Taking advantage of market conditions to reorganize your office space

Taking advantage of market conditions to reorganize your office space January 15, 2024

Avison Young moves to 1801 McGill College Avenue

by Patrick Laurin, Principal, Managing Director, Avison Young

The growing trend towards teleworking is giving pause for thought to many companies that rent office space in major city centres. In fact, it's prompting some of them to rethink their workplace signature from top to bottom, to make it an attractive destination for their employees. That is what we have recently done at Avison Young. 

After more than 30 years at the same address, on the 9th floor of 800 René-Lévesque Boulevard in Montréal, our real estate brokerage firm has just moved into new premises at 1801 McGill College Avenue. Rather than downsizing, we've added 25 percent more floor space to the space we occupied until recently to enhance our collaborative spaces. We now occupy more than 17,000 square feet, not including our new private outdoor terrace. Incidentally, this new amenity, which we're very proud of, would probably never have featured in the company's space redevelopment plans if teleworking hadn't become so popular since the pandemic.

Why did we move?   
Firstly, our old building (adjacent to the Queen Elizabeth Hotel) was unable to meet our needs and offer us the modern space better adapted to the new work realities we wanted to offer our hundred or so employees. The presence of asbestos in the various spaces available in the building also had an impact on the timetable we had set ourselves for getting up and running in the new space. We felt it would be less restrictive to move to a new space ready for us than to wait and undertake the asbestos removal work. 

It has to be said, too, that the real estate market conditions also played a role in our decision. The availability of office space in downtown Montréal, as in most other major cities in North America, has never been so high. This situation, while critical, is an opportunity for companies that want to build their downtown ecosystem by restoring the lustre of their workspace. We currently have a golden opportunity to make people want to come downtown again. We need to make our workspaces motivating. And this tour de force requires the will of company management, not to mention the unwavering support that our new property owner and manager is offering us. 

Very pleasant facilities 
In addition to the large outdoor terrace offered by the owner of our new address at 1801 McGill College Avenue, we now have showers, a gym, common areas including conference rooms, and lockers so that employees can come to work by bike. These are all improvements over our previous premises.

Our new location also offers an architectural advantage that is much appreciated by our staff.
Thanks to the building's generous fenestration, all our employees benefit from natural light. It's a criterion that was high on our list of search priorities.

Another significant advantage is that the owner is currently completing major work that will link the building's entrance hall directly to the REM station. Along with this access to public transport is the wide range of restaurants and shops within walking distance of our new offices. Our new neighbours include the Eaton Centre, home to the popular Time Out Market, and Place Montréal Trust. 

Steps to follow 
It goes without saying that signing a new lease is a long process that requires careful thought and a great deal of rigour in the steps to be taken. No decision is taken lightly. Before we set off in search of a new address and drew up plans for the redevelopment of our future premises, it was essential to consult all our employees to identify their needs, to gauge the improvements that would be appreciated and those that would arouse their interest in coming back to work in the city centre. This survey was carried out at the height of the pandemic, over two and a half years ago. 

Once this list of elements had been established, the search for a new downtown building began. For more than three decades, our firm has played a major role in the economic ecosystem in the heart of Montréal. We felt it was important to stay. In fact, we were looking for a new space that would be both a stimulating environment for our teams and a showcase for our clients. As a company that rents office space for a living, we also wanted to demonstrate all the stages involved in the moving process. 

Just as we do for our customers looking for a new space, we went through the same steps involved in the site selection process. We began by identifying ten or so buildings that met our new criteria for an attractive location, and several were short-listed. We then selected six buildings to visit. A small team made up of members of our management team visited each of them in detail over a two-week period.  

Project management is the key
Before embarking on this long-term adventure, it is not so much finding the right building or finding the right architectural or design firm that makes the difference. It is having a solid project management team. In our case, we had the privilege of being able to rely on our own project management team, which supports our customers every day. The team took charge of the project schedule 24 months ago and never looked back. Not only did we manage to complete our move on time, but also within budget.

Without this team, which managed the project from A to Z since it was launched, our move would have run into delays. In fact, thanks to them, we had built in a cushion of at least three weeks into the delivery deadline. This cushion allowed us to make better informed decisions in the event of obstacles. And there were, of course, obstacles. This cushion came in very handy at the end of the project. 

Other fine examples 
These days, it's not just our company that is moving into new premises downtown. This autumn, Beenox took the plunge and set up shop on the 17th floor of Maison Manulife on Maisonneuve Boulevard. Unlike other companies in their industry, which have been favouring Mile End for years, the Quebec City-based firm has chosen the city centre to house its hundred or so employees.

Even co-working and business centres are venturing into high-rise buildings. Hedhofis, which in a few weeks' time will be opening a brand new 10,000 square foot space on the 26th floor of Square Victoria, also known as the Stock Exchange Tower, is a prime example. According to our sources, the demand for co-working space is so strong the company plans to triple the size of its premises over the next few months. 

Large downtown law firms are also modernising. One example is Fasken in Square-Victoria. Another large downtown law firm, Davies, is optimising the size of its closed offices to double the current surface area given over to collaborative spaces. These will account for almost a third of the space when the redevelopment of their premises is completed in the summer 2024. It should also be noted that Davies has been able to move into floors vacated by other tenants while the work is being carried out. They will be keeping the same surface area and the same address at 1501 McGill College Avenue. It has even swapped two of its five floors (23th and 24th) for higher floors (28th and 29th) in the Class A office building.  

In short, the community effect, which was mainly sought by technology companies to attract and retain the best talent, is now being used by accounting firms, financial institutions, law firms and even real estate agencies like ourselves!