Take Akamai Technologies, the moved to a gleaming headquarters in Kendall Square in the fall of 2019. The company designed the building and wove an “aka miles” walkway through its 19 floors. But today, only a fraction of that space is ever occupied, and 95 percent of Akamai employees can work remotely for as long as they want.
“We’ve seen people continue to do their jobs very well remotely,” said Khalil Smith, vice president of inclusion, diversity, and engagement at Akamai. “It was less about looking over people’s shoulders or bringing them back to these beautiful offices that we built.”
So what about his 15-year, $700 million lease with Boston Properties?
What was a building just for Akamai is now a building internally remodeled: four of the 19 floors will be sublet to other tenants while the remaining space will be reconfigured by Akamai, now that staff don’t use it as much anymore.
The new floorplan includes “a high level of unassigned seating,” said John Civello, Akamai’s vice president of global real estate and workplace productivity. Employees who commit to coming four days a week are given their own desk; Everyone else selects a desk from Akamai’s internal intranet for the days they’re in the office.
“If we just sent everyone back to their old places … you might not see another person all day,” Civello said. “We just needed to make this transition to ensure employees had a decent experience when they came in.”
Akamai is one of several large employers in the Boston area that are similarly precarious Positions: They made major real estate commitments just prior to COVID-19 and now need to create a workplace that employees will want to return to and one that justifies the investment they originally made.
In fact, even two years after the initial COVID lockdowns were eased, many Boston office buildings are still far from full.
In downtown Boston, offices are operating at 30 to 35 percent of their daily pre-pandemic occupancy, according to estimates and employee access data Maps tracked by real estate company Newmark. The offices in the suburbs, on the other hand, are more or less half full. Fewer people come on Mondays and Fridays, said Liz Berthelette, Newmark’s director of research.
State Street Corp., which moved into new headquarters in 2019 in the One Congress Tower currently under construction, is also rethinking its office design. The new room is centered on an unassigned desk arrangement to accommodate those coming in the freedom to work from different spaces throughout the day, said Dustin Sarnoski, the company’s head of global realty.
There will be four types of workstations: a standard desk; a pod-style bench area with no computer monitors to distract from collaborative work; Desk space with head down and short dividers that limit interaction with others; and airport lounge-style seats with no power outlets, which allow for a quick seat with nice views, but aren’t a place to post all day.
The One Congress room that State Street plans to move into next year will serve as a test case for how all of the financial services giant’s locations will look and feel post-pandemic.
“So we’re using that to inform design decisions elsewhere in the world,” Sarnoski said. “This is our best seat.”
With strict attendance rules off the table, companies are under increasing pressure to make offices a place where people actually want to be.
At Meta’s office in Kendall Square, it’s the cafeteria dubbed the “Hack Shack” that brings employees back. On a recent weekday, more than 150 people turned up at lunchtime and filled trays with free helpings of tofu tikka masala, soft shell crab sandwiches and tiramisu.
Kim Wilson, Site Manager at the Cambridge office For the company formerly known as Facebook, employees are increasingly choosing to work from the office a few days a week.
“People will come over for a meeting sometime,” she said. “And then they’re like, ‘Oh, I miss it,’ and they start coming in regularly.”
Meta, which employs about 500 people locally, recently signed a lease that will triple its office space in Kendall Square – a statement about the future of in-person work. But Meta isn’t requiring employees to return to the office until early July, and even then, it will only require them to work in person about half their time.
Cambridge-based CarGurus is asking employees to come into the office two days a week starting this month. Employees who come will receive a $15 lunch stipend. Parking fees are also covered, and the company offers membership to a local gym nearby.
So far, the commute has been the biggest obstacle Bringing employees back, but the perks are helping, Chief Executive Jason Trevisan said. Face-to-face work will only help with mentoring, employee engagement and efficiency, he said. In fact, the company is so optimistic about personal work that it’s held on to a pre-pandemic lease for more than 225,000 square feet at a main building under construction in Back Bay.
“So many things that currently take 30 minutes Zooms can be covered in a five-minute conversation, and you can do it by walking past someone’s desk,” Trevisan said.
Of course, some executives still wonder if it’s worth paying for unused office space.
Matt Carroll, CEO of Boston-based software company Immuta, uses a philosophy he calls “The Birds” to describe different types of employees: “Eagle” make quick decisions, “Owl” prefer to huddle in silence, “Parrot” enjoy collaboration with others. No team, no two employees, he added, are the same.
“It’s easy for people to say, ‘Come back to the office,’ or ‘Don’t come back,’ or ‘Go hybrid,'” he said. “But I think the future of offices … is that every employee has an individual plan.”
On a weekday, there were a few dozen workers at Immuta’s headquarters. They had impromptu conversations at each other’s desks, met in face-to-face and hybrid meetings, and grabbed food and coffee from the kitchen.
Immuta grew from about 15 employees in Boston to more than 60 during COVID and has leased a 16,000 square foot office in the Seaport District. Although staff aren’t required to come, many do, including Bob Boule, 49, who travels in from Leominster several times a week.
“I’ve struggled a bit during the pandemic because zoom has been a difficult method of communication for me,” says Boule. said a senior product manager. “I’ve spent my entire career going into an office and being able to sit down with people.”
Before joining Immuta, Boule worked in the Boston suburbs for 15 years. Though his commute was a shorter commute, he said, “Burlington isn’t exactly the cultural Mecca of the state.” Coming to Boston allows him to be more social after work, whether that means having a beer with a co-worker or at a Red Sox game to go.
“I just get up early so I can avoid all the traffic,” Boule said.
Anissa Gardizy can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8 and on Instagram @anissagardizy.journalism. Catherine Carlock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @bycathcarlock.