South Florida’s Sentinel of the Sun
After months of keeping employees home to dodge COVID-19, many companies are concluding that the best place for most of their employees is back in the office.
The pandemic has proven that people don’t need to sit at desks full time, but employers are bringing people back with at least flexible hours, shattering the illusion of a workplace revolution that leaves most of people logging in at home.
“No one has this crystal ball full,” said Jenni Morejon, president and CEO of the Downtown Development Authority in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Human beings are creatures of habit, and the idea that people will never return to the office – it’s probably a lot of hype and hysteria.
She thinks the real question is to what extent workers are exhausted from “full-time teleworking”.
A national survey of 185 companies by CBRE, a real estate services company, suggests that executives now see the office as a better way to support collaborative work than relying on remote communications.
The company’s Spring 2021 Occupant Survey found that 41% of businesses polled intended to return to regular office use in the third quarter of this year, while 20% aimed at the fourth quarter. Another 23% said their workers had already returned to their workplace.
“Several factors are supporting this sentiment, including the ongoing rebound in the US economy and the realization by businesses that they need to conserve more office space than they previously thought,” said Julie Whelan, manager. occupant research at CBRE.
Some observers believe that companies have no choice but to call back most workers because customers are worried about the services they are receiving.
“The biggest user of office space in South Florida tends to be banks, investment stores, wealth management companies, law firms and real estate companies,” said Stephen Bittel, president of the real estate services company Terranova. “We tend not to have heavy business users here. These service companies had well-designed businesses to work from home. “
“They were pleased” to have reduced expenses through remote working, he said. But the cuts may have exploded for some.
“They didn’t spend any money on customer travel and entertainment and didn’t replace employees and support staff,” Bittel said. “They think they’ve bottled lightning for a while. The flip side is that shoppers and customers alike are screaming about the incredibly slow pace of transactions. “
While many agree that remote working has demonstrated the benefits of technology, there is a strong belief that communication and training is best done in person. This includes people who learn on the job.
Isabella Guttuso is a University of Florida intern student at EDSA Fort Lauderdale, a decades-old architectural firm. She stresses that human interaction is important for growth and for learning to collaborate with other adults in the workplace. She studies landscape architecture and thinks she is unlikely to capture the nuances of business through Zoom.
“I’m trying to learn and get my feet wet,” she said. “I really needed this interpersonal experience. We are constantly drawing and working together and getting people’s feedback that way. I feel like even for people who don’t work in design, that sense of community you get in the workplace is so important.
Training is best done in person, agreed Brandon Isner, associate research director for Florida at CBRE. Technology cannot accomplish a lot.
“When people walk into the office, everyone is so happy to see each other,” he said, “The technology is great and I love Zoom. That said, that human element cannot be replicated by Zoom. This is ultimately what will win.
During the pandemic, the benefits of remote working depended on the industry. Although they are more difficult to achieve in the hospitality and leisure industries, which rely heavily on personal contact with customers, professional service companies have found an easier route.
“Allowing employers to work remotely wholesale in some situations will be industry driven,” said Denise Heekin, a labor and employment lawyer and Broward County resident who manages the law firm of Bryant Miller Olive PA in Miami.
“Certainly, technology has made it much easier for lawyers to work from home and staff to work from home, and it’s certainly nice to have that option,” she said.
The company allowed employees to work from home except for one person who looked after the office.
“We’ve just started bringing each person in again at least twice a week, and we’re doing a rotation,” Heekin said.
“We have papers, files and documents that may not all be on our computers, we will need a brick and mortar footprint.”
Some believe it will be until the end of summer before most employers decide where their employees should land as management tries to find a new normal while COVID-19 variants lurk in the background .
One result could be smaller spaces for some companies who find that part of their workforce can continue to spend part of their working weeks from home.
At the same time, office space that remains empty is likely to be reclaimed by out-of-state companies looking for new housing for their corporate headquarters or regional operations.
“I think we’ll have a smaller footprint in South Florida and across the country,” said Siri Terjeson, professor of entrepreneurship in the College of Business at Florida Atlantic University. “But the good news is that more and more businesses are moving to South Florida. It’s your silver lining.
Some companies will reduce space “because you don’t need people in the office eight hours a day, five days a week,” she said.
“When people’s leases are renewed, they will recall the space,” she added.
The number of companies looking for office space is on the rise, said Ken Krasnow, vice president of institutional investor services at Colliers International, the real estate services company.
“Six months ago, at the height of the pandemic, there was a real thinking about ‘do people have to go back to the office in total?’” He said. “What we’ve heard from our customers is that the number of businesses looking for space has grown exponentially over the past 30 to 60 days. You talk to office brokers and they will tell you that there are a lot of tours.
The theme is an important selling point for commercial real estate brokers who have clients with space to rent.
“Overall, whether or not companies adopt more flexible office hours, the space itself is seen as a place to support a company’s ability to attract and retain talent,” Tere said. Blanca, CEO of Miami-based Blanca Commercial Real Estate. , who represents the large business owners of Broward County.
Locally, the demand for space from businesses looking to relocate is increasing, according to brokers,
A single market
From Miami to West Palm Beach, analysts say. the office market is unlike any other in the country, with more new tenants signing leases,
“Miami and South Florida are a bit of an outlier,” CBRE’s Isner said. “No one is concerned about our office market right now. We have seen unprecedented new interest in this market.
Isner experienced strong rental activity from new tenants in West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Plantation and Fort Lauderdale. “They sign leases and they grow,” he said.
Interior design companies are taking over.
“We have seen a major impact in our industry over the past six months or so,” said Brianna Brown, President and CEO of Fine Line Furniture and Accessories at Coral Gables.
“We have seen a huge increase in the number of professionals wanting to reopen their businesses, or we have an influx of businesses from other places in the United States,” she said. “They know and they understand what people think about returning to work. They are really trying to change their moods. Some people want to come back. For those [employees] who hesitate, they try to make it a better environment to appease them.
In downtown Fort Lauderdale, which has seen a boom in the construction of high-rise buildings designed for offices, retail and apartments, economic development advocates argue the city’s business district will remain attractive as a work center.
“I think downtown Fort Lauderdale will be well placed” as a place where more businesses can locate, said Morejon of the Downtown Development Authority. “There is that sense of community and place as opposed to suburban office parks where you return to the parking lot and enter the building.”
The city’s rental rates are cheaper than its counterparts, which is another incentive to move downtown, she said.
Christina Stine Jolley, vice president of Blanca Commercial Real Estate in Fort Lauderdale, said the 35-story The Main Las Olas, a new 1.4 million square foot office, residential and mixed-use retail district, rent quickly.
“More than 50% of this activity comes from outside the [local] market, ”she said. Two New York professional services firms each signed between 8,000 and 10,000 square feet. She refused to identify them.
“We are currently over 50% leased,” said Stine Jolley. “If we hit every deal we negotiate, we would only have two floors left. “
The allure of the suburbs
Outside of city limits, brokers and employers see benefits in operating in the suburbs, where people don’t have to jostle in crowded elevators and fight downtown traffic.
“There appears to be a reassessment of the need to be in an urban center,” said Jonathan Calderon, director of Gibraltar Realty & Management. His firm represents Monarch Gardens in Miramar, which offers nearly 100,000 square feet of office and retail space.
“This all [pandemic] experience has proven how people can work outside of the office, but on a human level there is a desire to collaborate in person and not to have dialogue by appointment with your peers, ”he said. declared.
How companies choose to reconfigure workspaces “will depend on the ingenuity and empathy of each company,” he said. “Those businesses that want a smaller footprint will definitely have an easier time than someone who takes up an entire floor plate. “
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