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Finding Temporary Office Space After Harvey Is Unlike Any Storm Before

A week after the rain stopped and clouds broke, areas of Houston remain underwater. Between government agencies ramping up operations, insurance companies kicking into high gear and businesses flooded out of their offices, brokers around Houston are scouring the market for vacancies in which to place temporary offices. But the expanded role of technology is changing the usual post-crisis need.

Energy Corridor District Flooding
Energy Corridor District flooding

The hardest-hit office area has been around the Energy Corridor due to its proximity to Houston's Addicks and Barker reservoirs, which have been releasing water on surrounding areas to maintain the integrity of the structure. 

“I’m getting flooded with emails about folks needing space,” Energy Corridor President David Hightower said, with no pun intended.

The Energy Corridor District itself is among those in need of temporary space, Hightower said. District officials have been unable to reach their second-floor offices at Memorial and Eldridge.

That has not stopped work though. “We’ve been working with brokers, fielding calls on behalf of the city,” Hightower said. “I spoke with the mayor’s office last Friday about public agency needs, finding them space. We want to help and give them the first shot at it.”

Dan Boyles
NAI Partners partner Dan Boyles Jr.

NAI Partners partner Dan Boyles Jr. has been fielding several calls from clients whose buildings were down. Boyles worked with NAI to open its own doors to one of his clients who needed temporary space. But for most office tenants, Boyles said temporary space will not be needed. Despite a few problem spots, Houston’s commercial real estate market has gotten lucky.

“It’s more of an issue of water being in the mechanical or electrical system. Generally, those things are short term and in most cases, the problem will be resolved before we could complete a search,” Boyles said.   

Flooding In The Heights
Flooding in The Heights

Employees are also relying on technology and working remotely rather than seeking temporary space.

“One thing I found out during this storm is how much you can get done from home,” said Boyles, who has been working remotely himself. With the connectivity from new technology and the cloud, working remotely has never been easier, allowing many operations to continue without a physical office space.

During previous storms like Ike and Allison, companies could not rely on smartphones, Skype, Slack or the cloud. With the proliferation of the connected office, working remotely has become a critical component in many operations. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 50% of the U.S. workforce holds a job that is compatible with telecommuting, with approximately 25% of the workforce telecommuting with some frequency. 

There will be some short-term increase in demand (physical space often required!) from companies setting up shop specifically for Harvey relief. Boyles has been working with a nonprofit on setting up space to collect supplies for children affected by Harvey, and is finalizing a lease with the operation near IAH. His colleague Griff Bandy represents GEICO and has been scouring Houston for the right facility to house vehicles that were flooded for adjustment and long-term salvage.

It will take property managers and brokerage firms weeks to fully assess their portfolios and assess the need for new/short-term office space. But the aftermath of Harvey has been nothing like previous storms in Houston thanks in large part to advancements in technology that have helped H-Town hold it down.