EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with comments from Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., JLL and Colliers International’s West Michigan office.
GRAND RAPIDS — Acrisure LLC is set to bring back roughly 700 employees to its new downtown Grand Rapids headquarters under a flexible in-person work plan that’s likely to boost downtown activity while marking a positive step for commercial office space.
Starting Monday, the company’s 700 employees will be required to work in the office any three days of the work week, with the option to take two flex days. The company also is lifting its vaccine requirement for in-person work.
The insurance brokerage and fintech opened its new $33 million office at 100 Ottawa Ave. SW in Studio Park in August 2021. Employees who are vaccinated against COVID-19 have been able to resume in-person work at their discretion at the seven-story, 105,000-square-foot office.
Elliott Bundy, Acrisure’s chief communications and marketing officer, told MiBiz in March that about 250 of Acrisure’s 550 employees at the time had been coming into the office on any given day.
“There is no vaccine requirement for being in-person from next week forward,” Bundy said today. “Of course, we will still monitor the situation and pivot if necessary. At this point the flex schedule is how we’re going to operate — that’s the plan for the foreseeable future.”
Tim Kelly, president and CEO of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., said more employee traffic will help surrounding businesses downtown.
“In terms of how this will play into other businesses (returning to the office), I think it’s hard to say. Everyone makes their own decisions based on their business and employees,” Kelly said. “But seeing such a significant owner and operator such as Acrisure hopefully does help.”
While such a large employer resuming in-person work on a more regular basis downtown is significant, JLL Inc. Senior Vice President Jeff Karger also is unconvinced that it will have clear ripple effects for other companies downtown.
“It’s an indicator that people are starting to think about it,” Karger said. “I’m seeing it’s a company-by-company decision and I’m not seeing it dictate across the board decisions by any means. This is what I expected to see at this point, certain companies starting to heavily encourage a return to office.”
Colliers Senior Vice President David Wiener shared a much more optimistic stance on Grand Rapids’ downtown office market, maintaining that tenants are making the return to in-person work “across the board,” he said.
“We’re seeing the market continue to improve and continue to strengthen,” Wiener said. What’s interesting is we’re also seeing tenants look at other options but the spaces are immediately backfilled by tenants that want space.”
According to JLL’s data, daytime office occupancy is starting to slowly creep up, and more leasing activity is occuring in office spaces downtown, with a few “decent-sized” deals that the brokerage plans to announce shortly, Karger said.
“It is a very fragile office environment right now,” he said. “We take two steps forward and one step back. It’s really an employee market right now, so how much dictation are you going to give to people that work for you if they can jump ship and go to another location they can work at home from? While it remains an employee market, I don’t see many return-to-work mandates happening.”
Karger said it is even more important now to give employees a reason to make the commute if they are keeping their office spaces by having additional amenities. This is part of Acrisure’s plan of bringing employees back downtown.
Acrisure will consider some employees’ requests for additional flexibility with their work location after June 6, Bundy said.
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“We’re cognizant that we’re doing this at the same time school is ending for the school year, and a few employees requested that they can take some more flexibility throughout the summer for child care reasons, and we’ve said yes to those,” Bundy said. “If people have individual situations that require additional flexibility we’re working with them.”
Acrisure has told its employees throughout the pandemic that an expectation for in-person work would resume in some form, Bundy said.
“It’s always been our plan to bring people back together when appropriate,” he said. “This is very much a people-driven company.”
Approximately 300 employees currently work from Acrisure’s office on an average day, Bundy said. Most employees are excited that the company is resuming more in-person work, he added.
“We’ve taken a bunch of steps to make it a celebration,” Bundy said. “We’re calling it a celebration summer for our welcome back to the office. The ribbon cutting and internal celebration event next week is a kickoff to that and throughout the summer we’re really taking advantage of our downtown Studio Park location.”
Acrisure is partnering with local businesses and planning employee events that will include a movie night at Studio Park and a yoga event for employees, as well as working with food trucks. A ribbon-cutting event next week will formally welcome back workers to the office.
“We’re doing what we can to work with businesses local to us, and the nonprofits local to us as well,” Bundy said. “Almost all of the activities we have planned for employees have a corresponding charitable or philanthropic element tied to it.”
Acrisure aims to hire another 100 employees to have a staff of about 800 people by the end of this year, Bundy said. The company also is still pursuing increasing the company’s office footprint in downtown Grand Rapids, he added.
“We’ve faced the same kind of talent issues as many other employers, so finding people is always a bit of an issue for us because of the pace at which we’re growing,” Bundy said.
Foot traffic on the visitor side for downtown has been strong, tracking above the five-year average in the months of March and April, Kelly said. Employee foot traffic is still lagging 16 percent behind the five-year average for downtown, he added.
“With Acrisure, and the Spectrum Health and Perrigo offices under construction, we have a significant amount of office projects happening downtown still,” Kelly said. “The office sector employees will still be a significant part of downtown, but to what extent still remains to be seen.”