Round table on commercial real estate

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What role does technology play in adapting to the changing CRE and workplace environment?

Camillucci: COVID has accelerated the trend towards using e-commerce to buy a wide range of products. This, in turn, has shaped the commercial real estate market by increasing the demand for warehouse, truck and logistics facilities. E-commerce, social media, cloud-based computing and related technologies have also created a massive need for data capacity, which has shaped the real estate market with the development of many new data centers. As more restaurants try to focus on delivery and pick-up using apps and other platforms, we’re seeing an increase in communal kitchens, cloud kitchens, and pick-up only restaurants. Obviously, the many video conferencing and workflow management applications available today enable office workers to be productive while working remotely. This has enabled many companies to survive the pandemic and start thinking about a hybrid workplace in the future.

Walters: Whether it’s about increased data speeds for connecting to remote employees or improved security measures to protect employees, cutting-edge electrical technology plays a crucial role in our changing workplace. We are constantly installing new security technologies for a contactless work environment, and these tools will be critical to the success of the new Chicago workplace.

DuPraw: Companies use technology to enable a hybrid home office model and to ensure a safe environment for their employees. For example, we are seeing more hotels where even long-established companies are using planning software to enable employees to book offices or other conference rooms regardless of schedule and workload. Touch-free environments and the ability to social distancing are still very important for employees. This also means that audio / video conferencing technologies have grown significantly, both qualitatively and quantitatively.

How do you look in general in the Corporate Offices area?

DuPraw: As Chicago entered Phase 5, we saw more activity and dynamism, particularly in the Fulton Market neighborhood and an increase in planning by architecture and design firms. Multi-story tenants are generally looking for ways to return space or reposition their existing space. The sublet area is still high, but it is flattening out and with the spread of the delta variant, caution is advised about moving too fast.

Camillucci: In the short term, the outlook is uncertain. In the long term, I assume that demand will return. We cannot predict with confidence how long COVID will affect large-scale re-entry into the office. If we get Delta under control and other disruptive flavors don’t show up, plans to get back to work may resume in winter or spring. However, should Delta persist or another variant emerges, the office sector could be in limbo longer, especially given the politicization of public health measures. Still, I believe that despite the hustle and bustle of work from home, many people will return to the office at least temporarily. Big companies have sent this signal. For me, returning to the office three days a week was a welcome change from working exclusively from home.

Will the hybrid working model remain?

DuPraw: Yes, but it will be a “work from office first” model and not a “work from home first” model. Many industries, including law firms, banks, institutional and long-established companies, have adopted the hybrid working model, which reduces office space and offers new design options for the future office. Even so, there will never be a complete replacement for face-to-face collaboration and brainstorming.

Camillucci: For many employers and employees, some form of hybrid approach will strike the right balance. COVID has taught us that workplaces don’t have to be rigid about when and where people work, as long as the job is done well and on time. Working from home can be efficient by avoiding commutes and interruptions from colleagues. However, there are advantages to working in an office. Employees identify more with one another and with their employer when they have opportunities for personal exchange. Employers want to build that sense of identity, and over time, many employees will miss it. As nice as it is to work at home some days, it also feels good to be connected with a team with a common goal. It can also be stressful at home to work with children, pets, and household chores that are always lurking.

Walters: While some employees will not return to the office full-time, those who even work part-time need contactless components as well as increased data connection reliability. Our member electricians and contractors have been trained to recommend and install the best high-speed data connectivity options to ensure remote workers can do their jobs seamlessly.

What emerging or breakthrough trends are likely to affect the workplace of the future?

Walters: While a hybrid work model may prevent many employees from entering their offices on a daily basis, they still need to feel safe when they walk in and ensure that bacteria, mold and viruses are removed from the air. Radio frequency identification readers can ensure that people entering an office building can swipe an ID card through security instead of touching doorknobs, and UV lighting can be placed in a building’s escalator to sanitize the railings every time.

Camillucci: Many large malls are being redeveloped and adaptively reused as mixed-use developments that include retail, hospitality, entertainment, apartment buildings, hotels, corporate offices, and last mile fulfillment applications. These mini-cities will try to create symbiotic relationships between the various uses so that each is more economically sustainable than any other alone. The trend started before COVID and may have stalled temporarily, but many malls won’t be able to survive without thinking creatively about how to reinvent themselves as full-service communities.

DuPraw: The emerging trends revolve around health, wellness, safety and sustainability. Employees will expect to work for organizations that not only make this a priority, but invest in the physical environment to achieve these goals. For example, our own office in the city center is WELL and LEED certified and includes additional fresh air, circadian lighting systems, healthy food and snacks for employees, and a waste recycling program. Although we began this process long before the pandemic, COVID-19 has certainly put these issues more focus.


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