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Business Observer Tuesday, Jun. 2, 2020 2 months ago

What will office space look like post-coronavirus?

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As workers contemplate going back to the office, one architect shares his thoughts on what tenants and landlords need to be thinking about.
by: Columnist Columnist

By Barron Schimberg

As the state of Florida and many others begin to relax restrictions, office space will need to be thought through in different ways.

As an architect who has designed a number of commercial spaces, it’s clear that tenants and landlords will need to consider how to address their employees’ comfort and owners will have to figure out how to maintain productivity.

Following are ideas, insights and predictions for the changes we will likely see, and the impact this will create within the office world, here in Sarasota and beyond.

OFFICE LAYOUT

There is likely going to be a downsizing of smaller-sized companies. Smaller firms, with fewer than 50 employees, may choose to change their business model. Rather than planning for future growth, these companies may be decreasing the number of employees or remaining the same, thus keeping the office space the same or slightly lower.

Larger office spaces will begin to be broken up into smaller square footage to accommodate leaner needs and fewer people.

Sharing meeting spaces will become more prevalent. Why include a large conference room in your own space when sharing with an adjacent tenant minimizes the use and reduces cost?

With more people working remotely, there will be less of a need to congregate in a room. Instead, videoconferencing may eliminate the need for larger conference rooms all together.

Sinks to wash your hands will become more prevalent if there isn’t already a kitchenette or nearby bathroom.

ZONING

With the downsizing of employees and inherent health concerns of people around us, home offices may become more of the norm. We have gotten use to our dining room table and wearing slippers to a meeting.

To accommodate this shift, zoning rules for residential properties will need to adjust. Certain types of professional businesses now be considered as acceptable to operate out of a house.

If there is a choice between renting space in a building or minimizing your exposure to people while also minimizing your expenses, running your company out of your house or an “accessory” structure may become an attractive option.

I anticipate this rezoning to spark debate and conversation, but is a viable option for many small businesses.

OFFICE TRENDS

The trend over the last 10-15 years has been toward open studio spaces with fewer offices.

The CEO’s corner office gave way to a more usable space for employees to relax or work in, both with a view and intended to maximize production. Offices that were located on the perimeter walls included glass along the corridor to allow light into the central core space, illuminating work stations or desks with natural light. Pockets of space were created to provide nooks and crannies for employees to work with their laptops or to congregate.

Will this trend continue?

Work stations, by nature, are approximately 6 feet apart. However, offices create distancing, so we may start to see a shift back toward more private offices. I suspect a hybrid layout to respond to the open work studios so common now in offices, but a redesign of additional offices to give certain employees more privacy and separation.

What will also change is the need to give people more space to navigate through the office. Narrow hallways will become less frequent and additional square footage to accommodate employees may need to be factored in when looking for space to rent.

These changes will also reshape furniture design.

We already see in grocery stores the plexiglass barriers or in retail, separation of the front desk from where you pay. The creation of “pods” may become more prevalent within offices where numerous people are adjacent to one another.

Reception desks may be designed with a higher front to provide more of a separation between a receptionist and a customer or client and desks will be placed farther apart for distancing.

BUILDING COSTS

In this new environment, some tenant improvement costs will go down and some will go up.

Landlords can provide rentable conference rooms for their tenants, building these spaces only once and minimizing the need to build out these expensive spaces multiple times.

However, there may be a need to build more bathrooms within the tenant spaces, for people will be less inclined to share a bathroom than before. Having control of who uses it and how often it gets clean will become a priority.

Business owners will need to buy laptops for employees who prefer to work from home and possibly additional equipment for remote setups.

Professionally, it’s exciting to think about the opportunities that exist for business owners and building owners to navigate through this new phase of our lives. I’d love to hear from readers as to what they’re learning and finding in their own workspaces. To share your comments, email [email protected].

Barron Schimberg is a Sarasota-based architect who has designed a range of commercial spaces in the region with his firm, the Schimberg Group. He is a member of AIA, NCARB and the Florida Green Building Coalition and registered in Florida and Texas.

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