There is something undeniably electric about Opening Day. The beginning of a new season brings with it a renewed spirit of hope, alongside a fresh, unbridled enthusiasm born of the promise of new possibilities, shared by every fan who flocks back to the stadium. With the long, dormant off-season finally over, months of pent-up energy are thunderously released with the announcement of each name in the starting line-up and elevated to an even higher level with the first pitch, face-off, tip-off, or kickoff. The season is at last underway, and if there is one thing that every fan knows, it is an entirely new ballgame. The wins and losses of last season no longer matter.
With the exception of the season immediately behind us in 2020 and the one yet to come in 2021, Opening Day has always been an eagerly anticipated milestone, circled in bright red ink on every fan’s physical, mental, and emotional calendar. The current unwelcome disruption in predictability as to when Opening Day will arrive, precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has generated widespread anxiety, uncertainty, disappointment, and frustration among the fans and players alike. Fulfilling the desire to attend any team’s Opening Day in 2020-2021 is anything but a sure thing. With no fans, or greatly reduced capacities at the stadium, the celebration certainly won’t feel the same. Nevertheless, many of us will watch our favorite teams as the games unfold in sadly vacant venues, grateful for the convenient accessibility of exceptional broadcast and streaming coverage. Yet, we feel a profound absence of energy and excitement that is not remotely compensated for by the artificial crowd noise added to the soundtrack of every telecast. For many of us, the vibrance of Opening Day will not truly be felt until it is safe to fill the building to the rafters and we each feel it is safe to return, not necessarily when the first game is actually played.
The COVID-19 crisis similarly resulted in an abrupt, disappointing, and disorienting off-season for the commercial real estate industry. As is all too painfully familiar, buildings are operating at a significantly reduced capacity. Tenants are working remotely and leveraging technology to stay connected with their employers and colleagues. And, although many workers can remain operationally functional, the ability to collaborate, innovate, partner, and produce has been significantly compromised. As has been true of the estrangement of the sports fan from their home team’s stadium, there is no predictability as to when our tenants and their employers will return in greater numbers to the office. When they do, the rate of increase in building population will likely resemble more of a slow, persistent drip over an extended period rather than a sudden tidal wave of reappearing tenants. The universe of tenants, even those working in the same corporate office, will probably not experience Opening Day all at the same time. The new season of renewed hope, new possibilities, and the release of pent-up energy will kick-off whenever each individual tenant, whether returning for full weeks or just a few days each week, first re-enters the building. Almost every day will be an Opening Day… at least for someone.
The experience we deliver when tenants arrive on their Opening Day can profoundly influence future decisions on how often they will choose to work at the office rather than remaining more often at home, assuming employers embrace more flexible work accommodations. Many arriving may be anxious about returning to the work-home they have not seen for many months before. But, that last season doesn’t matter anymore. Our buildings will be making first impressions all over again, and they are immeasurably more important than when the tenant was new to the community. Will the building staff be friendly, welcoming, and outwardly appreciative of arriving tenants? Will the lobby communicate the excitement and vibrance of their Opening Day? Will there be new services, conveniences, and physical or digital productivity tools available to your tenants that add value to their relationship, and if so, how will they be presented with these new options? Will it be visibly obvious that the building is committed to the protection of the health and safety of all who visit and work there? If commercial buildings are to compete with the at-home work experience, the anxiety of returning to work must be immediately replaced with a more positive kind of energy, the excitement of a homecoming, relief from fears unrealized, and confidence that the office is still, in fact, the highest and best platform for collaboration and innovation.
We will not be simply welcoming tenants back. We will be welcoming them back home.
Frank Supovitz, an award-winning experience designer, producer, event organizer, and author, has played a leading role in the success of such world-class properties as the Super Bowl, the Indy 500, and the South Street Seaport in New York City. A respected global thought-leader in sports, entertainment, and facilities management, he brings more than three decades of expertise to the HQO Team as a senior consultant for Tenant Experience. Contact HQO to put our Tenant Experience team to work for you.