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EXECUTIVE INSIGHTS

This is How Coronavirus Will Impact Your Real Estate Strategy

by Chad Smith on July 9, 2020
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How Modern Enterprises Solve Real Estate Challenges
 

Real estate strategy can feel a lot like meteorology even in the best of circumstances.

You make the most accurate forecast you can, based on the data you have, and then you wait to see the impact.

The coronavirus pandemic has created the perfect storm for the real estate market, causing widespread uncertainty and shifting demand.

As a corporate real estate leader, you might feel like you’re steering a ship through uncharted waters — especially with the threat of another wave on the horizon. To help you prepare for this new frontier, here are some of the latest findings and industry insights. 

What are the latest ‘return to work’ statistics?

With guidelines that vary from one state to the next, companies are developing their own plans for a return to work. And although it will look different for everyone, some changes are universal.

The need to maintain distance, based on recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has changed the way individuals interact and inhabit their physical space. That will likely impact corporate real estate decisions for the foreseeable future.

Here’s what the latest statistics show, according to data from CBRE and PwC:

  • 78% of companies plan to reconfigure workspaces to promote physical distancing
  • 72% of companies will reopen their workplace in phases, with employees returning based on need or in rotating shifts
  • 52% plan to give employees the option to work remotely for the foreseeable future
  • 45% will require off-site self-screening for COVID-19 symptoms
  • 35% of CFOs plan to reduce their real estate footprint
  • 13% of companies will conduct on-site health screenings

What does this mean for your long-term real estate strategy?

Smaller office footprints and fewer on-site employees will be part of the near future, but what about the long term?

The truth is, while more employees are expected to work remotely at least part of the time, this isn’t preferable or even possible for everyone. And although there’s plenty of technology to help teams collaborate remotely, there’s still no substitute for face-to-face interactions. People will always want and need a place to collaborate and engage in person — or a quiet workstation away from the noise and distractions of home.

One trend we may see as a result is real estate designed for more specific functions, according to an article by McKinsey & Company.

There will likely be an increased focus on collaborative spaces, for instance, while assigned seats will become less of a priority.

How can you create a successful real estate strategy going forward?

Creating a safer environment where employees feel comfortable is difficult — especially in an era of rapidly evolving technology, workforce habits, and public health guidelines.

While earlier trends pointed toward workspace densification, with continued use of open floor plans, shared workstations, and multi-use layouts, office layouts today will look a bit different — at least for the next few months. Additionally, health officials will likely amend building codes and update standards for square footage per person, enclosed space allowance, and HVAC alterations. So, how can you make sure you’re developing a strategy that meets the needs of your workforce today and well into the future?

Don’t make snap judgements


“Let’s make sure that we make smart decisions about the space and how we’re going to occupy it that are adjustable so that we don’t go in adjusting entire campuses and buildings. The worst thing we can do is start making changes without understanding where we’re coming from or where we’re getting to.”

Gordon Wright, director of HOK’s global WorkPlace practice, in a recent Workplace Innovator podcast

While it can be tempting to make assumptions based on recent news, we’re learning more about the virus and its implications every day. Information changes often, along with the understanding of the epidemiology and circumstances governing protocols for health and safety.

Consult with other key stakeholders, like your CFO and facilities leader, to ensure your decisions are rooted in not only public health needs but also long-term economic forecasts and space utilization habits.

Invest in the right technology

If your organization is like most, then the coronavirus pandemic likely sped up your digital transformation. Software implementations that would typically have taken months were condensed into a few weeks.

Just as digital workplace solutions helped you transition to working remotely, they can be equally as valuable as you return to work.

If you are among the 78% of companies planning to reconfigure their space for physical distancing, the right space planning software can make all the difference.

iOFFICE’s new feature, Space-Right™, uses an algorithm to reconfigure your floor plans based on distancing parameters you can set with a simple slider.

Using this extension of our space and move management software, you can automatically reassign seats or assign employees to designated shifts. You can also see unsafe spaces — such as small conference rooms — and reconfigure or reclassify them.

This gives your workforce peace of mind while allowing you to better plan for your future real estate needs.

Start planning as soon as possible

Even if your organization isn’t planning to reopen offices for several months, it’s never too early to begin strategizing your return to work.

If you plan to reconfigure your space, consider using move management software to streamline the process.

And if you’re planning to make remote work a permanent option, you might want to consider office hoteling, hot desking, or another reservation-based model so you’ll know how many employees are planning to be in the office on any given day.

This new era is pushing commercial real estate leaders to reimagine office space and find new ways to meet the evolving needs of the workforce. There’s no precedent for this and it isn’t easy. But for dedicated CRE professionals like you, making critical decisions with the health and safety of end-users in mind is nothing new. You’re accustomed to solving complex challenges.

And with so many useful technologies and resources available, you’re well-prepared to tackle this one, too.

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