As more employees return to the office, some are coming back to new workspaces. Why their employers signed new leases during the pandemic is telling when it comes to talent attraction, retention and more.

Betting on Brooklyn

Key Hall has seen a desire to reconnect with coworkers among her employees at Cowtan & Tout, which makes textile designs from artwork and documents as prints, silks, sheers, trimmings and wallpaper.

During the pandemic, facing an expiring lease and the need to move, Hall, the company’s CEO, made the decision to relocate the business to Industry City in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. That wasn’t a decision that came easily, considering the business had previously had its offices in what were each at the time up-and-coming Manhattan neighborhoods: the Meatpacking District, Chelsea and Tribeca.

“If you said the B word in our office, literally, you probably would have had 15 resignations,” Hall said. “It wasn’t the mindset. We had people that live in Manhattan, people that live on the Upper East Side. Anybody that’s operational is living in the Bronx or in Queens.”

But when Hall toured Industry City, she said she could feel the energy of the campus and believed it could be the right fit for her team, both for the corporate and warehousing sides of the business. After a few more visits, she was convinced.

“[I told my boss], ‘We’re not going somewhere that doesn’t create the kind of atmosphere that I want going forward and that is collaborative, exciting, energetic. There has to be something that draws you in, you have to have community, and I felt the Industry City community straightaway,’ ” Hall said. “So I pulled the trigger.”

The company, a subsidiary of the Colefax Group, signed a lease for 23,000 square feet in January 2021.

Some workers are now permanently remote, either because they’ve relocated, their functions made sense as teleworking roles, or they’d have a particularly long commute to Sunset Park. The rest of the team has embraced the office, Hall said. About 28 people come in each day between the corporate and warehouse teams.

“You can only look at your own four walls for so long,” she said. “Zooming with my colleagues, I’m going to fall asleep half the time. You walk from one side of the office to the other, something [sparks] a great idea. Something happens on-site, you see the way things work. You’re much closer to how people’s moods are, what’s inspiring them, what’s motivating them, and I would never have somebody come into the office that didn’t want to be there.”

Reopening the office has been particularly popular among younger staffers, who Hall said are there every day because they want that energy of being in the office and seeing their coworkers. More senior employees come in a few days a week.

“The minute you get off your transportation and you walk into Industry City and you walk into the space, it’s magic, and you’re happy to be there,” Hall said.

Taking up (more) space

The leader of another company that has moved to Industry City, furniture rental and sales company ZZ Driggs, also faced a moment during the pandemic when she had to decide whether to renew an existing lease or relocate.

ZZ Driggs has doubled the size of its team over the past calendar year and is hiring for five roles now. With the company outgrowing its previous space, the timing made sense to move somewhere as large as the 6 million-square-foot campus, where the company could expand in partnership with its new landlords. CEO Whitney Falk said that’s already paid off, considering that more space may already be necessary less than a year after taking 7,000 square feet.

ZZ Driggs uses the space for storage of its furniture, a photography studio and offices.

The location of the campus has worked well for ZZ Driggs’ employees, many of whom are in Brooklyn or lower Manhattan, making commuting easy, Falk said. The community of design tenants at the campus was another big perk.

Beyond that, Falk said the amenities at Industry City have been great for employees, too, like having places to grab a bite to eat or pick up a gift for a dinner party.

ZZ Driggs today employs 16 people. Currently about 10 to 12 staff members come to the office space each week.

“There’s a number of us that are going into this space because meetings are better served to when you’re all working together,” Falk said. “We are actively speaking with IC about potential expansion because there’s more people returning to work, and there’s more of a need for housing more furniture.”

This is an excerpt from the original New York Business Jourl story published on March 24, 2022; to read the full article, click here.

Learn more about leasing space at IC here.

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