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Suburban Office Parks on the Decline

Offices set in a suburban cultural desert are not high on the list of preferences for today's employees

The suburban office park, of the type popularized in the 1980s and ’90s and the subject of many an office comedy ever since, is the latest victim in millennials’ shake-up of American business, according to an article in Business Insider. Companies find they can’t entice younger employees to live in a suburban environment like they could a generation ago.

“Companies want to move to areas where millennials are located,” Robert Bach, director of research at real-estate advisors Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, tells the magazine. In 2015, Bach’s firm published a report on the state of office parks around the US. It concluded that between 14% and 22% of the “suburban inventory” in the country faced a degree of risk in becoming obsolete. Some parks needed only cosmetic changes, while those beyond help were better suited to being rebuilt altogether.

The report found that two main factors could predict that level of obsolescence: proximity to mass transit and access to amenities like lunch and shopping. Bach says it’s no coincidence that fitness-focused and food-savvy millennials share those preferences.

The influence that millennials wield is so great that the power has shifted into the hands of employees. “It used to be businesses determining where people worked,” Bach says. Companies would build a sprawling campus in the suburbs and thousands of people would flock there to buy homes. Today, in many cases the roles are reversed.

Employees Have the Upper Hand

Indeed, employers are increasingly going where the talent is, rather than talent going where the jobs are. In the past year, major companies, including GE and McDonald’s, have moved their corporate headquarters from the suburban campuses they called home for decades to new downtown digs in major city centers. These relocations are being incorporated into broader efforts by legacy companies to update their employer brands and attract the creative, innovative, and tech-savvy candidates they need.

Millennial preferences are certainly helping to drive this trend away from the suburban office, but another factor that could be be contributing is that today’s workforce is increasingly capable of working from anywhere, to the point that employers and their employees don’t always need to be in the same place.

The advent of the remote workforce means companies won’t always need to locate strategically: In many industries, it’s increasingly possible to hire employees or contract with freelancers anywhere in the world and let them work from a home, as more and more Americans today are doing.

Either way, as companies think about the employee value proposition – the set of attributes employees see as the “value” they gain through employment with a company – they put forward to the labor market, it’s unlikely that a dull suburban office removed from any sense of community will cut it.


More On…

  • Employee Value Proposition

    Learn how to use EVP to attract and retain employees.

  • CEB Talent Daily

    This post was originally published on CEB Talent Daily, a provider of daily news and analysis on the world of talent management.

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