It is clear, as business and industry continue to adjust and prepare for the next new normal, that there is no crystal ball. The only thing predictable about what comes next is that whatever it is, is sure to change. Businesses are now in a position to emphasize their adaptability and flexibility as they look to strengthen and shore up for future, including that which is unpredictable.
Even in an uncertain future, we have to prepare businesses for the future. We can’t know exactly what it will look like, but we can prepare them more fully for the probability they will need to be adaptable.
Something we can look at closely are trends, especially those occurring as people return to work, in the offices that are returning to work, and what we see is some reversal on several trends we had been tracking leading up to the pandemic. Two of those, open floorplans and urban office spaces, have been on the radar of real estate professionals, as they start to turn their eye toward less-dense suburban office centers.
“We are seeing employers start to ask themselves some interesting questions,” said Ed Blake, CEO of Culmen Real Estate Services. “The trend toward open floorplans and urban office spaces had been a move to attract younger employees, but now we see that employers also want to convey to those same employees that they will have sufficient space –and be safe– if they return to their physical workspace.”
Blake said while the popularity of urban spaces continues to thrive, it will be interesting to see how employers, developers and property owners navigate the current environment, with an eye to the future.
Some companies have already decided to move to a remote work environment, while others are doubling down on their need to be in shared space. That duality leads to uncertainty in the market. Blake said it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.
“What we might see,” Blake said, “Could be a move to marry both concepts. One aspect of urban development that attracted young professionals was the proximity of amenities, nearby food, public transportation and retailers.
Instead, what we are likely to see are a turn to mixed-use office centers in suburban locations, where there is room to spread out, have individual spaces, and the availability of restaurants and retailers on site.
Blake said these developments would be less like the outdoor malls we saw pop up so frequently several years ago, and instead more like office centers with the addition of smaller opportunities brought in to support a few office buildings. In that way, he said these developments could serve as smaller, safer, offices with access to the same amenities of an urban environment, with the addition of outdoor spaces to attract young workers.
Developments like Mission Point also serve the purpose of providing secure, in-person office space for conversations in the defense sector that need to take place off base, but still be secure, making the development an ideal location to check a lot of boxes for those employers who do have a distinct need to be in person.
“Employers have a lot to weigh right now,” Blake said. “They need to keep an eye on attracting a sustainable workforce, and keeping that workforce safe. For those returning to in-person operations, smaller office parks like Mission Point, and what is being planned as the development expands, might just be the compromise that creates a win-win for everyone.”
The Mission Point 2.0 development, Blake is referring to, was announced at the end of 2019, when Woodard Development announced plans to move forward on a new development in Beavercreek in response to a surge in demand for additional space in the area.
The development, which would include two additional buildings between 60,000 and 120,000 square feet, would provide office space in an in-demand areas, as well as the amenities and outdoor spaces to keep workers fulfilled. And while everything slowed at the onset of the pandemic, developers say interest in the development continues to have momentum.
“It’s not surprising,” Blake said. “And I think we are likely to see activity pick up more, as employers continue to navigate the look of the rapidly changing, office environment.”
In the end, Blake reiterated that no solution is a one-size-fits all solution for any office. Even within offices, we still have a lot to learn about how people work and what is most effective.
“This is all one big experiment. Humans are social animals. There is a consequence to restrictive social interaction that we haven’t yet learned,” Blake said. “We are living and learning in real time. And we see this manifesting not just in personal lives, but in our professional and office lives. What we know for sure is that it is going to take a lot of flexibility from employers to adjust and a willingness to keep adjusting as we go along.”