Need a Lunchtime Companion at Work? Check the Office App


Landlords are realizing that apps for employees increasingly are the hubs of the new workplace ecosystem



Peter Grant

May 29, 2018 3:46 p.m. ET


A new weapon is emerging in the amenities arms race among office landlords: mobile apps for tenants.


Consider CIBC Square, a pair of office towers being developed in downtown Toronto by a partnership of Ivanhoé Cambridge and Hines. It will be anchored by the world headquarters of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce . The 3 million square-foot complex, to be completed in 2023, will offer the bank and other tenants many of the standard amenities of top-grade office developments these days, such as a gym, conference center, food hall and elevated park.


But the landlord and bank also are developing a workplace app that will be given to most employees in the complex. While its exact features haven’t been determined, it will likely enable workers to do such things as book meeting rooms and fitness classes, change the lighting and temperature at their desks, book cars, order food and even arrange babysitters or find a lunch companion.


“We’re not managing buildings anymore. We’re five-star hoteliers,” said Jonathan Pearce, executive vice president of North American leasing for Ivanhoé Cambridge, which is considering offering similar apps throughout its 35 million square feet of office properties. “The app is the ecosystem that essentially brings all the amenities together.”


Many of the world’s largest landlords are realizing that. Mobile apps also have been rolled out, or are being developed or considered, by such giants as Brookfield Property Partners LP, Blackstone Group LP, Jamestown and Tishman Speyer.


Real-estate services firms also are getting into the workplace app. For example, CBRE Group Inc. has started to roll out an app in office buildings it manages that enables workers to do such things as order food, find colleagues or book meeting rooms. In the future, CBRE plans to expand it to include a wide range of services.


Workwell, a tech startup with offices in New York and Paris, last year launched an “open platform” office app that can be layered with whatever services landlords and tenants want to add. It’s currently in use in about 20 buildings in France, including some owned by the country’s biggest landlords.


“Basically, the idea is for a building to become a hub for services,” said Paul Dupuy, Workwell’s co-founder. “As some point the landlord is going to be able to monetize all these services and create new revenue.”


The evolution of office apps is part of a broader transformation of the office space industry. Landlords and tenants have been redesigning the workplace to appeal to a younger workforce by adding new approaches to architecture, amenities and technology.


Workplace apps issued to employees increasingly are becoming the hub of the new workplace ecosystem. They range from those with a few features—such as getting through building security and booking a conference room—to those that alert employees to lectures and classes in the area based on their interests.



Meantime, landlords and real estate management companies are using apps as a competitive advantage. For example, CBRE is developing its app as part of a broader service, named CBRE 360, which helps tenants reimagine their modern workplaces.


“Gyms are great and restaurants are important,” said Andrew Kupiec, the former Zipcar Inc. executive recruited by CBRE to lead the effort. But increasingly, top talent is gravitating to employers that have “integrated social workforces” enabled by tools like apps, he said.


“This will be the standard that is requested by the company on the occupier side and on the investor side that enhances their brand and their culture,” Mr. Kupiec said.


To be sure, giving employees apps and getting them to use them are two different things. The road to perdition in the technology business is littered with ideas that sounded great in concept but flopped in execution.


Also, employees sometimes are wary about new technology given to them by their bosses in the brave new world of office space. Some workplaces, for example, have seen uproars over sensors that can determine such things as how much time workers spend at their desks.


App designers say they’re sensitive to the need to limit the reach of big brother. For example, Workwell is designing its app so employees are anonymous and bosses “won’t be able to know who ate lunch with whom,” Mr. Dupuy said.


“As long as data is anonymous, customers are safe,” he said.


Write to Peter Grant at [email protected]


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