Home-security tech provider SimpliSafe has signed a lease that will enable the company to double the size of its Boston headquarters and add as many as 500 new jobs in the city over the next five years.
SimpliSafe will relocate to 150,000 square feet in an office tower at 100 Summer St. next fall, leaving behind its 80,000-square-foot home a few blocks away at 294 Washington St. The lease agreement, to be announced Monday, represents the largest office expansion announced in the Financial District since the COVID-19 pandemic began, even as many white-collar employers pare back their footprints and prepare for a future in which remote work is integral to their operations.
SimpliSafe, too, expects office life to be upended, and is investing $40 million to redesign its new headquarters accordingly. There will be more places for formal and informal meetings and more connections to beam colleagues in from home, and fewer workstations assigned to specific people. CEO Christian Cerda said he is embracing hybrid work, with employees in the office some days and working from home on others.
“I firmly believe that the traditional role of the office will have changed forever,” Cerda said. “But our human nature of needing contact, having those close conversations, having that engagement and camaraderie that sometimes only truly forms by being in the same location as your teammates, cannot be replicated through Zoom or the metaverse or any other sort of technologies.”
Revenue and subscriber growth have taken off at SimpliSafe since private equity firm Hellman & Friedman acquired a controlling stake in 2018, an investment that allowed SimpliSafe to beef up its engineering and marketing. (Terms were not disclosed, but TechCrunch reported at the time that the deal valued SimpliSafe at around $1 billion.) As a result, the workforce has grown, too.
Three years ago, SimpliSafe had nearly 190 salaried employees in Boston. That number is now around 450, out of a total workforce of 850. (SimpliSafe also has a warehouse in Taunton, a call center in Richmond, Va., and an outpost in the United Kingdom.) Cerda expects to add at least 100 people each year for the next five years, most of them software or hardware engineers, to grow the company’s Boston workforce to about 1,000. SimpliSafe specializes in easy-to-assemble home-security devices — alarms, cameras, and the like — and sells a monthly subscription service to support them; the most popular plan costs $24.99 a month.
Right now, maybe 20 or 30 employees come into the office each day, a number Cerda said he hopes will grow as COVID-19 recedes, hopefully by early next year. Like many CEOs, he is eager to see his employees in person again.
“Yes, we need to provide flexibility for our employees, [but] we should never underestimate the true power of being able to collaborate in the same location,” Cerda said.
It’s the kind of move that will be welcomed by the city’s commercial real estate sector, which has seen big lease signings mostly vanish since COVID-19 hit in March 2020.
Aaron Jodka, research director with real estate brokerage Colliers International, said he is starting to see signs of a recovery. This year, in Boston, Amazon signed the biggest new lease in the city — 630,000 square feet for a second building in the Seaport — but that deal was in the works long before the pandemic began. Also in 2021, money management giant Wellington signed a 524,000-square-foot lease to expand its existing headquarters on Fort Point Channel by about 66,000 square feet, while sports-tech firm Whoop inked a 121,000-square-foot deal in Kenmore Square.
“We’re seeing a resumption of tenant activity, we’re seeing tenants touring,” Jodka said. “We’ve heard of a couple sizable tenants that have committed to space and are in the process of lease negotiations. ... Tenant demand is picking up.”
But it will take a long time for foot traffic to recover in Boston’s central business district. Today, Jodka estimates that office-space occupancies are, on average, at one-quarter of their pre-pandemic levels as many workers continue to work from home five days a week. The repercussions for ground-floor retail tenants have been dramatic.
“Your sandwich shops, your coffee shops, the places you used to go on a regular basis, a lot of them can’t make it,” Jodka said.
Meanwhile, managers still try to figure out a long-term plan for their office employees that incorporates more of a hybrid approach — much like the one SimpliSafe is contemplating.
“Here we are, a year-and-half later,” Jodka said, “and we still don’t know what the future of work is.”