Flexible Office Design Adapts to Fast Moving Companies and Employees

Imagine you are a commercial real estate owner. You just leased out 20,000 square feet of space to the hottest new tech company in town that just closed their Series B funding. They make significant “upgrades” to your building by knocking out every wall for an open office concept, installing a multi-story slide, ping pong tables and hot tubs in every corner, and three giant refrigerators for their commercial-grade cold brew coffee and beer station. The changes are overwhelming, but they signed a twenty-year lease and are paying you handsomely.

But then, despite the best prognostications, the market for their virtual reality headsets for cats dries up overnight and within three years they shutter their business and declare bankruptcy. Now you have a fancy office space that no tenant in their right mind can afford or utilize. Oh, how you wish you had been flexible.

At our Propmodo Metatrends 2019 event in Los Angeles, we continued our ongoing discussion about flexible office design and its value to commercial real estate owners and landlords. To examine this topic, we brought together three experts, Ryland Arnoldi, co-founder of Wrapped LA, Brad Shipp, the Director of Strategic Alliances for Varidesk, and Derek Damon, the West Coast Regional VP with Convene.

In this era of unrelenting technological innovation and variable work schedules, real estate needs to adapt to companies and employees who are anything but traditional. With this in mind, office spaces will have simple and flexible layouts that can be quickly and easily altered for new tenants and growing (or shrinking) companies, yet still designed to attract top talent. As noted by Ship, with easily changeable office components, like modular walls and workstations, owners can react to tenant flexibility by quickly and cheaply making adjustments to their buildings to maintain high rates of occupancy.

Arnoldi agreed, stating that it is important for building owners and landlords to standardize and simplify the installation process, allowing for quick, easy, and less expensive changes when necessary. By standardizing the core components of office design, it’s easy to be flexible to create a personality for an office space that is desirable for each new tenant. Both Shipp and Arnoldi agree that although an office layout may be similar to another building, companies can to distinguish their personalities through artwork. Owners can focus on an identity for their space that increases productivity with creative lighting, partitions, and show walls. But it’s also important for owners and landlords to remember that like the bones of an office, the personality should also be flexible and simple to change.

One of the most exciting new trends in flexible office personalities is interactive video walls. Everyone knows art is highly subjective, so if one employee hates the expensive painting that adorns the entrance to her office, it can subtly affect her attitude towards work. As opposed to costly art installations that are often quickly ignored (or worse, despised) by employees, installing a projection display with art that changes monthly or quarterly creates an “element of discovery,” said Arnoldi, “promoting dialogue between occupants” and adding excitement each time employees walk into the office. With projection displays, designers can experiment with infinite artwork possibilities that employees will be excited to see each morning they enter a space.

Shipp agreed that art is a key component to attracting tenants, but other new trends in physical components can help save owners and landlords money and time. For example, modular lighting, modular walls, and changeable HVAC systems that can be altered without requiring permits can keep tenants in office spaces as their companies grow and change, rather than force them to seek out cheaper locations that can accommodate their needs.

Another common trend that Damon sees from their tenants is the need for privacy and dedicated space for sensitive conversations that shouldn’t be public. Flexible office spaces, while trending toward open concept, still require areas for employees to meet with outside clients in private areas that maintain a level of professionalism and discretion. But, when arranging these private areas for outside clients, it is still important to ensure a “hospitality-forward experience so that someone isn’t making their tuna sandwich out front.”

As many real estate professionals will attest, shorter lease terms are becoming the norm. In the office of the future, flexibility is the key to profitability in commercial real estate as it can help increase a space’s efficiency and reduce costly downtime. Unless you land that unicorn startup that would prefer leasing a building long-term rather than owning it outright, owners and landlords must embrace flexible design principles to ensure they can maintain long-lasting tenants by quickly and cheaply making the changes that every company needs in time. As Shipp succinctly summarized, “You have no idea what tomorrow will bring.” Flexibility will allow owners and landlords to adapt to change, rather than be left playing on a multi-story slide to get to the ping pong table in their empty office building.

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