Many professional services firms today are doubling down on their biggest investments, their people. In terms of managing their commercial real estate, while space reductions still remain a big factor, the largest drivers affecting design choices are Employee Retention and Attraction.

It can make or break a business.

Employee Attraction.


As the war for talent wages on, those in the insurance, banking or law industry are not immune. If anything these types of firms risk losing out on the top talent of tomorrow more.

When reporting on the issue in 2015, Bloomberg found that Harvard MBA graduates from that year intending to join a bank was a mere 4% – down from about 13% in 2007. While historically it may have made sense to go directly to a top firm after school, the appeal of start-ups and fin-tech firms provide benefits that go beyond high risk and high reward.

The appeal of working in a space that reflects one’s values is intangible. Employees today are looking for happiness and feeling like their work has meaning. Deloitte’s Millennial survey found that rather than financial benefits – millennials felt that organizations reflecting their own core values are key to long term success.

They would also prioritize a sense of purpose around people over profit maximization. The way that an office is designed sends a strong message around these themes.

And professional service firms like Deloitte have taken their own findings to heart. Their new Toronto Headquarters, that houses 5000 employees was designed to put people at the center of the design. Natural light is abundant and employees are able to hit any of the cafeterias on each floor for a coffee.

Refusing To Be Left Behind

Deloitte Toronto Office

(Deloitte’s Toronto HQ, Photo: James Brittain)

Closed private offices, divisive barriers and poor lighting are reflective of how an organization views its workers. Compare this to a tech office with complimentary massages, onsite gyms, free smoothies and catered lunches and it’s easy to see why top talent is shifting sectors.

Millennials and Gen Z want more and these firms must now compete with the offices of best across all industries if they are to obtain the best.

As Simon Sinek recently highlighted, Social sharing makes viewing your peer’s offices that much easier, and Snapchat stories won’t miss a catered lunch, or trip to the office’s own cafe (Deloitte’s Toronto Office features it’s own Starbucks for example).

The top service firms aren’t going to be left behind. They are transforming their offices and shifting values to put employees front and centre. Contrast the drab and closed environment mentioned above with a modern law firm you may see today – floor to ceiling windows will line the exterior as opposed to wood laden private offices of partners.

Workplaces That Are Making a Difference


(CBRE’s Redesigned Canadian HQ, Photo: HOK)

From real estate brokerages to law firms, organizations and making huge shifts in how their workplaces are designed in order to capture and retain the best and brightest.

Real Estate

For example CBRE, the worlds largest commercial brokerage recently underwent a overhaul of their spaces across North America.

The changes resulted in building out their offices to meet the WELL Building Standard. Right off the bat a change like that shows employees the commitment that an organization has made to making their experience at work better. Cafe’s are a recurring theme and CBRE features its own brand of RISE cafes within the space.

Law Firms


(Nixon Peabody’s Washington DC Office Photo: Eric Laignel)

Even law firms are changing design to usher in the new wave of lawyers of the future. Nixon Peabody (featured image, Photo: Eric Laignel) made waves last year in the design community with their Washington DC office that traded in partner offices with collaborative areas and more natural light. It fostered a new way for attorneys at the firm to connect with a more open design and features like a 3 story open staircase and living wall.

Australian and Canadian law firms have been adopting the new way of working as well. Quebec based company Lavery for example created a tech forward office to improve their employee experience.

These moves are strategic for the organizations as well. Their product is a service and providing the best means service and advice is based on continually bringing in the best and brightest minds.

While the tech sector has been a big draw for talent, the traditional professional service sector is showing that they can reimagine their workplaces to win back top prospects as the battle for talent heats up.