Building a Sense of Community

by Brett Merz

In its heyday, work was just that…work. You head to the office, do your job, and leave. Except for the customary nod to fellow elevator passengers, you had limited interaction with other tenants.

There’s a growing trend for property managers to adopt a social strategy as many of today’s companies want an office building “community” that adds value and positively impacts their business and their employees’ physical and emotional wellbeing. It’s human nature to want to be part of something bigger—evident by the more than 2.5 billion active global social media users—and the workplace is no exception.

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Building a sense of community is not just about amenities—it’s about creating an environment where companies can work together, play together, and establish a relationship with each other. From an owner’s perspective, a shared community spirit helps strengthen the bond between the management and ownership teams, which in turn impacts leasing and retention. It also helps a property standout from competitors and garner interest from potential tenants. From the tenant’s perspective, it opens up the door for new synergies between businesses.  And from an employer’s perspective, the fun factor helps keep employees happy and engaged, and ultimately more motivated to perform well at work.

How do you create value through a community experience?

KBS’ 500 West Madison property, an iconic 40-story, 1.46-million square-foot tower located in Chicago’s West Loop, has spearheaded a very successful initiative that has fostered a collaborative, community-like environment. Almost every week, the property management team coordinates different social programming events, including watching the PGA Masters alongside a putt-putt tournament, crafting ornaments and cards for Lurie Children’s Hospital patients, National Nacho Day, and Monopoly Tournaments, trivia, and bringing puppies on-site—one of the most popular events. Each event attracts 200-500 participants, including C-suite executives. The events are geared to appeal to all age groups and tend to last all day to ensure maximum participation at everyone’s leisure. The 500 West Madison management team has received a tremendous amount of positive feedback from tenants, and has even generated some buzz in the local market from peer properties.

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The idea of creating a sense of a community on the property all comes down to value. Think about going to your favorite restaurant or salon where you are known by your first name. It feels great to be part of a community where the connection is personal, which makes you a loyal customer. That sense of comradery is added value. It’s an innovative idea that does not require a huge investment for property owners and managers, except for a little creativity, but can have lasting results for both property owner and employers.


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Mr. Merz is a senior vice president and asset manager for KBS Realty Advisors and its affiliate KBS Capital Advisors. As a part of the Central Region team, Mr. Merz oversees a portfolio size of seven assets containing approximately 4.1 million square feet.