Remote work changing way new apartments are designed

While CEOs are clamoring for employees to return to the office, it appears remote work in one form or another is here to stay. Property developers have taken note, and many are now designing new apartments with remote workers in mind. 

About 35% of U.S. job holders are able to work remotely full-time, and 28% can do so some of the time, according to a survey McKinsey & Co. published last year. Meanwhile, many companies, in response to changing workplace habits, are shedding larger-than-necessary office spaces as work is done less in offices and more in employees’ homes.

But remote work can be a drag in tiny apartments, or ones designed without it in mind. During the pandemic, employees living in small apartments often struggled. Carmine Di Sibio, CEO of consulting firm EY, told Fortune in November 2020: “We have a lot of young people who are in small apartments around the world, and being in a small apartment in this environment is just not great. We have had more people calling our hotlines wanting help, just from a mental state.”

Today, many developers and designers have remote workers in mind.

Near Walmart’s headquarters in Rogers, Arkansas, an architecture firm called Verdant Studios is designing multifamily developments with an eye toward remote and hybrid workers, including community spaces for co-working.

“We’re designing for at-home workspace in a way that we have never done pre-COVID,” CEO Jessica Hester told Talk Business & Politics. “Making sure people have access to comfortable, well-lit desk space has become a priority.”

Even the way units will look in video calls is being considered, she added: “Three years ago, we would’ve never thought about what the background looks like on a Zoom call. Those are things we’re thinking about as we place that kind of space in a residential environment.”

A high-end development in Broomfield, Colorado, near Denver, called The Lock at Flatirons Apartment will have co-working units. Likewise outside Dallas in Garland, Texas, an upcoming 340-unit apartment project called iThirty will offer future tenants access to a remote-work lounge

Meanwhile many large employers are abandoning office space that makes little sense now. 

For example in the Twin Cities, Thomson Reuters is giving up a sprawling campus in Eagan where about 5,000 employees worked before the pandemic. Now the company will use smaller and more flexible office space with hybrid work in mind, according to the Star Tribune.

“We want to create a modern, energized and collaborative work environment that fully supports our hybrid ways of working for our office-based roles,” said Paul Fischer, president of Thomson Reuters Legal Professionals and co-site lead for the company’s local campus, last year.

“Given our the vacancy level in our buildings,” he added, the campus “is too large for the company’s current needs.” 

Last month at Slack, a subsidiary of San Francisco-based Salesforce, chief of staff Robby Kwok said the occupancy rate at some Salesforce offices is “still well below 20%” and “some of them are below 10%.” He added, “It’s really hard to justify having all of that space.” 

Meanwhile Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who last year slammed return-to-office mandates, said real estate “is going to be a major part” of the software giant’s attempt to reduce costs by as much $5 billion.

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