by Andy Eichberg, Executive Vice President | Washington DC
There are many real estate and economic experts currently opining on what the future of office space will be with rhetoric focused mainly around the less demand vs. more demand debate. As one might expect, the less demand side seems to have the edge in many headlines and thought pieces.
Recently, Martin Pupil in Stream’s Greater Los Angeles office explored the questions we should ask that challenge convention and provide the longer-term view of what the future of office may look like. Next, Randy Cooper discussed where opportunities may lie in the future of office development. Here, Andy Eichberg delves into the different strategies for the future of office now, and post-vaccine.
Despite being nearly six months into the pandemic and resulting work from home situation, I believe we are still in a crisis-management mode, and until companies have successfully completed their office re-openings with more than just skeleton staffs, most organizations won’t know what truly works. Across the country we’ve experienced false starts—re-entry then partial closings as COVID-19 cases spike or positive cases surface in businesses and buildings. Questions business managers must consider today go well beyond employees’ physical safety in reopened offices, considering what will make their employees feel safe, what keeps them engaged, what environment and structure creates the opportunity for the most efficiency and productivity, how much flexibility is needed and more. The responses to those questions will be very personal and unique to each organization, making it a challenge right now to accurately determine what the long-term future holds for the office sector of commercial real estate.
A TALE OF TWO STRATEGIES
We need to start framing the discussion of “future” in terms of pre-vaccine and post-vaccine. While many of the office opening strategies and protocols implemented for an initial return to the office will hold true and become part of our next phase of “normal,” the basis for reopening offices is currently rooted in creating physical distance and mitigating exposure and contact with the virus.
Once there is a vaccine successfully implemented on a wide scale, many people and organizations will re-evaluate what works for them. It is likely that the re-evaluation process will take some time, but organizations will be pushing hard to quickly determine how to grow and thrive in the post-COVID economic environment. The operational and technological enhancements being tested and fine-tuned during the pre-vaccine period will make workplaces safer, creating the alluring possibility that the pendulum could once again swing back toward more people in the office environment.
It is unlikely anyone currently believes that we’ll go back to the density of office space seen in the last 10 years, as the concept that many organizations will allow—or even require—more employees to work from home as part of their overall workplace strategy is valid, even as things become safer in a post-vaccine period. However, most organizations, particularly client-centric businesses such as law firms, consulting groups, communications/public relations, real estate and accounting/investment management, or creative industries that rely on constant and organic interaction such as architectural and creative groups, will lean toward maintaining office space for everyone to be together. These sectors rely on client contact and co-worker collaboration to be more productive and support an organizational culture that is so often what differentiates them from their competitors.
IT’S ALL ABOUT BALANCE
Ultimately, the answer for the future of office lies in an organization’s ability to balance maintaining and growing a supportive and collaborative company culture, while maximizing the productivity of its employees.
I firmly believe office space will continue to play a large role in finding the right balance for owners, occupiers and their employees.
About the Author
Andy Eichberg serves as an Executive Vice President and a member of the Stream Realty Partner’s Washington, DC region senior leadership team. Andy is responsible for leading the regional brokerage platform, providing senior leadership across other regional business lines. Andy has more than 25 years of experience in the DC commercial real estate industry, the majority of which has been dedicated to the leasing, acquisition and asset management of institutional-grade office buildings.