Laurie Harper is the director of operations for Atlanta for Cousins Properties. She is responsible for the property operations of 7 million square feet of Atlanta real estate. CRE Insight Journal reached out to her on office space use post-Covid, and these are her responses.
What has your experience been like as tenants and businesses have begun returning?
“Our Atlanta portfolio consists of class A office towers, with some high-end medical which has been at 100 percent capacity about 1 month after the pandemic started. Customers throughout our portfolio have increasingly begun returning to the office, with many anticipating returning to full capacity around Labor Day. Many customers are currently working on their return to office plans now.”
Why Labor Day?
“Childcare may continue to be an issue through summer, and employers want to give ample time to their employees to make plans to come back. Given the continued rise in vaccinations and the ability for children aged 12 and up to get vaccinated, it is likely when schools open, classes will be in person. This will give parents the ability to return to the office.
The re-integration to the office will likely be a phased approach, with plenty of communication and ample time to plan. Many would prefer to return to the office due to difficult home environments for remote work, such as roommates, lack of private space, lack of in-person interaction, and loss of connection. In order to innovate and maintain corporate culture, you have to work together. Being in the office fosters those relationships, culture, and innovation.”
What concerns and expectations do you have for this return process?
“Few concerns. Commercial real estate owners and managers have been extremely diligent in following CDC recommendations, adjusting protocols to meet those guidelines as they prepared their properties for re-entry.
What challenges do you think property management companies will begin facing (or are already facing) in the “return to normal?”
“Educating our customers on actions taken and trying to make everyone comfortable regardless of their personal feelings. Property managers will interact with people who will want everyone wearing masks at all times, and those that are ready to move on. Communication on what has been done while the customers were out of the office, in addition to what customers should do within their space, is extremely important. Communication can be handled in a variety of ways, whether through virtual townhalls or customer events once occupation increases or using technology such as engagement apps. It is important to communicate consistently and often.
What do you think office spaces will look like in the post-COVID world?
“Pre-COVID, companies designed dense floor plans to maximize usage. Individual offices became smaller or non-existent while collaborative spaces increased to foster culture and innovation. Companies that recently invested in that type of workspace will likely not invest additional money to reconfigure.
Companies will likely keep or enhance collaboration areas and take advantage of outdoor areas. Companies looking at new space may emphasize more private offices, but still have open collaborative areas.”
What are some trends to watch?
“Outdoor space will become even more of a priority for our customers. Being creative with available green space or creating outdoor areas will be important, such as using rooftops or the tops of parking decks, if large outdoor areas are not readily available due to location.
Customers will also look for health related amenities in their buildings. We are seeing questions regarding outdoor spaces, meditation rooms, mother’s rooms, and access to farmer’s markets. Fitness centers, bike storage, and shower and locker availability remain a priority for our customers.”
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