Now that employees have discovered that they have the ability to do their work remotely and not have to be tethered to their workplace via the umbilical cord, office landlords are leaving nothing to chance.
Not even what their buildings smell like.
There is a huge demand from property owners for pleasant scents to freshen the air and make the workplace feel more reassuring and energizing, says Allison Lobay, global account manager for Air Aroma, a New York-based fragrance marketing company. for companies that want fragrances to be part of their corporate signature.
Now let’s not assume that aroma has a special place in companies’ strategies for getting value for money from the offices they rent. But it’s part of an overall strategy that also includes outdoor patios, gourmet food and drinks, fitness facilities, bike sheds, even golf simulators and rooftop beekeeping. It’s part of a strategy to make the workplace more exciting and better than sitting on the couch.
“Here in New York City, for example, real estate companies are interested in smelling the building itself, as opposed to just the individual tenant spaces,” Lobay said. “There are a lot of vacant office spaces these days. So what can the real estate companies do to attract tenants? How do you make your building more attractive than the building next door?”
Some of the clients she mentioned include CBRE, the world’s largest real estate services company, with a large real estate management division; Oxford Properties, the real estate arm of the Ontario government pension system, co-developed by Hudson Yards; Coretrust Capital Partners, an office investor; and luxury real estate impresario Michael Shvo’s Shvo company, which lately has played a major role in the office sector.
Smelling commercial property is common and time-honoured in the hospitality industry, said Peter Miscovich, executive director for strategy and innovation at JLL, as is CBRE a massive global commercial real estate brokerage.
“In many of the boutique and luxury hotels,[they]all have developed fragrance profiles, and some of them have been very successful,” Miscovich said. “We’ve seen this in the hospitality industry, we’ve seen it in retail spaces.”
At Resorts World in Las Vegas, for example, the company uses Air Aroma to diffuse scents throughout the property. It is also contracting Aircuity of Norwood, Massachusetts, to monitor the air “via hundreds of sensors throughout the building,” a spokesperson said in an email. While casinos may be famous for cigarette and cigar smoke, observers make sure customers never have to breathe in stale air or foul odors.
“Our largest markets are higher education and life sciences, where there are labs that bring in 100 percent outside air, so optimizing airflow can reduce their HVAC energy use by 50 percent or more,” Aircuity spokeswoman Sarah Callahan said in an email. Aircuity filters also reduce carbon emissions and create “a healthier environment,” she said.
“We are also installed in K-12 schools, office buildings and public conference rooms such as casinos. We’ve certainly seen increased interest in indoor air quality due to the pandemic, but I can’t give an exact percentage,” Callahan said.
The Marriott hotel chain also uses aromas as part of its marketing strategy. According to an emailed statement from Matthew Boettcher, the vice president of branding operations, all of Marriott’s 30 Bonvoy brands have a particular fragrance, some of which are available for purchase in the Marriott Bonvoy boutiques. It has been part of the chain’s strategy for more than 20 years.
“Fragrance is part of creating these different sensory journeys to differentiate each brand and create a memorable experience for each guest,” Boettcher said in the statement.
Fragrances are most commonly used in lobbies, public restrooms and fitness centers, he said. Fragrances “should be managed so that they are impactful yet subtle,” he said, so that they “add a delicate moment that adds to the overall brand experience.”
Fragrances in hotels are so popular that it’s not uncommon to sell them to guests through candles, diffusers and sprays, Lobay said.
Some scents are associated with improved productivity. In the office, citrus scents are used to energize people or help them feel happy, Lobay said. If bosses want to calm employees who are afraid of coming back to the office, lavender may be more appropriate, she said, for a more “calming, relaxing, comforting” effect.
Miscovich said peppermint “can be good for concentration and to aid in alertness.”
At Brookfield Property Partners, one of the world’s largest commercial property owners with office buildings on five continents, fragrances are not used. A spokeswoman did say that Citrovia, an outdoor garden dominated by a lemon scent, opened in 2021 in Manhattan West, Brookfield’s high-rise office and residential development in the Hudson Yards neighborhood. The goal was to “improve the construction experience,” where completed buildings mixed with those still under construction, the spokeswoman said. The garden is now closed.
One caveat is that some people are allergic to fragrances and the ingredients used to derive them, Miscovich said. A bad response can pave the way for a costly lawsuit, something companies would do almost anything to avoid.
“There’s a risk that introducing a fragrance with the best intentions to allow concentration, to create calm, if you have even a small percentage of people with an allergic reaction or a negative reaction, that would be problematic,” he said. said. “And, given the current environment, most people in leadership or senior human resources are trying to be very careful.
“I mean, even the smell of coffee, believe it or not, gets attention,” Miscovich said. “Yes, we are over the COVID pandemic crisis, but 400 to 500 people a day are still dying from COVID in this country. I have several HR people who are still very concerned about bringing people together in densely populated offices. Introducing a fragrance into it can cause more complexity and more challenge than good.”
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