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Design, Mental Well-Being, and Development

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What was once a push towards outfitting offices with the latest technology is now a push in the other direction. Office design is, now more than ever, focused on creating a new kind of working space, one that will work in tandem with newly proven methods of remote work. That means less desk space and more open space, less filing rooms and more server rooms, less of a focus on simply working at the office and more of a focus on being “present” there. The office is going green and getting healthy, accelerating a movement away from the old corporate aesthetic and towards a modernized approach to work.

To understand why, one must consider the way that work has changed. Workers, bombarded with information and enmeshed in a hyper-connected online workplace, are now seeking refuge in the real world. As the capacities of one’s personal technology have increasingly allowed for remote work, office tenants (i.e. employers) have quickly begun to reevaluate the benefits of an office space. Further, with mental health concerns being spotlighted by the pandemic, employers are beginning to account for their employees’ mental well-being more closely than before; and developers have noticed. [1] According to real estate services company, CBRE’s vice chairman, Paul Amrich, “‘There’s not a developer or forward-thinking building owner today that doesn’t have this top of mind.” [2]

   What does this translate into, and why does it matter? First and foremost, this points to a key new direction for the real estate industry. The real estate industry at large was one of the industries most affected by the pandemic. More than a quarter of large real estate firms filed for bankruptcy last year. [3] The industry’s recovery will track very closely with the greater economic recovery many are hoping for this year, as we have previously examined

As such, recovery will be especially dependent upon whether the office market can recover revenue losses stemming from the new reality of a post-COVID work environment. Taking this opportunity to modernize office spaces, much in the way large tech companies have done in the past decade, will likely be the office market’s key to revitalization. “It’s not just pretty; it’s purposeful,” explains Richard Dallam of NBBJ, the firm that designed Samsung’s new San Jose headquarters. [4] Op. Cit. n1.

Second, the so-called “evolution of flexible offices,” matters because it will drive up competition in firms seeking to give the office new value. [5] Op. Cit. n2. Firms will have to reassert the office’s necessity by ensuring their product is state-of-the-art. What is to be included in a state-of-the-art office will likely be affected by this new trend. We can expect to see more outdoor space, more communal space, more environmental control (e.g. manual thermostats and light dimmers), and a general push towards employee friendly environments. Of course, a focus on mental well-being offers just one avenue to modernization for this industry. Heightened focus on cloud computing, public transit access, and physical well-being will, among other foci, continue to shape an industry in great need of restructuring. 

Sources:

[1] – Margolies, Jane, “A New Tool in Treating Mental Illness: Building Design,” The New York Times, 5 Jan. 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/05/business/mental-health-facilities-design.html, accessed 5 Jan. 2021.

[2] – Margolies, Jane, “The Next Frontier in Office Space? The Outdoors,” The New York Times, 15 Jan. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/15/business/office-buildings-nature-biophilia.html, accessed 5 Jan. 2021.

[3] – Hill, Jeremy and Doherty, Katherine, “Pandemic Spurs Most Bankruptcy Filings Since 2009,” Bloomberg, 5 Jan. 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-01-05/u-s-bankruptcy-tracker-pandemic-spurs-most-filings-since-2009?srnd=premium, accessed 5 Jan. 2021.

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