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Has Office Space Changed Permanently?


Mike Conger, CAA Principal, has seen multiple ebbs and flows in the landscape of commercial leasing over the years. Yet, nothing has had such a widespread and long-lasting impact as the pandemic on how we do work. Conger was recently interviewed for his professional opinion on how COVID-19 has affected the landscape of office leasing:


"Mike Conger is the principal broker at Commercial Asset Advisors, a San Diego-based commercial brokerage firm that serves clients across the county. He, too, sees the pandemic as provoking a sea change in the way building owners and office tenants use their work space. Despite the widespread acceptance of continuing remote work, Conger has a feeling that as time goes on, we might discover important limitations to a scattered work force. He also believes, as Larson does, that the spillover of work into the home environment may conflict with current community planning trends supporting denser, smaller residential developments."


In commenting on how building owners have tried to address safety concerns with the spread of coronavirus, the article mentions:


"Building owners don’t make money by adding expensive ducting, Larson explained. They make it from people renting their building space. Owners can alter the work spaces and make the lease terms more attractive to get people back into office buildings, but the most cost-effective way of reducing contagion is probably exactly what companies have done: allow their employees to work remotely.


Conger agrees. "It’s hard to get hospital-grade air quality in an office building,” he said. “It puts too much stress on the mechanism itself. The higher the grade of filter, the harder the unit has to work to push air through.”


Conger said some local owners have upgraded air conditioning technology in their buildings to capture more virus particles and kill bacteria, although not to a level that would be impervious to something as contagious as the coronavirus. Other building owners have advertised smaller office buildings – around two to five stories – as being more “COVID-friendly,” because they do not require lengthy elevator rides, and some of the older buildings have operable windows."


Conger also shared his thoughts on the non-tangible benefits of working in a more traditional collaborative office space:


"An employer wonders about employees working remotely,” Conger said. “Are they really working? What are they doing? In my business, I noticed that when everyone got back into the office — with COVID precautions, of course — we got a lot more done. It’s tough to build rapport with colleagues on a Zoom call. I think people will realize that a distributed workforce where employees work wherever they want outside the office will result in a loss of ‘tribal knowledge.’”

Conger defines “tribal knowledge” as the camaraderie, shared projects, ease of contact with other workers, sharing of ideas, and socializing that happens in an office in which people work together and often socialize outside of work.

“Those are things that will be missed,” he said. “A lot of people like leaving home and going to the office. They like the sense of belonging they feel when they go to work.”

Conger said that during the pandemic, there was an increase in people renting “co-working” spaces, that is, office spaces that can be rented by the hour, day, or month.

“Some people can’t work in their homes,” said Conger. “There might be too many distractions, or maybe there’s no privacy or not enough space. We used to see independent contractors use co-working spaces, but during the pandemic, we’ve seen employees spending their own money to rent a space to work outside the home. Corporations might find it efficient to rent co-working space for their employees, or perhaps they might give them a stipend to rent the space themselves.”


Thank you to Joni Halpern for the interview. Full article can be found at https://obrag.org/2021/06/public-and-private-spaces-in-the-wake-of-the-pandemic/

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