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Managing the ‘New Normal’ of Commercial Real Estate in the Workplace of the Future

"Tight corridors that once fit hundreds of coworkers became floor plans for pandemic restrictions within commercial buildings."

The commercial real estate industry has endured a whirlwind of change stemming from COVID-19’s  impact. Publicly available data on health and safety, new corporate policies, and rapidly evolving worker preferences have upended the conventional wisdom around ‘the workplace’ and what it means to be an employee with a physical presence. Despite these challenges, the CRE industry has improvised and adapted to  this new environment with the cooperation of its peer groups to provide a picture of what the ‘new normal’ of commercial space will look like.

Throughout the pandemic, landlords, developers, and asset managers have faced a challenge not seen in over a century: How do I guarantee the safety of my commodity? A biological public safety threat not seen in one hundred years had suddenly disrupted the otherwise smooth operation of office, retail, and commercial properties across the world. The immediate answer was clear: Communication. Open dialogue with tenants, addressing questions and concerns on COVID- 19’s impact on their rentable space, gave commercial landlords guidance on what would be required to retain trust from their customers.

Property managers, often the frontline workers of the commercial real estate industry and the professionals most familiar with the physical environment that tenants inhabit daily, were relied on by the industry to provide guidance on safe solutions. Face masks and gloves, recommended by the CDC, became common-place policy for on-site staff and vendors. Tight corridors that once fit hundreds of coworkers became floor plans for pandemic restrictions within commercial buildings. Elevator cabs with restricted capacity, stairwells, and cafeterias with check-in schedules became the new normal. The property management industry rapidly became focused on people management.

Much like humanity’s propensity to evolve around its environment, the engineering world spearheaded innovative change that would provide the next generation of technology in biological safety. The HVAC industry implemented Bi-Polar Ionization in forced-air systems, providing disinfection for ambient air in commercial facilities. Air Filter Classifications were upgraded, with medical-grade filtration (Often Merv-13 or above) offered throughout commercial buildings. The janitorial industry, often gone unseen during business hours for most commercial tenants, witnessed an explosion in demand for commercial cleaning services. Advancements such as Electrostatic Disinfection allowed for ad-hoc and nightly cleaning teams to provide safe, breathable environments.

Although the COVID-19 Pandemic continues to impact lives around the world, governments and corporations have issued varying thought leadership on what the ‘Return to Work’ would look like. For commercial landlords and their professionals, what was once deemed a transitory management experience, may prove to be a long-lasting structural change in the workplace environment. However, where there is challenge also lies opportunity.

Social distancing trends and the needs of companies small-and-large to attract talent have given developers and landlords the opportunity to market and produce the next generation of commercial real estate. The need for open floor plans with adequate spacing between employee workstations, in combination with developers’ demands to accommodate the amenities that most companies require to attract top talent, means that demand still exists for large floor plans. Albeit a slightly different work environment than seen in the first two decades of the 21st century. Regardless of the challenges ahead, leaders in the commercial real estate industry will evolve to protect their investments, and ultimately their clients, in turn producing what will be known as The Workplace of the Future.


Lucas Malavarca, Senior Property Manager










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