In an instant it seemed, the Spring of 2020 stopped the rhythm of office life in its tracks and rearranged the way we, as workers, divide work and home. It’s now rather familiar to virtually visit each of our coworkers’ homes through a Microsoft Teams video call, sometimes waving to their family members or being understanding of a quick virtual school interjection from a youngster.
With vaccines rolling out quickly across the Seattle region, we know the return to the traditional workplace is ahead later in 2021 for many, but we also know the return to what the workplace was in 2020 has disappeared from our grasp. As we weigh the positive of no commute time with the challenge of isolation, we are all left wondering what the new 2021 version of the office landscape looks like.
With the topic being so hot, we found this an opportune time to sit down with RedCloud friend Bill Cooper, EVP at Colliers, to get some expert insights about the current and future state of office space in Seattle and beyond. This topic is not only important to operating our team out of RedCloud headquarters in Bellevue, but to the clients and our consultants who report to workplaces across the region. What was originally scheduled for a short meeting had us soon realizing that we could talk to Bill endlessly about how the pandemic changed office real estate and the traditional 9-5 workplace as we know it. Here are some highlights from our meeting:
RC: What trends are you seeing in the demand for office space as companies envision life after the pandemic (and offices opening back up?)
BC: There are a couple different trends we’re seeing here in the Seattle commercial real estate market. A few of the larger firms who decided to sublease their space during Covid have pulled back and are now focused on their new “Flexible workplace strategy”. What I am seeing now is a planned back to the office by the end of 2021, with most companies offering work from home days, remote work, satellite offices and newly designed office spaces. Most are providing more physical space per person within the office and flexible areas to work from, but all new designs must take into account the specific job functions people are performing.
In addition, some industries are commanding even more space than ever before due to continued growth. As has been well documented in the news, the pandemic has fueled significant growth for tech companies. Well-funded companies (from startup to SMEs) coming from states like California are headed to our area, leasing tens of thousands of square feet to space out their employees in a less dense setup.
RC: Are you seeing any adaptations in the types of office space, or layout/format/etc., from companies?
BC: A lot has changed as companies consider their re-opening procedures. While the standard working size per employee pre-pandemic averaged 140 to 170 square feet, we will see this expanding almost twofold as we continue to social distance - even as vaccines are more widespread. For bigger offices, we can expect a continued hiatus from the communal coffee machine as well as designated directional routes when walking through the halls to keep traffic one-way.
Companies have a lot on their plate as they manage the liability of gathering their employees together in a partially vaccinated environment. They will be expected to provide a safe space and might need to invest in equipment like sanitizing stations, hospital-grade air scrubbers, provided PPE and create well thought-out action plans for contact tracing. Of course, each company's response will continue to be quite personal, based on leadership, vaccination policies, and the type of work being done.
RC: What will downtown Seattle look like in the future? And, Bellevue too?
BC: Downtown Seattle has changed significantly since the pandemic - sadly, it’s a shell of what is was pre-pandemic. Driven by City Council misalignment, social issues and lack of office occupancy, the City feels deserted. That said, I expect this to pick up a bit as new companies move in, but the Eastside - and namely Bellevue - is already buzzing with new industries. Given the region’s engineering talent, Gaming companies are moving in and taking over large office spaces. We’d expect an uptick in restaurants and related services to accommodate them as well as increased traffic to the area.
Thank you to Bill for his time and insights – we’ll check back in with him in 2022 to see how these predictions evolve!