The Future of the Office Is Bright

By Shelby Christensen, LEED Green Associate

As the calendar turns to 2021, it may seem like there’s not much positive to reflect on from the year that was. But, as I continue to talk to members (virtually!) from across the United States and around the world, I come back to one bright spot: property professionals like you.

And, you don’t have to take my word for it: BOMA International recently partnered with Yardi and Brightline Strategies on a first-of-its-kind survey of U.S. office space decision-makers designed to take the pulse of office tenants months into the pandemic. Through the study, our hope was to uncover the unvarnished truth of property management’s performance and get a sense of the direction the industry will be taking in future months—and, possibly, years.

Spoiler alert: Owners and operators of commercial real estate, along with their vendor partners, have done an amazing job navigating through COVID-19—and tenants have noticed. As you will find highlighted in our feature on the survey results (see "Survey Says: The Office Remains a Driver of Business Success"), 77 percent of respondents approved of the way their landlords and property management teams have handled the current health emergency. And, that’s only part of the picture. As property professionals have clearly demonstrated, their unrelenting commitment to service amid the evolving challenges of the pandemic and the enduring value of the spaces they provide also have been brought to the surface.

I think we all have a greater appreciation of the benefits that come with a physical presence in the office. It’s a place for connection, focus and collaboration, and it reinforces the mission, value and culture of the tenant organization. So, it’s not surprising that, despite major headwinds—including the 49 percent of tenants who don’t expect the resumption of normal business operations until sometime in early 2021—74 percent of respondents believe that "our office space is vital to conducting a successful business."

Nevertheless, those headwinds are leaving their mark, and there are a number of external factors currently in play that are impacting decision-making: When will a vaccine be made widely available? Will there be another shutdown? When will my employees feel safe coming back to work? Will a staggered workforce be the ongoing model for work? What changes do I need to make to my office space for the new way of operating? Until there’s more certainty about the future direction of the pandemic and the timing of the economic rebound, we’re going to continue to see hesitation and caution in tenants’ decision-making.

Because of the strain on the economy caused by the pandemic, tenants will be hyper-focused on their costs for the foreseeable future. But, this is nothing new; cost has always been a concern with tenants. The best property managers oversee their buildings’ operating expenses with great care, and they understand the impact of certain expenses on their tenants.

For that reason, and as the study bears out, tenants have come to rely on property management professionals more than ever. Many tenants have looked to the commercial real estate industry to stay updated on the changing environment and to help them think about returning to work safely. This will continue as tenants look to the future and think about tailoring their office space, navigating a hybrid working model and providing a safe and healthy environment for their employees.

While it’s true that the pandemic has shown we can work remotely, it also has reinforced the purpose of the office. And, as the study indicates, the office is no longer just a place to work. It’s a place where a company’s values and culture are best expressed.

Our role in all of this is to provide a safe and healthy building that fully supports collaboration, creativity and innovation. Clearly, as the survey indicates, property managers are on the case.