Workplaces Take a Cue from College Campuses to Recruit Millennials

To understand what features and amenities will drive growth in these neighborhoods, there’s no better place to look than a large university campus.

Scott Matthews, Bentall KennedyWhenever my business travels take me near a college or university, I try to make time to look around the campus. No, I’m not planning to enroll. My interest is in urban live-work-play neighborhoods that are the focus of commercial real estate development and investment activity. To understand what features and amenities will drive growth in these neighborhoods, I believe there’s no better place to look than a large university campus.

It’s remarkable how many companies, especially those in tech-related fields, are using their real estate to attract employees. Look at any company’s recruiting page, and there’s a good chance you’ll see pictures of employees working in bright, open offices and informal outdoor settings. The message is clear: Working here is an enjoyable experience as well as a good career move. It’s not a coincidence that this sounds like the pitch that colleges and universities make to prospective students.

A university campus in an urban setting is the ultimate live-work-play experience. Dormitories, classrooms, restaurants and social and public spaces are all within walking or biking distance, so students don’t need to own cars or spend a lot of time getting places. After four years of this convenient, sustainable lifestyle, it’s no wonder many graduates like to extend the experience into their working years.

As parents of college-bound children know, the decision to attend one institution over another depends in large part on the way the student connects with the campus environment. Universities try to come up with amazing or unique features to attract the students they want. Dormitories increasingly resemble resorts, with recreational and social amenities that they hope will draw residents. And campuses pursue sustainability programs to capitalize on young people’s concerns about the environment.

The attraction to sustainable urban neighborhoods can be viewed as an outgrowth of these higher education trends. So it’s no surprise that the rock-climbing walls found at many universities are now showing up at corporate campuses and in multi-tenant office buildings.

To lease apartments and office space in sustainable urban neighborhoods, landlords must offer amenities and features that not only meet the standards of the market, but also impress residents and employees. Jumping on the bandwagon is not good enough—to succeed, owners need to drive the bandwagon.

Coming up with fresh ideas to make one property stand out against the competition carries an element of risk. What if Millennials don’t care about the amenity you invested significant capital to install? But that risk is all but eliminated if the amenity has proven to be affective in another setting. And what setting might that be? If you haven’t figured out the answer yet, maybe you need to go back to school.

Scott Matthews is senior vice president, Asset Management at Bentall Kennedy (U.S.) Limited Partnership.