The traditional office isn’t going anywhere.
In the earlier stages of the pandemic, there was a real concern that everyone’s love affair with the work from home concept was going to devastate the commercial real estate market. Well, that love affair has been supplanted by Zoom fatigue and flagging productivity rates, and the reality is more that while the post-pandemic workplace is going to look different in some significant ways, the office will still be around, just with some alterations to better meet needs that were identified during Covid.
While some companies may take a “back to business” approach and attempt to replicate policies and procedures from before the pandemic, and others may permanently transition to being fully remote, most businesses are going to embrace some sort of hybrid model, incorporating best practices of both virtual and in-person workspaces. This approach is going to necessitate some changes to the office footprint.
Culture and Community
Ultimately, the location of the workspace might not change all that much. What will change is how the space is utilized. Companies are going to optimize their workspaces for activities that require human interaction and reflect the company’s work culture: onboarding, training, collaborating, team-building. And it turns out that employees actually value time spent with their coworkers, so long as the engagement is meaningful. So the post-pandemic office will likely see more shared workspaces, breakout rooms and gathering spaces, and less isolated workstations. Work that can be done individually can be done virtually, while work that requires a collaborative space will continue to be done in the office.
Even prior to Covid, there had been some reluctance to sign long-term leases in order to maintain flexibility. In the post-pandemic world, this trend is likely to continue or increase.
A recent American Occupier Survey found that 85 percent of real estate executives plan to incorporate flex spaces into their portfolios within the next three years. Although flex space currently accounts for only two percent of total office space, that number is projected to reach 13 percent by 2030. Innovative developers can proactively address this concern by developing transitional spaces with flexible lease terms, reduced occupancy costs and attractive amenities to meet the growing needs of corporate and enterprise occupiers.
While the availability of safe vaccines has everyone one step closer to “normal,” the truth is, the lessons learned from the pandemic are going to be with us for quite some time. We’re going to continue to see staggered start times and social distancing, so while there may be less people in the office, the size of the office will likely stay the same—13,000 square feet on average. There will continue to be enhanced cleaning protocols, upgraded filtration systems and occupancy maximums on enclosed spaces like elevators and bathrooms.
Commercial real estate has been one of the industries most impacted by the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic. In fact, industry experts believe that it has had a greater impact on our industry than the global financial crisis earlier in this century. However, both the economy and commercial real estate will rebound. But real estate, and especially office space, will look different, post pandemic. Services such as property management, space design and construction will play a larger role in providing services that meet those changing needs.