The Office of the Near Future

After years of major companies decamping from the cities and setting up in sprawling suburban locations, the tide has turned. Motorola, Hillshire Brands Co., and United Continental Holdings Inc., United Airlines’ parent company, are just a few of the employers that have relocated their headquarters in recent years to downtown Chicago, beckoned by the creative dynamism of a vibrant urban center. Not coincidentally, it’s also where the next generation of workers are.

“Employers realize workers won’t come to them. So they have to go to the workers,” said Roger Heerema of Wright Heerema Architects.

Heerema was part of a panel called The Teching of Downtown Chicago at the 13th Annual Commercial Real Estate Forecast Conference held — naturally — in downtown Chicago. It has become abundantly clear that Millennials are generally uninterested in relocating to distant suburbs for work or enduring long commutes. The demand for cutting edge tech workers means companies both large and small are keen on designing workplaces that are both appealing to young workers and conveniently located.

So what does the “office of the near future” look like? “The pendulum is tilting away from open collaborative space,” said Heerema. “There has to be lots of flexibility in the way space is designed.” As square footage allotted for individual employees decreases, there needs to be ample space for employees to gather for small-group, focused work.

And the building itself should be constructed for easy retrofitting for new tenants that come along. “Keeping costs down for tenants is very important,” added Heerema.

Because office tenants are more interested in shorter leases, flexible designs are paramount. Ari Klein of property management company Cushman & Wakefield said he can no longer predict what tenants will want five to 10 years from now.

“Technology is outpacing all predictions. What’s important in the design of spaces is that they can change within 18 months,” Klein said.

The age of the “keyless” office is also near. Constance Freedman, vice president of strategic investments for the National Association of REALTORS®, said workers will soon be able to gain entry to their office through apps on their phone, replacing the need to show a badge or tap an ID card to get past security. Building managers will no longer need to change locks when a tenant leaves.

“Devices will communicate with each other” through the so-called Internet of Things, said Freedman, who oversees the REach®

Constance Freedman

Constance Freedman

technology accelerator program for NAR.

Still, the notion of full-time workers showing up daily in their downtown offices is also changing. Remote work is becoming de rigueur thanks to technology. Freedman cited forecasts showing that by 2020, some 40 percent of the workforce will work virtually on a regular basis.

Wendy Cole

Wendy Cole is the Editor of REALTOR® Magazine.

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