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Thought Leadership Sustainable Communities

Real Estate: How Coronavirus Will Shape the Smart Workplaces of the Future

Urban Land Institute

By Ryan Mills, Partner, CohnReznick & District Council Treasurer, ULI Atlanta

In Atlanta and nationwide, workspaces have gone virtual as employees hunker down at home to help flatten the coronavirus curve. As the country rides out the COVID-19 pandemic, commercial real estate (CRE) companies must plan for what is certain to be a new way of work once the crisis subsides.

A NEW ASSET CLASS: THE UN-OFFICE

The post-pandemic office will be more virtual. As more people understand that they don’t need a physical office to get work done, the impact will be like that of e-commerce on shopping malls. People don’t go to malls to buy things anymore. They go for community, social interaction, and experiences. 

So, how does the office asset class evolve? You can bet that once lockdowns are lifted, workers won’t talk about how much they missed their physical buildings. It’s the local luncheonettes and happy hour spots or the latest batch of Netflix binge updates shared during a midmorning walk to the coffee shop that are truly missed. The “un-office” of tomorrow might look more like a kitchen where people cook together or a pub where people communally sip beers. The office will become a place where workers come together emotionally and socially to connect and bond.  

With the continued concerns over Atlanta’s traffic issues and population growth, allowing their workforce a flexible and remote work environment was already an amenity that Atlanta employers were moving toward. The forced remote work caused by the pandemic has put the flexible work environment to the test. Companies with a remote work policy and infrastructure in place had the advantage of being able to transition more quickly.  

This flexibility, combined with the potential for reducing the office footprint, may be more appealing to companies as they assess the productivity of their remote workforces.

Building owners and operators have a window of time to rethink their office design. Those who understand that the purpose of the office is evolving, and can adapt quickly, will come out on top. 

SMART BUILDINGS WILL GET HEALTHY 

The coronavirus pandemic emphasizes the need for healthy buildings and augmented workplace wellness. Air quality, for example, will become a greater priority. Ample fresh air helps to dilute airborne germs, and research indicates that higher humidity could help prevent viruses from spreading rapidly. Smart buildings could also be designed to collect information on the behavior of people working inside to help inform decision-making in a crisis.

Building automation will increase and become touchless. The coronavirus will drive people’s reluctance to touch objects like light switches, elevator buttons, and thermostats. Building designers should already be considering hands-free doors, voice-activated elevators, and phone-controlled door locks. 

DISCOVER, DECIDE, AND DO – NOW

CRE firms will need to embrace the precept of “discover, decide, and do” to effectively move to the next phase of office design. Early virus-containment efforts in Singapore and Taiwan were successful because officials took rapid action. How efficiently CRE companies can do the same will determine their future success.

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To see additional content related to the COVID-19 pandemic and how businesses are adapting, please visit CohnReznick’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

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