If portfolio managers and brokers hope to compete in the changing corporate real estate landscape, they need to understand how companies are preparing for tomorrow’s office.
So, what does tomorrow’s office look like?
Recent studies suggest that we are advancing toward a smaller but smarter office that is more compact and collaborative and increasingly mobile.
Many companies originally sought out more efficient office space as a way to save money and resources during tough economic times and found through studying their occupancy needs, they had excess space that could be shed or used more efficiently. However, the continual evolution of technology and changing demographics will allow smaller, more efficient, and collaborative office space to become the norm.
The Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) Foundation and the Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies and its Masters of Professional Studies in Real Estate Program brought together the best and brightest minds in real estate on November 10 for their second annual Thought Leader Symposium, 2025: A Vision for Commercial Real Estate.
The panel of experts said to remain competitive, the existing stock of commercial real estate must be reconfigured to keep pace with a mobile, Internet-connected workforce; ongoing changes in technology, and to support the way companies are structuring their staffs to foster more collaboration and efficiency.
Martha A. O’Mara, PhD, CRE, managing director of Corporate Portfolio Analytics, whose firm advises large companies and organizations that collectively occupy 500 million square feet, said increased density in office buildings is here to stay, and she foresees radical changes in the workspace environment.
According to Teknion’s recent Workplace of the Future study, 46 percent of companies surveyed currently employ cloud computing — which allows employees to access company data from any computer. Another study by Cisco found that three out of five workers say they don’t need to be in the office to be productive anymore. With a laptop, tablet, smartphone, or some combination of those devices, many office employees can work anywhere they can get online.
This also means that time spent in the office is often dedicated to meetings and other face-to-face activities rather than sitting at a desk.
With technology supporting an increasingly mobile workforce, “people are not going to want to come in to a workplace unless it is an exciting environment,” said O’Mara. “The ideal situation may be where you go into the office two or three days per week and work remotely the other days, which reduces our carbon footprint by 20% – 40% and has a huge impact on improved quality of life.” It also makes people more productive when they do come into the office, she said.
O’Mara points out that changing demographics will also contribute largely to this new office structure. By 2025, about half of the baby boomers will be out of the workplace, she noted.
The average age of employees at Goldman Sachs headquarters in Manhattan is 32, said James B. King, AIA, principal of AREA Advisor LLC King. “Half the people working there are millenials.”
The working habits of millenials, or Generation Y, and office needs are radically different from what the industry is used to providing. Perkins & Will Principal Joan Blumenfeld noted that Gen-Xers and Millenials are more comfortable blending work and home life than their baby boomer parents.
According to Patricia Lynn, CCIM, principal of consulting firm Lynnk, the millenials, are using three distinct places: the traditional corporate HQ about 30% of the time, the home office another 30% of the time, leaving a giant opportunity in what Lynn called “the third place – a kind of Starbucks on steroids. She says new working spaces will not be based on lease occupancy but instead will be based on membership – anywhere from $150-$425 a slot – where the millenials stop to connect, collaborate and create.
Blumenfeld also noted a distinction in workplace trends among different types of firms.
Large-scale financial services, consultants and other professional services firms place increasing value on supporting their employees outside the office to encourage more client-facing time. On the other hand, technology firms and other creative process-focused companies are seeking to make their workspaces more accommodating. They want to keep employees interacting together in the same environment.
As such, companies are changing their corporate environments is by combining the work environment with elements of a home environment preferred by new generations of workers, as opposed to baby boomers who prefer to keep the two separate. Companies are altering their workspace design to incorporate more open floor plans and “common areas” with extensive seating and collaboration areas, while providing employees the technology to connect from anywhere.
It’s important to keep these trends in mind when investing in and managing buildings. Can you reinvent your space for a tenant with these changing needs?
“If the last 15 years are any indication of the pace of change in our industry, the next 15 will be phenomenal,” said BOMA Foundation Chair Marilyn Wilbarger. “Our thought leaders are going to give us a lot to think about in terms of how we should strategize to ensure that our future buildings are places where people want to work.”
Please note the author started this piece from her home office where she works on Wednesdays and finished it from her shared office space (pictured) on Thursday.
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