The office is evolving, not dying! Check out this insightful article put out by NAIOP Development Magazine.
Going into the office must no longer be a thorn in the employee’s daily routine. It needs to be exciting. It needs to be inviting. And it needs to promote wellness. The author of the article, Trey Barrineau, touches on some of the great ways companies are making their buildings safer and more inviting to tenants and how groups are planning their office space for the future. Office space across the globe is undergoing a paradigm shift, but one thing is for certain — the office is not dead.
If you would like to learn more about the future of your company or building’s office space, give me a call.
PS: Work from home or head back into the office? That’s the debate many companies are having these days. I weighed in on the future of the office in Phoenix in this radio segment. Give it a listen!
The Future of the Office is Healthier, More Engaging Spaces
By: Trey Barrineau : Published Fall 2021 Issue
Gensler’s morphable office concept for a hypothetical site in Baltimore. It features movable walls that can open on two sides to allow fresh air in, as well as an exterior walking path on each upper floor. Rendering courtesy of Gensler
Building owners will need to innovate to keep workers coming back.
As the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, the success and popularity of remote work could force many companies to reduce their office footprints. That, in turn, will require building owners to find new ways to make their properties more relevant and valuable, particularly in urban cores.
A recent webinar for NAIOP members explored strategies that developers can pursue to draw workers back to the office.
A Focus on Health
According to Ian Zapata, design director for Gensler, the pandemic has put the health of existing buildings — and particularly their access to clean, fresh air — at the top of everyone’s minds.
“It’s no surprise that we’re now much more conscious of things like the air we breathe and our surroundings, the impact of the built environment has on our health,” he said during the webinar.
Zapata said that prior to the pandemic, the cost of anti-pathogen HVAC systems, environmental controls and indoor air quality monitoring would be difficult to justify in an office building, but that is changing.
“These investments can now be marketed as a building differentiator,” he said.
The quality of outdoor space is also important, Zapata said, and it extends beyond just setting up outdoor meeting areas.
“We believe that buildings that have access to outdoor space will have a clear advantage in this new landscape,” he said. “Spaces should be thoughtfully programmed or designed so they can be higher performing.”
Mixed-use environments can also be a critical part of development strategies. Because the pandemic has normalized flexibility for work, building populations will fluctuate more than they used to. Therefore, owners will need to attract a wider range of tenants than they did in the past.
Zapata said flexibility will be a key feature for real estate going forward. That focus on flexibility can extend to a company’s entire real estate portfolio. Zapata said the traditional paradigm of a certain type of tenant for the suburbs and a certain type of tenant for the central business district might be changing as companies take a broader view of where they distribute their real estate.
“Many companies are rethinking their real estate strategy, abandoning centralized operations in favor of a distributed model, which in turn allows workers to have more choice in where they live, where they raise their families and the length of their commutes,” he said. “Having that flexibility by providing that choice for employees is one potential bright side to come out of the pandemic.”
Noting the longstanding influence of hospitality on real estate, Zapata said building owners need to accelerate that trend in the aftermath of the pandemic as workers yearn to reconnect with people and places they haven’t seen in months. And to attract a wider range of tenants than before, he recommends developers invest in multi-use spaces.
“That means being part of a broader community in an activated street scene,” he said. “We took this for granted, but the pandemic reminded us that a big reason people go to the office is to interact with other people socially.”
Personalized service and convenience offerings will also increase because people got used to the ability to work and take care of personal business at the same time. And finally, memorable, aesthetically pleasing place experiences will be another crucial factor that will draw workers back to offices, Zapata said.
“This notion of a generic office building that is measured purely and solely on its efficiency of space per square feet per person, I think it’s less relevant in an age where people need to be excited about coming into the office and making that choice to come into the office,” he said.
The Morphable Office
Duncan Lyons, a design director with Gensler, described a new model for office development that the company is calling the morphable office. According to Lyons, the concept began as a research project in partnership with Arup and evolved into a design speculation for a site in Baltimore.
Instead of a site that maximizes density, the design concept sets the building back and creates a linear park along a street to the east of the project. The building would be constructed in a way that allows the public space to extend under it, with ground-floor programs that support the local community.
The morphable office space exists on the upper floors. Each floor has an offset core and a 200-yard exterior walking loop around the perimeter of the building. The south and east facades are movable walls that can slide open as the floor morphs from 30% to 50% open to create outdoor collaboration and theme space. It can flex from indoor to outdoor space depending on the weather conditions.
Residents share a rooftop terrace, and a vertical garden that climbs the side of the building to the roof extends the ground-floor linear park.
“You can see how much this space really feels connected to nature and to the city around it,” Lyons said. “It has a really strong sense of place and a really strong sense of well-being for the office tenants.”
In terms of energy efficiency, the design concept would use radiant flooring to heat and cool the space. It would also reduce embodied carbon by 15% by using reclaimed wood and carbon cure concrete, a technology that injects carbon dioxide into concrete to permanently embed it. Additionally, the building would feature photovoltaic panels on the roof to generate power, resulting in 50% less energy usage than a traditional office.
“But the real market differentiator is actually a whole new kind of office that allows tenants to sit, stand and work while moving through sheltered, tempered outdoor space, all while having access to fresh air while being able to connect to the community,” Lyons said.
As far as costs, Lyons said contractors are conducting preliminary pricing on the research project, but he noted that it’s basically a concrete structure —with a few differences.
“There’s nothing unusual about it,” he said. “There’s a largely glass façade which is operable on two sides and closed on two sides, so there is a cost premium for façade operability, but we think it’s not a significant premium.”