Toronto office space unrecognizable from years past

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Office spaces have evolved from years past—gone is the dreaded cubical—into open concept spaces and, increasingly, co-working environments.

At a panel discussion in downtown Toronto yesterday morning called Toronto Workplace of the Future and hosted by Bisnow, the city’s rise as a global commerce hub was front and centre, as was the fierce competition for talent.

“It’s become about the chase for talent—companies want distinct spaces that will enhance their image to entice new employees,” said Tom Burns, COO of Allied Properties REIT. “It’s amazing what some tenants do to their space; we have a tech tenant in Montreal that built a halfpipe skateboard facility into the space with beer taps all over the place.”

But the competitive edge companies are looking for also extends to building architecture and subtle amenities.

“Deloitte is a really good example of a tenant in the professional services sector that accommodates employees in unique environments,” said Burns. “I know when they compete with peers in their space, employees want to work for them because they have a really cool space. I see pressure on developers and landlords to start building unique office spaces.”

Another key feature is collective access to natural lighting, rather than it remaining the traditional domain of the lucky few seated next to large windows.

“A few years ago we worked with moving Imperial Oil out of downtown Calgary and into a suburban site where we built five buildings that were each five storeys,” said Joe Pettipas, global director of the interior design group at IBI Group. “The key wellness approach to the buildings was to create an environment that was universal to all occupants in the buildings—essentially having the right to light. We gave them full-height glazed buildings, with eight-foot wide ceilings populated by sofa chairs so that everybody had access to the windows. There was also a café on every floor of every building and they were centred around staircases, making them the main mode of transportation throughout every building.”

Landlords are obviously incentivized by making the workspaces as dense as possible to maximize occupancy numbers, but Aly Damji, executive vice president of investments and asset management at Hullmark Developments, says some are sacrificing entire floors to maximize ceiling heights in order to placate tenants. It’s just one of the ways construction in Toronto is changing.

“It’s making groups think about construction materials and the approaches they take,” he said. “I’m hearing about prefab construction occurring more and more, but nobody has taken it on yet in the commerce sense in Toronto, however, that day is coming soon.”