Downtown And In-Person: Reimagining Work, Play, Life

A Gensler Fall 2021 Survey Sheds Light on The Draw of the Business District

The COVID-19 pandemic brought massive disruptions in corporate real estate and traditional workplaces thanks to remote working models adapted by many organizations. Fast forward two years after the pandemic began, it’s fair to say that more workers are now trooping back to the office as the threat of COVID-19 recedes. However, remote work will continue, with studies revealing an estimated 70% of the workforce will still be working remotely for five days a month by 2025. 

Importantly, as the world slowly reopens amid a surge in vaccine uptake, offices and downtown neighborhoods that they house will not remain as they were before the pandemic. Reduced workers in the office will ultimately hurt the demand for office space and impact the broader downtown ecosystem of retail shops, bars, cafes, restaurants making up the economy of business districts. Even as cities start to spring back to life, people’s expectations of their offices, CBDs, and downtowns have shifted. CBDs and downtowns must rethink their real estate strategy and implement policy solutions that help them remain vibrant and maintain a strong market position.

How Can a Post-Pandemic Downtown Be Reimagined

Recently, Gensler City Pulse surveys interviewed residents of 15 cities around the globe to establish the expectations of their offices, CBDs, and downtowns post-pandemic. Generally, the data reflects a need for business districts to evolve and remain relevant, resilient, and successful. Most of those surveyed reveal they expect to go less often to downtown post-pandemic as they won’t be commuting to work. So how can businesses overcome the decentralization of work and adapt to keep residents engaged? Let’s take a look at the features of business districts and downtowns that today’s urban residents value the most.

Create Experiences Not Exclusively for Office Workers

Before the pandemic, business districts and downtown real estate were largely occupied by offices. To reinvigorate post-pandemic downtowns and business districts, cities should create experiences that gather for each resident’s needs, not just office workers. The Gensler City Pulse survey reveals that most people anticipate going back to their business districts to focus on other activities apart from visiting their employer or networking. In essence, more people are going to downtowns and business districts today to shop, visit parks, hang out, dine or view cultural and entertainment attractions.

More Access to Public Outdoor Space

The survey also establishes that more urban residents are valuing public outdoor spaces in the business districts and downtowns. Before the pandemic, visiting the park was ranked among the least activities among most urban residents across the globe. These findings emphasize the need for cities to transform business districts and downtowns into places to eat out, enjoy performances, have fun and explore. 

Restaurants and Outdoor Leisure Are Leading Features

Restaurants, outdoor parks, and public transit options are among the top features that residents want in their business district and downtown post-pandemic. Additionally, urban residents prioritize shopping, theaters, and cultural venues, including museums, more than workplace and office buildings. There is a need for downtown restaurants in CBDs to evolve into hubs where workers and people meet, collaborate, and socialize together. To thrive in a changing world, CBDs should no longer function as a chain of low-end grab-and-go cafeterias, chain coffee shops, salad bars, and restaurants. The CBD should offer more local, authentic, and actively curated offerings for diverse consumer needs.

Changing Office Design

Even as more companies have shown a wider acceptance of remote work, a significant number of workers will still return to their offices, albeit a few days each week. A recent study reveals that 22% of people who plan to work remotely say they do so outside their homes, including coworking spaces, outdoor public spaces, restaurants, and cafes.

This trend means even companies shifting towards remote work enmass will continue to need physical spaces for a portion of their workers. However, the office districts need to evolve and change to reflect the changing patterns of work and the diverse needs of the workers.

Experts reveal the office of the future will evolve from being a single building in a single location to a network of spaces and services interconnected with technology. The interconnected office ecosystem includes home offices, coffee shops, and coworking spaces spread across various central business locations and suburbs.

Proximity Could Help Reinvigorate Office Market

The implication of widespread remote work has made it a necessity for the existing stock of office space and office districts to move from obsolete structures and far-flung sites to neighboring residential suburbs and neighborhoods. Even before the pandemic, some portions of the office market failed to attract tenants due to their isolated suburban locations and outdated office designs. 

The pandemic economy has accelerated a much-needed reinvention of the office market, with more focus put on developing buildings and business districts that facilitate human interaction and collaboration. In recent times, high-tech companies like Google and Amazon are expanding their offices into high-quality, dense, and walkable locations. Downtowns adding residential units may need to mix living, work, and meeting spaces in the same building.

Future-Ready Spaces 

With most workers working remotely from home due to the pandemic, many organizations questioned the purpose of large centralized office locations. Now with COVID-19 subsiding and vaccine rates rising, the prospects of returning to old offices in a hybrid work arrangement appear even more possible. However, workers don’t expect to return to the pre-COVID19 workplace. 

Executives need to reimagine the post-pandemic downtown and create a new work world to ensure a happier and more productive workforce. Business districts are now dealing with a new breed of tenants who expect hybrid spaces that bring with it a diverse menu of coworking spaces, shopping, dining, green spaces, and cultural and entertainment spaces. Design support services provide unmatched interactive office and building designs with an ability to adapt to the changing needs of urban residents post-pandemic. 

Systems like the Gridd® Adaptive Cabling Distribution®, by FreeAxez, provide a simple yet revolutionary design that easily adapts as a business evolves. This low-profile raised floor system enables a building to remain highly operational and cost-effective while supporting the changing technologies that keep it highly competitive.