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Five Questions To Help Renters Evaluate Their Needs

Kenny Kane is the Chief Operating Officer at Firmspace

As cities and states around the country drop their mask mandates and announce new timelines to reopening, employers are trying to figure out when and how they’ll ask their employees to return to the office. While folks in commercial real estate aren’t quite business advisors, they are well-positioned to ask a few simple questions in order to provide their clients with the clarity they need to find the right space for their office experience.

So, how can anyone figure out what the right mix of office space is and what it will be six and 12 months from now? It’s all about finding the right amount of flexibility and square footage for each business. Here are a few guiding questions to help you frame this conversation.

1. Will your whole team return to the office and how often?

Many employees who work for nonessential business may be hesitant to return to the office full-time as the pandemic continues around the world. There is still a large number of unknowns at play, so many companies are looking for a more flexible space and lease than what they sought before 2020.

Rather than figuring out what the ideal end state of a build-out looks like, talk to business leaders about whether they expect everyone on their staff to return to the office and if so, how often. For instance, do they plan to institute:

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• Flexible remote work policies?

• Headcount limits?

• Mandatory time in the office?

Each of these answers will help focus their search by giving you the information you need to calculate an appropriate amount of square footage.

2. What are your new health policies?

Every staff member will likely fall within a wide range of comfort levels when it comes to in-office gatherings and their commitment to best practices for public health onsite. However often their team will come into the office, business leaders should have a policy in place and a plan to address employee concerns. They should be able to answer basic questions like:

• Will you institute a mask policy in the office, in shared spaces or at all?

• Will your staff be required to continue to maintain social distancing?

Again, the answers to these questions will not only determine how much square footage they require, but whether the building or space they’re considering is a good fit for their company on the whole.

In cities where mask mandates are still in place, if employees don’t want to wear masks while working at their desks, the company may see an increased interest in private office space with ventilation that meets today’s health standards. In this case, you may find yourself recommending a different office space altogether.

3. How will you navigate in-person meetings with clients and colleagues?

Shared space matters. Conference rooms have long been equipped with video conferencing technology, and this is no longer an optional asset. It must be modern, easy to use and appropriate to facilitate meetings between colleagues who are in the same room and remote.

Whether a business plans to meet at all in the near future or they’re already scheduling client meetings and a retreat for the fall, leaders should be able to communicate what their preferences and requirements around meeting rooms are before selecting a new office space.

4. Does everyone on staff need downtown office space?

Office space is an investment. The design and decor create an ambiance that makes a difference in the experience that employees, clients and other guests have on a regular basis.

But in light of new public health concerns, it’s fair to ask companies to consider whether everyone needs to have a space to work from downtown. Commercial office space is easier to come by than ever before, but it may be more advantageous for a company to rent a smaller number of square feet that come with the right number of private offices than to sign on a much larger space with a greater number of meeting spaces that may go unused.

By limiting the number of employees with regular access to downtown office space, employers may be able to afford a premium option for those employees who do need a private, secure space to work.

5. Does the real estate you had in March 2020 work for your team in June 2021?

Most old office layouts don’t meet today’s best practices for public health, but some companies may yet find that their old office space can be adapted to their needs today. By working together with advisors and designers, many companies in long-term leases have been working through the winter to reconfigure their spaces and ensure their ventilation is up to standards.

Asking whether a company’s old space is suitable today won’t likely yield this kind of renovation plan, but it is a good way to prompt business leaders to refocus their search for commercial real estate on their people: What worked before? What did their employees love about that space?

There’s a deep market for those looking for commercial real estate today, and landlords are catering to renters’ needs. By taking a moment to look back, there’s still time to recapture some of what made going into the office an experience commuters were eager to drive toward.


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