The coronavirus pandemic's wide-ranging impact on the business world has led to many questions regarding what a typical office will look like after the outbreak subsides.
In the earlier weeks of the pandemic, thousands of businesses were forced to close their in-person offices to curb the spread of the virus. During this time, companies used technology to communicate virtually, and their employees continued to work effectively from home.
But despite this impromptu proof-of-concept, local commercial real estate experts agreed that businesses won't be rushing to leave the office behind altogether.
A recent "Work From Home" survey from global architectural firm Gensler seems to support this perspective, with only 12% of those surveyed wishing to continue to work from home full-time.
Of the other respondents, 44% answered that they'd like to work some days at home and some at office, and another 44% want to work only at the office.
Gary Tasman, the CEO of Cushman & Wakefield in Fort Myers, believes that there will be significant changes in how businesses use office space after the pandemic. And while he thought these changes were going to occur anyway, he said the pandemic "accelerated" the progression of new trends that were already forming.
"That culture of inter-personal action and relationship-building is really going to be the underlying strategy for almost all office uses," he said.
In recent years, a trend has been seen in offices offering less divided space for a more collaborative environment. Tasman said that, while the open workspace does not work for every company and every employee, the pandemic will lead to less private spaces in offices and more public and social spaces.
Despite employees proving throughout the pandemic that they can be productive while working from home – and that virtual methods of communication can make meetings faster – Tasman noted that many employees miss the relationship-building and person-to-person interactions that come with office spaces.
Cushman and Wakefield conducted the "XSF@home Survey" amid the pandemic, which was meant to gauge COVID-19's impact on the workplace and included 50,000 respondents across 99 countries. The survey found that 73% of the workforce now believes their company should embrace some level of working from home and that 75% felt productive when they needed to focus while working form home.
According to the survey, however, 50% struggled to connect to the overall company culture while working from home.
Therefore, Tasman predicts that after the pandemic, offices will start to support a worker with a more fluid daily regime than the typical routine of arriving at the office at 9 a.m. and leaving at 5 p.m.
"The line is going to blur more," Tasman said.
This will contribute, he said, to the demand for more public and social spaces in offices and more freedom for employees to work from a variety of locations.
"The idea that you have big, private offices ... that's really been challenged a lot," he said. "The idea that you have to have a daily in-person meeting with your team doesn't mean that you have to be physically there.
"The strategy for businesses to be most efficient and to drive that efficiency is a lot more about collaboration and transparency than it is about somebody having a big, nice trophy office," he added. "When the pandemic is over, the social space in a office for clients and businesses to more intimately connect is going to be greater than it is today."
Tasman also noted that these public and social spaces will be "bifurcated in ways that respect social distancing."
Stan Stouder, a CRE Consultants founding partner, sees a different path ahead for post-pandemic offices spaces. Instead of a focus on open, collaborative spaces, Stouder predicts more of a shift toward "confined workspaces."
He said that people won't want to be "elbow-to-elbow" with fellow coworkers and will want "secured" workplaces that will ensure their safety and distance from others as a result of the global virus outbreak.
"I don't know if that open workspace is going to hold up if the disease continues to require separation," he said. "That square footage per person may stop decreasing and may head the other direction."
Additionally, he stated that getting rid of an office entirely would pose problems for employees who live in more rural areas that allow for less online connectivity. He also mentioned that people working from home naturally miss in-person interactions with others.
"Working from home sounds idyllic for about two weeks and after that it becomes acceptable and after that it becomes irritating," he said.
A business operated by Southwest Florida father-son duo David and Brett Diamond is attempting to present offices that will provide both post-pandemic needs: safety and flexible workspaces.
Brett Diamond, who also helps run Naples-based DeAngelis Diamond Construction with his father, said that employees are now looking for flexibility in where they work and when they work in those locations.
"People want to work from anywhere rather than work from home," Brett Diamond said. "They want that flexibility to be able to pick and choose where they work versus work strictly from home. We're trying to offer that at Venture X."
Venture X provides shared workspaces to members with options for month-to-month contracts. The flexible workspace solution company offers shared desk, dedicated desk, private office and even virtual office plans.
He stated that shorter leases and office space agreements are going to be prioritized by businesses due to the uncertainty of what lies ahead.
"We didn't expect the coronavirus to happen, but what's going to happen in two years from now? Is there another pandemic that will disrupt my lease and I'll be stuck in a long-term contract?
In regards to the safety of the shared work spaces, Diamond said that the company's new Naples location, which is set to open in February at 4850 Tamiami Trail N., is focused on some of these post-pandemic needs, such as more privacy and better air filtration. The new facility will offer 18,000 square feet of space for businesses.
Venture X's current Naples location in Mercato saw a "small dip" in memberships in April amid the pandemic but saw more new sign-ups in July than cancellations. The location currently has 153 members.
Are Southwest Florida businesses already making office changes amid pandemic?
While it's too early to see exactly how the pandemic will impact many Southwest Florida businesses' use of office spaces, representatives for commercial real estate firm Lee & Associates say that they've seen a lot of recent interest in expansion.
"We were seeing so much activity, which is unusual," said Michael Mahan, the vice president of Lee & Associates at the company's Naples-Fort Myers office.
And while there are some situations in which businesses have shed offices due to financial issues from the pandemic, this has been less prevalent in Southwest Florida, he said.
Vacancy rates have increased among office spaces in Southwest Florida but not dramatically, according to data collected by Lee & Associates. In Collier County, the rate went from 9.3% in the first quarter of the year to 9.6% in the second and then 9.9% so far in the third quarter. In Lee, the rate went from 4.3% to 4.9% and then to 5% currently.
Mahan is leasing for Naples' Bank of America Center and said that since the end of May, at least a dozen companies have expressed interest in moving into the building.
Most of the businesses on that list are expanding their space, not contracting, he said.
Mahan expects a higher demand for more-spread-out work spaces due to health concerns brought on by the pandemic.
"I think that's the long-term effects," he said. "They're going to go back to larger cubes ... Offices were shrinking, and I think it's now going the other way."
Reach Andrew Wigdor at email@example.com and on Twitter @andrew_wigdor