The COVID-19 pandemic caused millions of Americans to adopt a new way of life in many ways. One of the biggest adjustments made was the concept of working from home. Programs like Zoom or Microsoft Teams made it easy to communicate with colleagues miles away, making the transition as seamless as possible.
But Michael Cantor, managing director and principal of Allegro Real Estate Brokers and Advisors in Cleveland, and Mark Hill, senior vice president of Premier Development Partners in Cuyahoga Heights, said there are still advantages to working in a traditional office.
Hill said the biggest topic in the real estate industry right now is what the new office will look like post-COVID.
“(Older generations) love the old office, coming into work, being in closed offices, maybe having a couple of conferences during the day,” Hill said. “The millennials love the open, casual type of atmosphere where there’s other things at the offices throughout the day. Whether it be break-out areas, kitchen areas, even yoga sessions or workout areas. So, was that coming before the pandemic? I would say, yes. Did the pandemic increase the changes that are happening now in the commercial market? Absolutely.”
As for the last year-and-a-half, Cantor said different industries and employers have taken different approaches.
“There are still employers out there who are planning to proceed with a hybrid work environment and are planning to downsize their spaces,” Cantor said. “There are others who, once the mask mandates went away, required their employees to come back and work five days a week. So it’s really all over the board.”
Hill said Premier Development has about 11 million square feet under lease, build or renovation. Upon returning to the office, many of them felt happy, Hill said.
“They felt that the personal interaction with their workmates was not only personally satisfied, but also professionally satisfied,” Hill said. “They got a little sick and tired of Zoom meetings that sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. What I’ve heard in the industry is that most have welcomed coming back to the work office environment.”
Cantor said working in the office is important to a lot of companies’ corporate culture, especially those who are in creative and collaborative fields.
“It’s particularly important with onboarding and training new employees,” Cantor said. “I think that the further along we get past the pandemic, the more employers are going to be concerned about new employees. In other words, during the pandemic, employers adjusted to COVID by trying to make their current employees as effective and productive as possible. And as they move forward and are attracting new employees, having office space and industrial space will become more crucial.”
In the commercial real estate industry, Hill said he saw a revamp of floor plans before COVID hit. There was a move to have open offices with very little barrier between employees. This was to increase and enhance collaboration among employees. Now, he is seeing major corporations, including Fortune 1000 companies, look at their floor plans.
“They ask if they need more space that has social distancing in it and if they need closed offices again,” Hill said. “I personally don’t think, and our clients have told us this, they don’t necessarily want the closed offices. But if this pandemic stays around, it might trend to more closed offices. So, the pandemic is going to increase office renovations. The square footage may go down because some of the people may be working from home. So you won’t need 100% of the square footage.”