The New Office Environment

September 20, 2021

Eighteen months – that is how far we are into the ‘new’ post-pandemic world.  Over this time, there has been a lot of talk about the end of the office as we once knew it.  With all considered, eighteen months is not that long. Is it long enough to end office culture entirely?  Maybe not, but it is certainly long enough to change it and change it for the better.

When the ‘work-from-home period’ began, most offices took it in stride.  After an initial hard break from office life, some companies modified their offices to be more social-distancing friendly and called employees back, while others took a wait-and-see approach.  There have been some missteps along the way with the Delta variant causing the latest challenge, but most offices still plan to call people back eventually.  Market research and increases in net absorption over the last several months support this. The question is, what type of offices will those employees be called back to?

Office employees, and their bosses, have become used to the benefits that working from home provides.  Greater flexibility, 30-foot commutes, and convenient dining options are just a few. However, most recognize that something in office life is lost when everyone is physically separated.  Of greatest concern is the loss of spontaneous collaboration and the sense of community and cohesion that an office environment can facilitate.  The addition of more collaborative spaces was a big trend before the pandemic and one that may ultimately accelerate because of it.  And while Zoom meetings may be time-efficient, they are not the ultimate tool for creating a cohesive team atmosphere. 

So how do employers go about enticing their workforces back to the office? That is the question everyone wants the answer to, and we may be getting some clarity to this now.  Some of the biggest employers in the Atlanta region, such as Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, have been on an office space buying spree this year.  The target properties have been Class A buildings with good ease of access, high-quality amenities, and large open spaces to provide plenty of room to spread out. Employers also want to give their workers a little taste of home in the new office.  That may include more ‘living room’ like collaborative spaces for impromptu discussions (some complete with pillowed couches!), fully stocked breakfast and coffee bars, or a world-class gym facility.  All of these fill the same purpose: to create a space that people enjoy and want to be. 

Creating these spaces may become the new goal for office landlords and the companies that rent from them.  So, while the call-back to the office is inevitable for most, it may ironically be a bit more expensive for office owners than it has been in the past.  But in the end, the reimagined office provides hope for a more productive, more efficient, and happier workforce. 

Carey Blakley