Nearly three years after the first COVID-19 outbreak transformed the way we work, its impact on corporate offices has started to materialize. As more companies accommodate hybrid work, they’re enhancing and revamping the workplace, hoping to attract employees to come to the office now that remote work is a more accepted part of our lives.
Fortune spoke with senior leadership at Spotify, Marriott, and Capital One about their real estate and office space decisions. While some common themes stand out—all three are prioritizing flexibility and comfort—how they’re going about the workplace redesign differs.
Marriott International, the largest hotel company in the world, is opening a new headquarters on Sept. 19 in Bethesda, Maryland. While it began planning for the new building six years ago, COVID-19 changed the number of workstations the company allocated to each employee and its overall approach to communal spaces. Marriott also made significant investments in amenities such as its fully-staffed on-site daycare.
Tim Grisius, Marriott’s global head of M&A, development, and real estate, gently refers to the old headquarters, built in 1979, as “a bit of a dinosaur,” which had “really dated, poor technology, and was in an office park.”
The new headquarters are centrally located four blocks away from a D.C. Metro station and next to a brand new Marriott hotel. The two buildings are connected by a plaza, which will be named after the company’s former CEO Arne Sorenson, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2021.
A podium is located just past the turnstiles, in an open corridor that can encompass 1,000 people thanks to the open floor plan, with lobby views from the mezzanine and third floor, bleacher seating that runs alongside a two-story staircase, and an outdoor patio around the second-floor cafeteria.
“When we added the mezzanine floor, we [used] 10,000 square feet for more collaboration space, so there’s open seating [and] more conference rooms,” Grisius says. He points to a staircase that’s 20 feet wide. “You can sit and look down to the lobby level and really have a town hall experience. And we can broadcast that globally.”
Though planning for the new offices began pre-pandemic, the company has made some slight changes influenced by its growing acceptance of work flexibility. Many corporate employees work on teams such as hotel operations, new site development, and marketing, that require regular travel and meetings with external and internal partners.
“We’re going to encourage people even after the pandemic to have much more of a flexible work schedule,” explains Grisius, who says he’s on the road about 100 days per year. “They’ll probably come to the office more for collaboration and meetings.”
Some changes to the building’s original plan—which, although minimal, were precipitated by the pandemic—include the removal of about a quarter of workstations in favor of meeting rooms and open spaces. “We didn’t eliminate that space, we just put much more flexible space there,” Grisius says.
As a hospitality company, Marriott already has contacts with design experts who work on its 8,000 hotels, and was able to tap the knowledge of its existing global design team.
“It’s the same concept as the hotel side, where you’re trying to provide flexibility for your guests. [At work], that lobby space is for colleagues who are meeting and collaborating,” Grisius says. Similar to the hotel side, Grisius says he and his team meticulously tested the office furniture, making sure the heights of tables made sense for the way they were to be used, and the stiffness of seating and couches was appropriate for the spaces they occupied.
After reducing its corporate workforce by around 30% from 2019 to 2020, which saw its business drop 90% by April 2020 (measured by Revenue per available room, or RevPAR, a key industry indicator), Marriott is staffing up. The many bells and whistles of the new headquarters are meant to attract prospective employees and keep existing ones. Those amenities include the new daycare center and mother’s room, standing desks attached to treadmills, a fitness center with Peloton bikes, relaxation pods, a new innovation lab, and a test kitchen with bar seating.
So far, Marriott has established a phased move-in process, with some teams back in the office already. All employees will be asked to come to the office by its September opening, under a hybrid working model.
While Capital One is not opening a new office, the financial services company has made plenty of adjustments to its office space and workplace technology in anticipation of a September return.
Most conference rooms are now upgraded with video technology, which was only in a small percentage of conference rooms previously. The company also released a new employee app, called “@Work,” which helps employees navigate the campus, sign up for desks, find resources like office supplies or printers, and even order food.
“We have some associates who have been hired during the pandemic and haven’t really been in offices yet,” says Todd Cassidy, managing vice president and chief of staff to the CTO. “Being able to know where to go and have something at their fingertips will be really helpful.”
Some employee services are now also automated for ease of use. One example is a chatbot for IT services such as password resetting or activating a new device like work laptops or phones. Capital One has also flipped on capabilities in Google Calendar so attendees can share their work locations, and meeting organizers can plan accordingly.
The biggest upgrade was the video conferencing capabilities added to more meeting rooms within the company’s McLean, Virginia headquarters. Fred Love, director of unified communication, says that while this was a large overall expense, the cost to equip a room with video-conferencing features has become significantly lower than in years past, by about one-third. The technology is also more readily available.
With a return-to-office date of September 6, employees are now expected to be in the office at least some of the time between Tuesday and Thursday. The firm is also testing new capabilities like digital whiteboards that help merge in-person and virtual collaboration, and how to best connect employees into virtual meetings from the office.
“We’re testing some of the new features that are coming out with Zoom to be able to whiteboard on your desktop just as easily as you can go up to touchscreens within the conference room,” Cassidy says.
At Spotify, the effort to redevelop work spaces also began pre-pandemic, with plans to transition to a remote-first, distributed workforce. During the pandemic, the streaming platform opened new offices in Los Angeles, Milan, Mumbai, Atlanta, Paris, Toronto, Miami, Singapore, and Berlin and announced that employees could work from anywhere the company had a presence. Nine existing global offices, including New York City, San Francisco, Sydney, and Stockholm, were refitted to accommodate the new work model.
The Los Angeles office boasts a free cafeteria in the style of an old school diner, a screening room, concert venue, recording studios, and a break room that overlooks the outdoor set of the FX television show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
“What we tried to do in every single office was bring in that social aspect, along with a focus on collaboration [spaces],” Sonya Simmonds, head of workplace innovation & design, says. In other words, the office is far more people-centric.
The L.A. campus contains two main buildings. One houses a large cafe, several conference rooms, and focus areas for employees. Another holds the cafeteria, a venue with a stage, recording studios, and additional work spaces. Employees also have access to lockers, a necessity now that most employees don’t have assigned desks.
“It’s about us being humans and being comfortable in the space,” Simmonds says. “When you add better lighting, more foliage, more comfort, more acoustics, it starts to feel a bit more homely. It doesn’t make that seem like such a stretch from being in your home environment.”
In line with its renewed focus on collaboration, Spotify leadership received design input from employees representing each department at each office location. Every department occupies “neighborhoods” that include features requested by the representatives but that are also adaptable. So if at first a neighborhood is evenly split between desks and collaboration areas, it can later be altered to include focus areas or additional desks. The department reps can choose from 10 elements, such as whiteboards or tables, to employ in their neighborhoods.
“It was a really good exercise to co-create in that way,” Simmonds says, noting that each group had three or four representatives from all levels of the department. “Not necessarily hierarchical.”
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