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Vacant Office Space? It's Time for a Transformation

How to transform office spaces to invite back your employees

Offices slumped and have not backed up yet.

The office real estate landscape in North America is going through an unprecedentedly challenging phase. Across the board, occupancy rates and property values have yet fully recovered from the downturn caused by the pandemic. There is an overarching concern that these reduced office metrics may represent a long-term and unfavourable change in office markets in the United States and Canada, especially with remote work continuing to be a permanent fixture in the economy.

After the immediate danger of Covid subsided, some employers attempted to enforce a return to the office based on pre-pandemic schedules. Nonetheless, many employees who have learned that their work can be completed remotely saw little reason to come back, particularly for the traditional five-day routine. Several surveys have highlighted commuting-related difficulties and costs as a major deterrent to full embrace office-based work.

On the flip side, some employees expressed their desire and relief upon hearing that it is now safe to return to the office. They struggle with productivity at home due to cramped living spaces or the presence of small children. Furthermore, they long for face-to-face interactions with colleagues, employees, and clients that they previously enjoyed before the pandemic. The return to the office also presents leaders with a better chance to foster and reinforce company culture efficiently: In-person cross-team collaboration and mentorship opportunities prove to be much more impactful.

These contrasting needs and preferences have created the "new normal." Many employees have mandated a specific number of days per week that employees need to come to the office. In Canada, the federal government ordered public employees to return to the office up to three days per week.

office real estate North America new normal employee experience

The New Challenge

Landlords and owners try to the number of office days for employees to enhance or stabilize occupancies and valuations. As a result, companies and owners are increasingly enhancing the amenities provided in office spaces. By creating environments that foster socialization and in-person interaction, they can efficiently invite employees to the office. Common amenities include coffee shops, health, and wellness rooms, as well as outdoor spaces.

In addition, these amenities can help and attract retain tenants who might otherwise leave. This new extra expenditure on amenities may be not very pleasant to owners and landlords, but when handled wisely and correctly, it can offer a significant return on investment.

Creating collaboration space for employee experience

Creating Collaboration Space

We have witnessed that numerous buildings in strong markets such as Toronto are managing to keep their occupancies by reinventing part of their space. Among various features, collaboration space is particularly popular.

The goal of creating collaboration spaces is not about adding 'frills' such as Foosball tables which was a trend in tech companies a couple of decades ago. It is rather about making the existing space extra-comfortable. Replacing small, hard chairs with spacious, comfy couches and installing high-quality AV systems to make meetings and collaboration easier and more relaxing would entice employees to come to the office. Better kitchens with soda makers, espresso machines, and snacks are also good.

Collaboration spaces are not entirely new. They existed before the pandemic. The difference is, while it was strictly 'optional' for employees to install, now it is more likely 'mandatory' to encourage employees to come. This is based on the foundational human psychology: We all desire to be connected with other people and build meaningful relationships with them. A creative space that will satisfy this need will not only attract top talents but also boost their productivity effectively.

Before You Transform Your Property

Depending on your building type, zoning laws, and local codes, revamping your office space could mean more than just purchasing some couches and installing a kitchen space.

  1. Check out with your insurance company regarding the vacancy issue: If your property has been vacant for quite some time, the chances are, that your property insurance has been significantly lessened to help you ease off the financial burden. In general, your vacancy issue needs to be cleared off first before you obtain new coverage for the newly renovated property. Check with your insurance company to address this issue.

  2. Familiarize yourself with the new local codes: Your new property will need to meet the updated local codes and zoning laws.

  3. The ordinances: Renovating your property will come with the need to include the most recent ordinance upgrades. In some cases, property owners are faced with much stricter guidelines.

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