MILWAUKEE — Graef, now a major downtown employer, is bringing its entire headquarters staff back to the office July 12 for the first time since the pandemic.
Employees are returning to space they’d only just inhabited, custom-designed before COVID-19 to provide for openness and collaboration.
Then the pandemic shut everything down. The company believes the new HQ is not only still viable, but will continue to attract talented people because of its design and location in the former Grand Avenue Mall.
“We were here for two and half months, and then the pandemic hit,” recalled Graef President and CEO John Kissinger. In its move downtown from the far west side of Milwaukee, Graef built out and took over what was once the food court in the old mall, now called The Avenue. “The way our office is, it’s almost the anti-COVID design,” Kissinger described. “We have smaller workspaces, closer together, a lot of collaborative area.”
As the pandemic raged and the return to offices everywhere looked uncertain, it made for some nervous moments. Kissinger wondered whether this new space would work in a post-COVID world. “I always knew we had to wait and see how things turned out,” he admitted, “but yeah. There was a thought that maybe things would change and everyone would want a hermetically sealed office.”
Kissinger, however, doesn’t think that will be the case after all. He cites the new HQ’s proximity to downtown events, and its many amenities as something he believes will be attractive to his staff. It’s certainly important to the company’s culture.
“I think it's one of the things that we lost during the pandemic was some of our culture. Particularly since we hired a lot of new employees over the last year and a half, so it's just difficult when they're working from home, and seeing people on zoom to really understand the culture. I think you have to be here. I think this space is part of our culture and the people are part of our culture. So that's one of the main reasons that we're coming back to the office.”
Kissinger believes it’s a double win. He expects office design and the excitement downtown will motivate the Graef team to return from work at home mode. At the same time, the return of the downtown workforce will only further fuel the comeback, particularly at The Avenue and the West Town Neighborhood.
There are 150 employees at the downtown headquarters.
“I think it's a big part of what's going to drive people back here and what people are looking forward to. Milwaukee Tool is moving in a block away. WTMJ Radio is going to be moving in downstairs. We have the MMAC already here and West Town, I think, is undergoing a huge revitalization. It's already fun for people to be here and be downtown.”
Graef will, for the time being, still allow staff to work from home two days a week. The company this month is celebrating its 60th birthday. On Wednesday, they'll offer free popsicles to neighbors outside the main entrance on Wisconsin Avenue from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., while supplies last.
For more information on Graef, click here.