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As we envision the future of the workplace, retail space has a pivotal role to play. Irvine Company is reinventing the ground floor retail space at our building, 71 South Wacker, with the help of CBRE Senior Vice President Todd Siegel. Siegel is an invaluable consultant to Irvine Company for all our retail offerings. We sat down to discuss the future of retail — and how retail is helping to define our vision for the future of the workplace.

The Next-Generation Workplace Takes Shape

The “traditional workplace” as we knew it was already evolving in the pre-pandemic landscape. Siegel reflects: “COVID-19 simply provided an expedited flight to mobility. Workers aren’t tethered to a specific place like they were five and ten years ago. With laptops, tablets, and smartphones standing in for desktop computers, it deconstructed the necessity for a workplace restrained to a physical desk or traditional office space.”

“Astute owners and developers like Irvine Company foreshadowed this trend and very early on recognized the value that space ‘outside’ the desk would play in building a sense of community and building a world-class culture. To achieve this ethos, we collectively looked to the common space — and challenged ourselves on what the merchandising effort should look like. To develop the perfect ecosystem within our building, we needed to explore what it would look like to be able to work from a lobby, a cafe, a gym,” says Siegel. Irvine Company takes a long view with continued investment to provide best-in-class amenities that proactively meet and exceed the evolving needs of their tenants.

“With the continued shift to remote work, there’s a new expectation of the office as a holistic environment, with a new emphasis on place,” explains Siegel. “We’re thinking about how the workplace becomes a premium product offering [to what we can already experience at home]. As a society, the one thing that we are missing most about the workplace is culture: having people in a common space, driving collaboration in an environment that inspires people, that facilitates concentration and collective thoughts.”

Retail Shapes the Customer Experience

This is where the role of retail space becomes pivotal. “The retail space in a building is a huge part of driving all the above in the context of an office building,” says Siegel. “As building owners, we recognize it’s our job to be stewards of allowing people to work more efficiently and effectively and to help drive the culture and experience of being in an office environment daily — and these experiences are all rooted in retail.”

“In the case of the available ground-floor retail space at 71 South Wacker, we’re challenging operators who are rooted in the culture of hospitality and are interested in partnering to move this culture forward,” Siegel shares. “Regardless of offering, we want our retail experience to be an extension of our building customers’ workplace.” 

“Over the last couple years — even in the most institutional and rigid buildings — we’re blending the physical line between retail and office,” he explains. “The formality of the office lobby is being broken down. We’re physically removing walls to blend and create fluidity, so you’re not leaving one environment to get to the next, but instead, retail becomes an extension of the first (and last) impression.”

Raising the Stakes in a Post-COVID Landscape

Coming out of COVID-19, that sense of connection and community is exactly what people are going to crave. In the case of many building owners and operators, they’ll be moving fast to provide solutions that are immediate. 

The beautiful thing about Irvine Company,” reflects Siegel, “is they play the long game. The expectation of delivery is heightened more so today than it was a year ago (before we went into quarantine). With the retail opportunity at 71 South Wacker, we’re not looking for something that is trendy and temporary; we’re looking for long-term investments, for the best and brightest in retail hospitality — those we can challenge to constantly evolve right alongside us.”

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