In this unprecedented time, businesses are quickly adapting to meet their goals while staying healthy and safe. To help address our community’s concerns as we navigate this together, we’ve launched a Q&A series on LinkedIn with the leaders at Bridge Commercial Real Estate. Comment on our LinkedIn page with any questions you have and we’ll select a question to answer in-depth here.
This week’s question is:
What are Four Lessons Companies Have Learned from Long-Term Remote Work?
While challenges surrounding the coronavirus crisis continue to evolve, our team at Bridge Commercial Real Estate remains confident in the enduring value of the office as a place where companies come together to collaborate and foster culture while keeping employee wellbeing as the top priority.
And we’re not alone. As we continue to monitor the situation closely, we’ve seen several themes emerge in the media and in quotes from business leaders in different industries across the country.
We started compiling these words of wisdom and wanted to share here in the hope that they help both office owners and corporate real estate executives remain optimistic for a brighter future for work. By providing resources and sharing our experiences, we can all continue to adapt and find advanced ways to thrive for the next generation.
Here are four lessons we’ve learned from listening to recent news:
1. As virtual meetings continue to dominate many of our schedules and many of us have experienced “Zoom fatigue,” we know there is no true replacement in-person connection. As teams look for ways to resume meetings in person while accommodating the latest health guidelines, encouraging flexibility — with work schedules, family care needs, and even office locations — will be the deciding factor for success.
Steve Doan, Marketing at L’Oreal, told the New York Times: “Working at home is quite isolating.”
Bisnow reported that Transwestern formally opened its Midwestern offices up after July 4 while following city and state guidelines for safety for those who were comfortable returning. The in-office workforce is now mixed, with some coming in on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and others on the last two days of the workweek. The two groups then flip days the following week.
“The key is flexibility,” Transwestern President-Midwest Mike Watts told Bisnow. “We may have to craft individual plan by individual plan to deal with this and provide someone the accommodations as needed to continue their career. Nobody has come up with a universal, one-size-fits-all solution.”
Others agree. CoStar News reported that during the Future of Work keynote at ICSC’s Retail in the Age of COVID-19 virtual conference in September, WeWork CEO Sandeep Mathrani said “Flexibility is the name of the game.”
“Start off by being flexible,” he said. “But I do believe that as time goes on, if we want to continue to be a productive nation, [employees] are going to come into the office five days a week.”
2. For some companies, remote work may be here to stay, but for others it remains a temporary safety placeholder. Office work isn’t going away.
“This isn’t the end of the office, merely the end of the days when working at the office is the only option, at least in jobs that allow for it and companies that need to compete for talent,” Chris Kane, BBC’s former head of Corporate Real Estate, told Forbes.
“Our own view is that people are eager to get back to the office,” Hudson Pacific President Mark Lammas told the LA Times in October. “While work from home may have been a stopgap measure and necessary, it is not really a long-term solution. Without being in the office, you lose a sense of cohesion — the ability to collaborate and mentor. It eventually takes a toll on your culture.”
Ardine Williams, vice president of workforce development at Amazon, told the Wall Street Journal in September: “The ability to connect with people, the ability for teams to work together in an ad hoc fashion—you can do it virtually, but it isn’t as spontaneous. We are looking forward to returning to the office.”
Meanwhile, Tom Vecchione, a principal at Vocon, told Commercial Observer: “Tech companies still believe in physical spaces. There’s a new awareness about wanting to be in a building working together.”
3. An office is where employees learn, grow and innovate with each other. It’s about building and retaining a culture where people want to work — something that can’t be replicated remotely.
Ellen Kullman, CEO of 3-D printing startup Carbon Inc., told the Wall Street Journal: “What I worry about the most is innovation. Innovation is hard to schedule—it’s impossible to schedule.”
Bob Nowak, executive vice president of property management at JLL, who oversees 20 million square feet of offices for different landlords, told the LA Times: “White-collar business has drawn the conclusion that socialization is key to productivity. What we are hearing is that productivity is noticeably dropping.”
Coen van Oostrom, CEO of real estate developer Edge told CNBC: “We believe that the office will be the place that you get together, where the culture is being built, where new people are being brought in and can learn and understand the way things are done in a company, but to do so you have to have a work environment that is amazing.”
4. It’s important to involve employees in the planning process.
BizWomen reported workers want a say in their return, citing a study by Eagle Hill Consulting that found 41% of workers surveyed believe having a say in return to the office strategies would make them feel safe upon returning.
Larry Gadea, founder and CEO of Envoy told TechRepublic: “The data tells us that employees do want to return to the workplace, but they want to come back to one that takes better care of them and puts their health and safety at the forefront.”
Sherri Butterfield, CEO of Slack, told the BBC: “We all know that work will never be the same, even if we don’t yet know all the ways in which it will be different. What we can say with certainty is that the sudden shift to distributed work has provided a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine everything about how we do our jobs and how we run our companies.”
How is your company handling the transition back to the office? How are your workplace needs evolving? Our team at Bridge wants to hear about your experience and help find the right space to meet your company’s goals – both in the short term and the long term.
This week’s question is:
What is the future of coworking and flexible office?
One of the most common questions Bridge Commercial Real Estate is hearing from investors is, “How will the pandemic affect demand for coworking and flexible office?”
It’s no surprise why. Even before COVID-19 hit, the concepts of coworking and flexible office spaces were among the hottest topics of conversation in the industry, as leading brands saw rapid expansion and evolution in a relatively short span. Just last year, JLL forecast that flexible office could take up to 30 percent of total market share by 2030 — a six-fold increase from 2019. There has also been significant growth of the enterprise model, as corporations sought to bring the most popular elements in-house with their own, branded spin through vibrant amenity lounges with cafe-style seating or town hall concepts.
While no one can predict the future, we remain steadfast in our belief that the sweet spot for flex space within a property exists between 10% to 15% of total leasable space. To support this objective, Bridge has been exploring partnership models with a major, national brand to lease space in our buildings while we help finance upfront costs and receive a portion of profits — a win-win scenario for both parties. More insight on this strategy can be found in an article I wrote for Southeast Real Estate Business back in March 2019: https://rebusinessonline.com/coworking-flexible-work-spaces-are-latest-trends-in-evolving-office-needs-of-modern-workforce/
Over the past several years, Bridge has also been diligently working on strategic, value-add improvements across our portfolio, including modernized lobbies, conference centers, outdoor areas and other alternative workspaces so all tenants can access some of these common elements.
As the pandemic initially progressed and social distancing became the norm, traditional coworking spaces — once prized for their ability to foster community and communal amenities like coffee bars, ping pong tables and huddle rooms — became exactly the type of places where groups of people are now forced to avoid. However, that should not be conflated with the much broader category of flex office space, which continues to grow in demand as companies begin to explore best strategies for re-assimilating their workers into an office environment.
Employers are discovering that working from home may have a role to play in a broader post-COVID game plan, but that doesn’t mean homes are the best full-time environments for work. People crave going to workplace communities to create connections, find purpose, achieve balance in their days, engage with different perspectives and be part of a distinct culture. In multiple markets, we’re seeing employers, operators and landlords working together to determine how and when it is safe to bring people back together again, helping spark new dialogue on flex space solutions that will play a more prominent role in the new post-COVID era.
At Bridge Commercial Real Estate, we’ve long believed there is no one-size-fits-all office solution, which is why we remain confident that flex office options are here to stay — and grow — because of the same, enduring reasons that made it popular in the first place. To bounce back from unforeseen economic challenges as a result of coronavirus, flexibility, both in square footage of physical office space and lease terms, will feel more comfortable for more tenants.
Looking back to the days of executive suites, there’s an established pattern as to why burgeoning startups and small businesses alike gravitate to flex options. While they may pay a premium in rent, they can immediately move into a new fully furnished space and hit the ground running with necessary technology like phones, high-speed Internet and printers, along with extra space that meets the new social distancing expectations valued by workers.
During a time when more companies are learning how to best utilize remote work as just one tool within their arsenal, flexible office helps facilitate a hybrid approach of these instruments , giving employees more choice of when and where they work. As larger corporations take a fresh look at how much office space they require, where they need to be located and how to best allocate the space for work that can’t be done from home, we also anticipate a shift toward the hub-and-spoke model. In essence, this represents a proliferation of more satellite offices in suburban areas, rather than a single large headquarters in the urban core. Having more workers spread out in smaller footprints that can offer ample space for social distancing along with the intangible advantages of a collegial work environment just makes sense given the new norm. Bridge is already an active player in many of these new suburban focal points, and we anticipate more growth opportunities in the months ahead.
These “tools” are not new, but the urgent need for them and collective better understanding of how to deploy them are. Regardless of which office solution is right for our tenants, Bridge Commercial Real Estate offers the market knowledge and expertise that facilitates tailored solutions specific to each company’s individual needs — today and tomorrow.
This week’s question is:
When and how should my company return to our office space?
Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Bridge Investment Group has taken extra measures to prioritize the health and wellbeing of our tenants and employees, keeping buildings open and operational throughout the crisis so essential businesses can continue
Now as stay-at-home orders continue to lift, more companies and employees are trying to figure out when and how they will return to their offices amid our “new normal.” The Atlanta Commercial Board of REALTORS recently conducted a survey among its members to get an overall gauge of the landscape. Of the 235 responses, about 65% respondents moved back into offices in May and 90% were planning to return this month. As we look to our tenants in many of our markets around the country where stay-at-home orders have been lifted, we are seeing similar trends start to take shape.
As a building owner and operator, our team certainly understands the sense of urgency among companies that desire to return to their office spaces as soon as possible. We’ve missed our tenants, and take pride in the many ways our properties provide purposeful spaces to enable focus and productivity, along with fostering face-to-face collaboration and company culture while allowing people to find balance between “work” and “home.”
As a company, we’ve also missed working side by side with our own colleagues at Bridge Investment Group. Since early May, we began transitioning back to working together at our 40,000-square-foot office space in Atlanta. The implementation of new health protocols and proper physical distancing have been a success, and the level of joy and satisfaction our employees are experiencing from in-person interactions — both spontaneous and scheduled — offers us a new appreciation for teamwork and meetings around the same table.
According to CNBC’s May 2020 Workforce Happiness Index, 54% of surveyed workers in the U.S. reported their jobs were harder to do effectively since the pandemic. Another new report from Gensler found only 12% of workers want to work from their home 5 days a week, and younger generations are less productive as well as less satisfied with the work-from-home experience.
My daughter, who is in her last year of college, recently mentioned to me that she would not want to work from home. She questioned how she would build meaningful relationships in the absence of daily face-to-face interactions, or how a future employer would measure her leadership ability and work ethic. Without the shared office environment, workplace culture unravels, relationships fade, and companies will miss out on untapped potential from the next generation.
However, the same Gensler report found there are critical changes needed before workers will feel comfortable reentering the office. These include a combination of short term increased spacing for social distancing, improved policies to prevent employees coming into the office if sick, and a broad spectrum of cleaning measures, ranging from hand sanitizing stations and air purification systems to touchless doors and fixtures.
While many of these changes are up to the individual office user, Bridge is also continuing its commitment to health and wellbeing by making changes at our 40+ properties and providing resources to more than 1,200 tenants in our effort to support a successful transition back to the office.
Bridge’s focus is not about getting back to 100% normal ASAP – it’s about maximizing safety, encouraging flexibility and reducing anxiety while acclimating to the new reality. We realize there is no one-size-fits-all solution for when and how companies can or should return. Rather, we know the needs of our tenants vary from company to company, property to property and market to market.
Using ongoing, two-way communication, we are staying in touch with how each tenant is handling the situation and how we can support them during these challenging times. To further facilitate these conversations, we recently distributed a “Return to Work” toolkit to our tenants with recommendations on best practices. Bridge is also partnering with an online space planning software system to provide a free tool for tenants who need to revise floor plans and furniture layouts with physical distancing in mind.
Communication continues at the property level, with signage keeping everyone informed on current guidelines for social distancing in elevators and common areas, as well as the latest updates on new sanitation and building access policies.
There is no blueprint or defined set of best practices to follow given the unprecedented nature of our current challenges. Each organization will ultimately forge its own path based on the values and operational realities that encompass it. Whenever your company is ready to return, our property management looks forward to welcoming you back. As of June, we have been back in the office for nearly a month with no issues, and our team is energized and full of joy being able to interact in person again. From our own experience, just know that you can safely return to the workplace.
This week’s question is:
I’m on the lookout for new office space. Can I virtually tour assets in Bridge’s portfolio?
We understand that right now companies want and need to keep business moving forward, while also staying safe and healthy.
To adapt to these times, Bridge recently accelerated the launch of our virtual office tours program, allowing prospective tenants to get a realistic view of different workspaces from the comfort of their home, remote office or wherever they may be. To start, we’re testing the program in our own backyard, by offering virtual tours of all properties and available vacancies across our nine Atlanta-area assets.
The platform is designed to be very user-friendly and a great complement to other leasing tools in the market. All the info you need is in one, easy-to-skim place, including videos for several different spaces within a building, downloadable renderings, comparable price points and fast facts about amenity offerings.
As one of the first Atlanta-based office landlords to roll out on a wide scale for an entire portfolio, we’ve already received great feedback from the local leasing community. Within 24 hours of launching the new platform, an estimated 25% of all Atlanta-area tenant rep brokers had visited the page. We’ve had several follow-up calls and video conferences from interested prospects, where we can offer a guided virtual tour experience and provide more insight about planned capital improvements for various assets.
As we continue to develop the platform, we see great potential to expand the offering into more markets where Bridge owns properties as well as to continue to add more features, such as virtual floor plans of a multiple phase re-entry to the office. While Phase 1 may include plans for three people per 1,000 square, later phases will allow prospects to see how office spaces could appear at double the ratio, with retrofitting options included.
This year has brought many unforeseen challenges, however, this new platform is just one example of how we’re building tailored solutions for users through a three-pronged approach of creativity, collaboration and compassion. As conversations and guidelines around the future of the workplace continue to emerge and evolve, Bridge is here to help your company navigate our “new normal” and provide solutions that make sense for your team and business goals.
For more information about Bridge Commercial Real Estate’s Atlanta Digital Portfolio, please visit https://www.bcre-atl.com or reach out to our team to schedule a guided virtual tour.
This week’s question is:
What measures is Bridge Commercial Real Estate taking to ensure that its properties are safe and secure to use when companies start returning to the office for work?
MARK’S ANSWER: Though timing remains fluid in all of our markets, we understand that many of our tenants are already thinking about when they may be able to return to the office while doing so in a safe and responsible manner due to public health concerns that may take several months to gradually dissipate.
After the COVID-19 driven government orders went into place, we immediately made modifications in building operations that resulted in some short-term operating efficiencies. Since then, we have shifted our focus to preparation for when in-place government orders are lifted and restrictions are softened with respect to stay-at-home orders. As we plan those very positive developments and corresponding re-occupancy of our buildings, the health and safety of our tenants and guests remain our highest priority. We have therefore concentrated our initial efforts on plans that address a few key areas:
- Social Distancing Protocol: As you know, the CDC has advised everyone to practice social distancing guidelines that leave a minimum of 6 feet (2 meters) of space between each person. We are asking tenants in every building to support this protocol and advance this messaging campaign with their employees out of respect for all of our community members. We are working on specific rules that will relate to queueing / riding elevators and using amenity and fitness areas in the building.
- Prudent Protective Measures: We are also implementing our Tier 1 protective measures, which will be incorporated as appropriate for each individual property. Examples include:
- Face Masks: At some properties, tenants and visitors will be required to wear a face cover while in the common areas of the building.
- Hand Washing: We will keep signs posted in all restrooms on best hand washing practices as a reminder for everyone to wash hands often and thoroughly.
- Hand Sanitizer: We are continuing in our attempts to source hand sanitizer to keep available in the main lobbies of our buildings. When soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
- Hygiene Reminders: Signs will be posted throughout buildings reminding people to avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Stay Home Policy: Respectfully, we also ask our tenants to instruct employees who are not feeling well to stay home.
- Common Area Cleaning Considerations: In addition to social distancing guidelines and implementing Tier 1 protective measures, we will also continue to instruct our janitorial teams to clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces throughout the day. This includes elevator buttons, door handles and push plates, light switches, countertops, toilets, faucets, and sinks, etc.
We will continue to communicate other initiatives that we are exploring and plan to implement in subsequent communications to our tenants in the weeks ahead. Property management teams across our portfolio continue to take proactive measures and will be able to keep office users up to speed on the latest information for their specific building while also coordinating requests for individual offices and work suites.
Bridge Commercial Real Estate is a leader in delivering the best office environment and services to its customers while aggressively managing building operating expenses. Within the Bridge managed portfolio of properties, we are proud to confirm a very high level of satisfaction and will certainly draw upon all of our firm’s resources to offer the best service to businesses as we navigate through this challenging time together.
More specifics with respect to resources and public health authority recommendations can be referenced at https://www.bridgeig.com/covid-19/.
This week’s question is:
In an environment where more and more people are being tested and diagnosed with COVID-19, what is the action plan with your office buildings, the property management teams and tenants when your firm is notified of a positive test case in any of your buildings?
MARK’S ANSWER: “Bridge’s top priorities are to protect the safety and well-being of the occupants of its buildings.
We have a culture of leadership, transparency and integrity within Bridge and have empowered our teams to solve problems while serving tenants and setting an example for industry peers. Since COVID-19 first came on our radar, we swiftly assembled a cohort of experienced property management professionals and launched a communication campaign that addressed the impact of different state, county and local government orders.
Our property management teams suggested continuity planning considerations for our tenants and provided reference materials and web links to public health authority information and references.
The property teams modified operational protocols to proactively perform CDC-approved cleaning methods and, in some cases, managed property access procedures for specific tenants in the portfolio. Lastly, our teams developed a response protocol when a confirmed COVID-19 case was reported to a property team.
With over 14 million square feet in the portfolio, the reports we have received have ranged from individuals that have tested positive, to people that have been exposed to family members, friends or coworkers that have tested positive. In each case, we have maintained anonymity of individuals and companies, while informing the other tenants in the building so they can follow their own response plans. Simultaneously, we immediately scheduled additional cleaning for the common areas and tenants’ spaces, with special attention to high touch surfaces utilizing the same CDC-recommended cleaning protocols.
The communication efforts have been and continue to be appreciated and an effective resource for tenants. We recognize the importance of maintaining an environment for our essential tenants to remain open for business. Our property teams have worked hard to facilitate the needs of those businesses that have elected to work remotely. To help those who may be facing challenges of the current business environment, we have circulated information from the Small Business Administration identifying government-sponsored assistance programs and resources.
Although the idea of receiving notice of confirmed COVID-19 cases in an office building can be unsettling, we have confidence in the Bridge team professionals that are executing on deliberate cleaning procedures and communication protocols. We work hard to create a community in our office buildings and our relationship with the people in our communities is meaningful. Like all of you, we are preparing for a brighter time together and know that we will return to reconnect again soon. I personally am following the “physical distancing” recommendations, strictly keeping the minimum six-foot distance apart. However I am also engaging more with friends and family over the phone, via a text exchange and in some cases the virtual gathering. Maintaining our connection with each other is what will help us all get through these challenging times.”