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Commercial Real Estate

How to Plan For The Post-Pandemic Office

CRESA Project Manager Christina Quinones-Kurzyniec shares tips on how to navigate the return to the office.

There are many aspects of the project management process that have changed in the past year due to the effects of COVID-19.

As companies begin to reintegrate their operations and return to the office, it is important to consider changes in municipal or corporate regulations and be sensitive to employee wellness and office interactions. Companies should partner with experienced project managers to help them navigate the entire real estate process from a property management perspective while reaping the benefits of their market expertise.

Site selection is arguably the most important step clients face in their commercial real estate planning. Due to the impact of COVID-19, the availability rate of office space increased to 20.6 percent by year-end 2020 (up 3.4 percent from 2019). Now more than ever, thinking outside the box is key as space utilization decisions are being made.

Christina Quinones-Kurzyniec, CRESA

As one innovative example, companies could consider selecting vacated big-box buildings or warehouses to build-out their space. These types of spaces typically have lower rents than traditional Class A or B office buildings and can be a more cost-effective approach for companies looking to reduce their real estate costs.

Additionally, many companies are currently considering maintaining work from home policies for big portions of their workforce, which will, in turn, reduce their space needs and their operational and facilities management costs. Utilizing a workplace strategist is valuable in this stage of the process as it can help narrow down building options and identify the best strategic approach to site selection.

In general, flexibility will be key in a post-pandemic world.

However, in terms of space planning and design, there are many other factors that companies should consider as they navigate the effects of COVID-19. For example, new corporate or jurisdictional mandates might limit the size of gatherings or occupancy levels in different areas of the office. This can be a reason for tenants to make adjustments to a cubicle and private office sizes and reevaluate collaborative work areas and flow patterns within the office.

As we all have learned to adjust and transition to a largely virtual conferencing style, companies should also consider increasing the utilization of private conferencing spaces–especially for smaller meetings (2-4 people)–and incorporate those types of rooms in the design.

It is probably safe to assume that most of these will remain remote for the foreseeable future in terms of training. This will allow us to rethink the size of training spaces and include some options for flexibility to repurpose those rooms for other uses. The same would apply to other common areas such as break or game rooms. Also, project managers can work with the design team to select finish materials that are readily available and identify furniture, fixtures, and equipment options that are cost-effective and have reliable supply chain options.

Lastly, the engineering and facilities systems within the buildings should be carefully qualified and evaluated during the design phase.

Understanding current specifications, reliability, and operational limits is key to establishing improvement goals for these systems. Incorporating better quality air filters, humidity controls, and increasing outside airflow within air handling systems are just a few opportunities that can be considered.

If nothing else, COVID has taught us to start the process early and maintain a diligent project schedule, especially in construction. Although most markets have been largely unaffected by construction projects’ progress, we have witnessed certain hiccups in the last year that should now be on our radar moving forward.

Delivery of materials has been the biggest issue during the pandemic, with an overall slower timeline in terms of the supply chain. Experienced project managers can help identify long-lead items early in the process to minimize the impact of delayed deliveries or widespread interruptions in the supply chain. With a quality project manager on board, clients have a resource that will help them understand other factors that can also affect the schedule, such as permitting, local regulations, and other supply chain issues that might affect project progress.

Additionally, on-site health and safety protocols are the new normal and will likely continue for the foreseeable future. As part of the project plan, a project manager can establish guidelines and requirements for contractors to follow while on-site such as breaking out crews and minimize contractor cross-over on-site (when possible) to minimize crowding at the worksite. An increase in offsite construction were possible would be beneficial to reduce congestion at the worksite.

As we continue to navigate construction in a post-COVID world, we need to familiarize ourselves with any potential risks as early as possible to understand how the process and timeline of the project may be impacted. A good project manager should identify project showstoppers or critical path items early and ensure to have a plan for alternatives to manage the risk associated with those critical items.

Christina Quinones-Kurzyniec is a Leed Green Associate Senior Vice President/Project Manager at CRESA.

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