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  • Writer's pictureLesley McAdams

The benefits of the Urban-Suburban office

Companies are spending a lot of resources – time and money – figuring out how to bring employees back to the office safely.

At JP Morgan’s New York City headquarters employees are required to be masked all day except at desks, keep their desks clean so cleaning crews can sanitize daily and constantly, answer health screening questions, and follow a rotating schedule so occupancy is no more than 25 percent at any given time. The company also installed automatic temperature check stations, hand sanitizing stations, directional signage, spaced seating.

JP Morgan is not alone in making these investments and yet employees are still reluctant to come into the office because of the risks. How can employees feel safer in the office?

The office sector has seen a nation-wide migration from urban cores to suburban office parks. There are a number of factors driving this migration.

Companies are looking for lower rents as they consider bringing their employees back to the office and require more space. They are also looking for easy parking so employees can avoid public transit and additional cost. Companies are also bringing the offices closer to residential areas.

The suburban office is ideally built for social distancing. Most are in low-slung buildings of three stories or less. While not as architecturally impressive as the glass and steel buildings in urban cores, this allows employees to access their offices in a safe, quick, and socially distant manner. In these environments employees can take the stairs or have short elevator rides to reach their floors.

Building1 is a prime example. We are located on the third floor with an elevator and two open stairwells. I often take the stairs and while I may be out of breath, I know I’ve limited my exposure (and possibly increased my cardiovascular health as well!)

However, demand for walkable amenities is still strong and an often-missed perk of working in an urban core. To address this, a new class of office real estate is developing – The Urban-Suburban office. Office space located in low buildings, surrounded by parking, but walkable to residential areas and amenities. While this may feel like a rebranding of the Work-Live-Play model of development, it is fundamentally different in that the surrounding residential is generally single-family homes rather than high-density housing.

Bedroom communities like Chapel Hill, NC, where Building1 is located, are perfectly suited for this migration. These communities are where employees want to live, have the retail infrastructure in place and rent is across the board cheaper than in the urban centers.

The fears of this pandemic are going to take a while to abate. Survey data suggests that employees will still be reluctant to return to the office even with a viable vaccine in wide distribution. This is not being helped by the fact there is widespread belief that COVID is only one of more to come.

This fear has enormous implications on the office sector and will result in long-term impacts on the office sector. However, the office is not the new typewriter – it is here to stay though the user experience is fundamentally changed.

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