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Steve Case, EVP Office Properties

As life returns to normal and more employees return to the office,  inspiring professionals to work creatively requires companies to get creative about how they work. As a result, the workplace ideas that are emerging from the pandemic are as exciting as they are revolutionary.

Irvine Company’s Innovation Office Park, for instance, is the first-ever workplace community designed for health and wellness. When the idea first took form a few years ago, the concept of a workplace that elevates wellness to the status of a core value was intriguing. Today, it is essential.

Leading companies are demanding workplaces that promote wellness and safeguard health. State-of-the-art gyms, indoor-outdoor workspaces – especially in desirable climates such as ours – and healthy on-site food options are part of the equation, but top talents’ relationship with health has a new depth to it. And competitive companies are seeking workplaces that meet a changing set of expectations to recruit and retain that top talent. 

The swift adoption of remote work gave employees a new appreciation for the workplace as a center of innovation, inspiration and serendipity. Impromptu collaboration and social connection gives people a sense of belonging and helps a company develop its unique culture. How to “plan serendipity” around health will be one of the leading challenges of the office of the future – and one that we find truly exciting to be on the cutting edge of.

Informed by decades of research, as well as learnings from the pandemic, Innovation Office Park’s design centers around industry-leading workplace wellness systems. Oversized roll-up doors lead to private patios, operable windows let in fresh air, MERV-13 air filtration provides healthier air circulation, and state-of-the-art Viracon glass and skylights allow for maximum energy-efficient daylighting.

The design of the open-air village also takes mental health into account. More than 1.1 million square feet of workspace is separated into 28 creative loft-style buildings that are naturally connected by a central pedestrian pathline within 24 acres of green landscape open space accented by 2,600 mature olive and pine trees.

Well before COVID-19, we had focused on creating workspaces for a health-conscious workforce, vitalizing our entire portfolio with expansive outdoor work and gathering spaces we call The Commons. The pandemic injected those efforts with a new urgency, and customers are responding with enthusiasm.

During the height of the pandemic, we leased nearly 7 million square-feet – a large percentage in Orange County – to a diverse array of companies and industries, such as technology, fintech, financial services, legal, and more – a testament to our health-focused design and Orange County’s diverse economy, resilience and sustainability. 

Our leasing performance is a window into the post-pandemic future. Companies still value the workplace. We’re already seeing it as some of our buildings were about 50% occupied by mid-May. As restrictions continue to be lifted, we anticipate seeing that number rise. In the meantime, companies are being creative – staggering their workforce through A shifts and B shifts or allowing a percentage of employees to continue to work from home. 

In anticipation for an accelerated return, we’re re-opening amenities such as on-site cafes, fitness and conference centers and other highly valued common areas and other highly valued common areas. 

Our industry-leading amenities at Innovation Office Park will include an indoor/outdoor cafe with rotating cuisine and walk-up artisan coffee bar, an event-ready pavilion, a private fitness center featuring spin/yoga studio and tech-enabled conference and event space.

These conveniences and amenities will become increasingly attractive and important as companies accommodate hybrid teams. When work can happen anywhere, the office becomes “home base,” a springboard to energize and connect coworkers and set them on a path of success. 

To instill confidence in teams as the return to the office intensifies, Irvine Company consulted with UCI Health to validate our cleaning regimens, safety etiquette signage, touchless entries, maximized ventilation rates and other protocols.We were also first in the nation to have its workplace communities designated as Verified Healthy Buildings, through a program managed by UL, a global safety science leader recognized for their indoor environmental quality services.

These steps speak to a philosophy of customer partnership and service that sees our more than 3,000 customers as individuals – and invests in their safety and wellness accordingly. It is a philosophy that will guide industry standards in the decades ahead.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, we will see more designs like Innovation Office Park, workplaces that bring together the authenticity of a creative office with healthy design to help customers and their employees thrive – in all aspects of the word.

Case is executive vice president of Irvine Company Office Properties.

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