Irvine Company’s own twist on the creative-office trend is gaining ground.
The Newport Beach-based real estate developer, which owns about 500 office buildings around the country, will double the number of outdoor meeting areas at its properties to 29 by summer’s end, including six new locations in Orange County.
The Commons—think of them as mini public squares where one would stop by to people watch or enjoy a cup of coffee, except most of them come with modern kitchen appliances, Wi-Fi, digital displays and charging stations.
It’s a high-end take on outdoor workspaces that are increasingly incorporated into the area’s growing batch of creative-office buildings.
“There’s so much technology out there that allows people to remote-in, and so a lot of our employers were saying that their workplace needs to be about connections, about bringing employees together to collaborate and to create things they couldn’t just do sitting by themselves,” said Lauren Kelly, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Irvine Co.’s office properties.
Her team drew inspiration from commons often found at universities. The outdoor areas are a “good way to pull people out of their cubes, out of the conference room, and generate what I like to call ‘casual collisions,’” she said.
“It’s really a space that can be reserved, but fundamentally it’s about being more impromptu and being able to just take a break from whatever routine you’ve got to come outside … The desk and the workspace at the desk is becoming a smaller component of what people really are trying to use to be most effective.”
The first batch of The Commons sprouted about two years ago when the office division noticed that employers “seem to care a little bit less about how many hours someone’s working and more about what ideas are they generating,” Kelly said, adding that “they’re very supportive of environments like The Commons because they know that that’s going to help fuel better ideas. Getting a breath of fresh air and sitting and connecting with someone else might spark something that you would not have been able to think about or identify all by yourself.”
Lunch Hour Reclaimed
Marko Popovic and Trong Do, network engineers at Verizon Communications Inc. in Irvine, recently spent their lunch hour playing table tennis at The Commons that’s part of the Sand Canyon Business Center across the street from their office.
“This place has a very nice atmosphere,” said Popovic. He and his colleagues discovered the spot while on a walk around the block and have been frequenting it regularly.
Some use The Commons to eat a sack lunch, but for those who didn’t plan ahead, the Irvine Company has set up a “curated collection of onsite dining solutions.” It partnered with OC Dining Express to offer meal delivery from its restaurant tenants, and also works with Chicago-based Fooda Inc., which helps eateries set up for a day in office lobbies or areas like The Commons.
“It’s all about curating some of the most interesting chefs in restaurants from around the area and creating pop-up food events,” Kelly said. Fooda is customizing its concept for Irvine Co. and will open a bricks-and-mortar location at the Jamboree Center in Irvine that will rotate chefs and restaurants, providing a new menu every week.
The Commons can also be reserved and reconfigured for company events. The Sand Canyon location has several large digital displays, wooden flooring, a kitchen with a sleek bar counter, a tap for a beer keg, high-end barbecues, space heaters, and seating for about 30. Other locations feature fire pits, portable bars and accent lighting.
“We’ve all had situations where you have (company) happy hour and everyone gets in their car, and some people say, ‘You know, I’m just going to go home,’” she said. “And so part of what we’re trying to do is [help] foster those connections and make people excited … because all you literally need to do is come downstairs and this place becomes transformed.”
Irvine Co. is also increasing the number of Kinetic workplace fitness and wellness centers at its properties from 22 to 33.
“If you think about how time-starved people are, for most individuals trying to find time to work out is difficult,” Kelly said. “So the more resources we can build within the workplace, the better.”
Most local Kinetic centers, which are operated by Sausalito-based Active Wellness LLC, offer training equipment and group exercises and also include wellness offices staffed by Irvine-based St. Joseph Hoag Health and offering preventive services and checkups. Tenants’ employees can also use the Kinetic app to find outdoor activities, such as a running group or a yoga-on-the-green session, or schedule a flu shot.
Irvine Co. also plans to expand its partnership with Lyft Inc. in San Francisco. Last year it collaborated with the on-demand car service to provide rides to and from Caltrain and Amtrak stations and Santa Clara Square; workers at the 100-acre mixed-use community received ride credits. It may soon launch something similar in Orange County.
“We’re actively in talks with [Lyft] to identify what the need is,” Kelly said. “Everything starts with getting the right customer need and then making sure we’re building a solution around what they need.”
The Right Space
Irvine Company Office Properties leases space to about 3,000 companies with a total workforce of more than 200,000 throughout Orange County, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, San Diego and Chicago.
Last week the division launched a new website developed by the R2integrated agency in Los Angeles. It features 360-degree tours and animations, space-needs calculators, and tips on what to look for in a new property.
The aim was to be “even more engaging in how we’re representing all of these great workplaces, because people are very busy, and we want to make sure that they are able to get the best possible experience and understanding of the spaces without even leaving potentially their desk or their device,” Kelly said. “Our entire philosophy is that we want to be there every step of the way with our customers.”