Rethinking your office space: Post-pandemic considerations

Whether your company consists of a single office user renting from a coworking space or it’s as large as Epic, the past year has brought forced experimentation in the future of office space.

At the end of 2019, the Madison office market had an overall vacancy rate of just 8.8%. However, as the pandemic stretched on, many companies chose to give up space, causing vacancy to rise almost two full percentage points to 10.7%. Still, today’s vacancy level isn’t high by historical standards. After the last recession, office market vacancy peaked at about 17.5% in 2010. What makes the current increase different is how quickly it happened. In the past 15 months, space available for sublease has more than tripled.

This trend will likely persist for a while as companies face lease expirations or otherwise consider a reduction of their space footprint. If you are faced with this decision, here are a few things to consider:

Workforce: How did your company fare as you adopted an increased level of remote workers? Was productivity affected or company culture impacted? Different roles may be more or less suited to remote work, along with different personalities, team dynamics, home and family situations, quality of home internet, and home office setup. Most importantly, are you comfortable offering a choice to your employees on whether to be fully remote or mostly remote, or do mostly in-person work or fully in-person work?

Layout: Do you sense that your office of the future requires more or less space or a different layout? Do you need more walls or larger furniture? Would you require unassigned workstations or offices? Consider working with an architect or space planner to conduct a space programming process to plan how your workplace will be organized to adapt to new realities.

Budget: Downsizing your office space may be enticing to reduce overhead. However, if it’s difficult to measure changes in productivity, it may be difficult to know whether there are any real long-term savings. If moving to a new space is part of the equation, understand that the cost of remodeling can be steep, and if a portion of your employees will choose (or be required) to be fully or mostly remote, make sure your budget includes money to outfit them with technology, equipment, and furniture to make them as productive as possible from their home.

This is the new reality whether that “home” is a residence, a recreational vehicle, or the beach.

Chris Caulum is vice president of commercial brokerage for Oakbrook Corp.

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