group’s Corporate Real Estate Executive award and Cardone, DTZ’s senior vice president of workplace strategy, global corporate services, will receive the Service Provider award. The awards will be given at the 17th Annual CRE Awards Dinner Thursday, Nov. 20, at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.
Honorees are recognized for “how they’ve elevated corporate real estate,” said event Co-Chair Nancy Morse, a senior vice president at commercial real estate brokerage Newmark Cornish & Carey in Santa Clara. “It’s based on innovation, and what they’ve done creatively with the work that they’ve done.”
For Wilhelm, that work includes handling 67 offices globally for EA, a video game developer based in Redwood Shores.
When Wilhelm chooses and helps design office space, he turns to employees for input. Hence, each location is unique in its offerings.
“We’re talking to employees of that space in that location,” he said. “[We ask], ‘For your work environment, what’s important to you? What helps you? What do you need?’”
“We don’t approach it as a cookie-cutter view,” he added.
“Electronic Arts is reinventing the office look and feel every time they design an office,” Morse said.
Amenities such as access to restaurants and transportation are important, but more specifically for EA, the company requires space with enough power to support game development and the technology developers use regularly.
“Making sure [offices] have sufficient power, correct lighting and the right heating and cooling in the area is something that we work on all the time,” Wilhelm said.
The interior space also needs to be flexible enough to correlate with the company’s changing product line. For example, a team working on a soccer video game can sit in a room with sofas shaped like soccer goals, ball-shaped lights and Astroturf instead of carpet. Yet the room could easily be changed to match a new game the company introduces.
“We don’t have a standard furniture system,” Wilhelm said.
“Games are ever changing so we have to be able to be flexible and when something changes, we can easily go in there, change it up, and it’s fresh and new,” Wilhelm said. Staying connected with company executives and being able to move and change quickly is “my job day in and day out,” he said.
Creating office space that showcases a company’s image is something more businesses should focus on, said San Francisco-based Cardone, who leads the property services firm’s West Coast workplace strategy team and practice. Some companies tend to look at their peers for ideas on how to format space rather than thinking about what would work best for their individual company.
“Everybody is playing the ‘me, too’ game in relation to workplace strategies in the Bay Area these days. [Such as asking], ‘What do my neighbors have and how can I keep up with them, because I have to recruit people, too,’” she said. “It’s really hard to find examples of people who are seriously on the forefront of workplace innovation.”
A company might have “a technological vision, a customer vision and a revenue vision and then [say], ‘Just make the place as good as everybody else’s so that people are willing to come work here,’” Cardone said.
It’s also important for companies to look internally at how to ensure employees make the most of their time spent in the office, she added.
“The absolute best work environment I don’t believe is going to make as much difference as the most effective work environment,” she said.
“One of the biggest challenges is diagnosing what the company is trying to deal with and then being able to work with them to develop solutions,” she said.
If strong demand for office space continues in the supply-constrained San Francisco market, Cardone expects companies will begin looking beyond Class A high-rise or converted warehouse space to the “in-between” properties. This space might not have the curb appeal or high-quality finishes of other properties, but some are well located and are more readily available, she said.
“We’re going to see some of these in-between buildings looking to upgrade and improve to meet the demands of the tenants out there,” Cardone said.