The Future of Office Space Post-COVID

Mark Deering

We’re over three months into the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. Three months into converting our kitchen tables into creative popup workspaces. Three months into our training to become ZOOM and Microsoft Teams aficionados. Three months into a new normal that begs the inevitable question, “what does office space look like post-COVID?”

Scott Wimbrow, SIOR, President & Principal of MacKenzie Commercial Real Estate Services, LLC, and Mark Deering, Senior Vice President & Principal, express that office space will certainly be redefined once we eventually transcend the COVID-19 wave, with a few adaptations including the adoption of technologies that allow for workplace flexibility as well as the continued need for workplace sanitation and social distancing policies.

The Physical Layout of Office Spaces May Evolve

In the midst of the novel coronavirus, social distancing has become dogma—a six-foot span between you and others has become the norm in order to reduce the spread of infection. As offices slowly reopen their doors, it prompts the question, “how will social distancing standards impact the physical layout of workspaces?”

“I think common areas will become bigger and private offices will be back in vogue after becoming more commonplace over the last 20 years or so,” expresses Wimbrow, “There may be limitations in conference rooms, and many offices may do away with communal features.”

Wimbrow goes on to explain that many of these adjustments along with others have been implemented by the MacKenzie Companies. “In our own offices, there are sanitizing machines available for employees throughout the office and at all high-touch areas and even one-way hallways to reduce contact as much as possible.”

Tenants and Brokers Will Have to Adapt to the New Normal

From a tenant’s perspective, Deering expresses that we should expect various office space modifications including spaced-out desks and even plexiglass partitions constructed in between desks. “We are going to see changes in the size of individuals’ workstation, and we may see the use of plexiglass barriers around the typical cubical. To accommodate, tenants may likely require more space.”

Deering adds, “Tenants should consider asking the Landlord for a short-term lease extension of either six months or ideally month-to-month so they can study the use of their space. This will allow the tenant time to build a team of experts (architect/space planner, human resources, decision makers) to determine how to best use their space post COVID-19. A one- to two-year lease extension without strategically planning their space’s reuse leaves them in the same position they were in pre-COVID and they may regret it months later. It’s important not to panic; don’t be rash but make strategic decisions.”

For brokers, amenity packages will always be important, but changing. Wimbrow notes that brokers should look for offices that are adapting to technology that allows for touch-free amenities and building system upgrades. For example, modern technology like touch-free sinks, appliances and doors and upgrades such as UV light filters for HVAC systems will prove favorable in this day-and-age and show that these spaces are adapting to the times. He expresses that brokers should be aware of what buildings and landlords are offering and how implementing these technologies is important.

Office Space Capacity May Change, As Will Our Opinions of Working Remotely

If mass office closings throughout the country have shown us anything, it has uncovered the relevant need for offices to adapt to modern technology that allows for remote work. How will our opinions on remote work and workplace flexibility alter indefinitely?

“There may be more flexibility for people to work from home and more flexibility for employees to work different schedules,” Wimbrow explained, “We may even adopt an A-B schedule, with some employees working from the office some days and from home the other days as to not crowd the office.”

Deering expressed a similar notion. “We are going to see a changing layout of office spaces. Many employers will discover that their employees were just as productive working remotely, while other companies may find that working from home was more distracting than the office.” Ultimately, the experience of offices over the past few months will be unique depending on the type of work and industry. Deering poses these questions: “Can people be reliably productive remotely? Do they have to be watched and overseen to do their jobs effectively?”

Ultimately, it will vary from office to office, from experience to experience. However, the work-from-home trend of the past few months has shown that many employees can adapt to remote environments and it is more important than ever to lean in on collaborative technology to get the job done.

Whether or not we see the post-COVID trend favor more private office spaces, or lean more towards expansive, open work environments, Deering says that we should expect to see construction no matter what. “We may see more buildings built because Tenants need more distancing space,” Deering says. “We should also expect to see an increase in office renovation to accommodate the reuse of space.”

COVID-19 Will Undoubtedly Redefine the Office Experience, But Not Diminish Its Importance

Now, more than ever, we are seeing equal importance for workplace flexibility and the collaboration, productivity and communication that you can only get from sharing a common workspace. The office setting is part of a company’s culture; it enhances an employee’s experience, and face-to-face interactions establish more meaningful connections. As Wimbrow expresses, “We are social creatures and only 12% of workers recently surveyed would still prefer to work remotely even after the impact of COVID-19. For many, it felt nice to work from home for a few weeks, but after a while workers will miss collaborating with their coworkers, being social and working in a space that fosters teamwork.”

Deering agrees. “We need collaboration, we work as teams and thrive off communication. We are programmed to separate work from home; it’s the way we operate in our society.”

All in all, office space will be redefined, revamped and revisited, but it will certainly not go away. To learn more about the future of office space post-COVID, or if you would like to speak to a team member at MacKenzie Commercial Real Estate, contact our offices today. We are proud to serve the Mid-Atlantic region with offices in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Harford County, Howard County, and Annapolis.