Is the office really necessary anymore? – Daily News

on Jan16
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As I craft this column in my re-modeled garage office — don’t pity me, it’s an awesome space ! — my thoughts are pondering the lasting impact of the year of the Pandemic 2020 for commercial real estate.

One of the questions I ponder is “how necessary is a physical office location?” And I’m referring to everything from a single-story, freestanding building – like the one my company owns and occupies in Orange – to a suite in a shiny high rise – and all destinations between – mid-rise campus, two-story garden variety and shared collaborative spaces such as executive suites and WeWork.

Full disclosure: I specialize in industrial commercial real estate, which is vastly different from the office classes mentioned. Therefore, my opinions are gleaned from my own experience working remotely and those of my colleagues – not from market occupants. So with that disclaimer, let’s dive in.

Certainly, in the past, when we’ve witnessed migration from a home-based office to a brick and mortar location certain triggers emerge. I wrote an entire missive on location advice and how to relocate a home-based business to commercial real estate. Simply, hiring employees, and/or receiving customers generally portends a move.

However, in the former – with a virtual workplace now firmly rooted – moving from home due to hiring employees isn’t a driver. As an example, my business coach’s organization is corporately located in Cary, North Carolina – in his pool house, no less! Spanning the globe are the group’s coaches. Mine lives in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. We convene bi-monthly via Zoom and it works great!

As to the customer issue, I’m considering hiring a landscape designer based in Portland, Oregon. Yep. He never has to physically visit my property. We had our initial consult virtually.

Once he’s given the green light, his team will use a combination of Google maps, my measurements and drawings I have from another project to virtually design our yard. Pretty slick! We will collaborate electronically to phase the project, and with our feedback, the final product will appear like magic. An aside. What a brilliant business model! He can still design and build in the Pacific Northwest but create concepts for homeowners globally – without ever having to leave the comfort of his basement.

So, in those two examples, one has built an entire business from a folding table in his carport and the other has expanded his offerings well past the physical bounds of Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Commercial real estate is a blend. We can see clients at their locations or via FaceTime, Zoom or Skype. (Wow! What happened there?) Our tours of available buildings can be conducted in person or using the same tools, plus drone footage, Matterport walks, virtual reality  and the like.

For sure, nothing beats sitting face to face with a client or prospect, perusing her operation, and witnessing shortcomings of the address. Fortunately, our team was better prepared than some. We’ve spent the past few years evolving so that we could serve our clients from anywhere – office, home, project’s lobby, or the front seat of our car.

Networking has become a challenge. Our chapter of SIOR – dependent upon semi-annual conferences and monthly dinners – has morphed into something akin to a birthday celebration with a 90-year-old aunt. Yeah, they aren’t happening in person. It is very difficult to mimic the excitement of a Chamber of Commerce lunch, Pro-Visors, or a BNI one-to-one with a potential referral partner.

One echoing drumbeat is culture. If everyone is not together in the same location – how on earth do you create an atmosphere of – “well, we do it this way?” That, dear readers, is a topic for another day!

Allen C. Buchanan, SIOR, is a principal with Lee & Associates Commercial Real Estate Services in Orange. He can be reached at or 714.564.7104.

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