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Office Of The Future: Amenities, Open And Private Space, But Maybe Not All The Tech Bells And Whistles

The office of the future is going to be a lot like it is predicted to be with the open space, amenities and connectivity that is going into new projects in Phoenix and elsewhere, the speakers at Bisnow's Phoenix Office of the Future event said.

But it will not be entirely as expected. Concerns about privacy and the cost of the fanciest tech mean that in some ways, the office of tomorrow will still be a lot like the office of today.

DLR Group Shelby Guddeck, Hines Managing Director Chris Anderson, and the Boyer Co. Partner Adrian Evarkiou.
DLR Group Senior Interior Designer Shelby Guddeck, Hines Managing Director Chris Anderson and The Boyer Co. partner Adrian Evarkiou

One formerly cutting-edge office space trend that is now mainstream is open-plan workspace, the speakers said. Tenants want a fair amount of it, certainly. Employees like it, to some extent, but not quite everywhere, and not quite all the time. 

Collaborative open space is not for everyone. A mix of open space and private space is what the speakers said most tenants are gravitating toward in Phoenix. 

Most law firms, for instance, have added elements of open-plan design — and are quite forward-looking in their office space in Phoenix these days — but partners are not going to spend all of their work time without an office.

The Internet of Things also promises to change office space in the future, the speakers said, but maybe not quite as much in a place like Phoenix as in some larger markets like New York or Los Angeles, or tech-heavy markets like Austin or Seattle.

Phoenix is unlikely to see a building like The Edge in Amsterdam, which uses about 28,000 sensors to keep track of everything (and everyone) within the building to optimize not only energy use, but also the use of various kinds of workspace, speakers said. The building essentially matches people to the space that they will need for the day, because no one has a specific desk.

Some of the most rarefied uses of sensor tech and IoT might be quite a few years away in a market like Phoenix, where cost is still the controlling factor in space design.

Also, there may be some resistance to an office building that is a little too smart. Employees may balk at being tracked every moment, and that will be a consideration when designing sensor-heavy office space in the future.

Instead, sensors will be used as time goes on to determine whether space is being used, and how often it is being used in certain circumstances, so that building environments — HVAC and lighting — can be adjusted.

Also, before long, office-building glass that produces electricity and regulates the amount of light coming into the space, will be standard. 

Jokake Business Development Director Candace Rosauro, who moderated, Newmark Knight Frank Executive Managing Director Tom Adelson and Rockefeller Group Vice President Mark Singerman.
Jokake Business Development Director Candace Rosauro, who moderated, Newmark Knight Frank Executive Managing Director Tom Adelson and Rockefeller Group Vice President Mark Singerman

Phoenix is also ripe for more co-working space, the speakers said. People laid off during the recession became consultants who worked at home; then they worked at local coffee shops; and when those proved to be inadequate as the economy got moving, they created demand for co-working space.

The office as a service, especially WeWork, now has some legs in Phoenix, and demand for it will probably continue to grow as the local tech sector, and the gig economy, also grow. 

Common-area amenities are an important thrust of new office design, covering a wide range of spaces, such as conference rooms, tenant lounges, gyms and game rooms. Tenants do not want that space in their offices, the speakers said. When tenant reps come around, landlords have to check the boxes with certain common-area amenities. If they do not have those, they do not get a second call. 

For employers, amenities are increasingly critical in employee retention, and not just inside buildings. For urban buildings, being in an interesting and walkable area is considered an important amenity. For suburban properties, access to green space and walking trails is likewise important.

For developers, a heavy load of amenities can be problematic. One developer on the panel said he did a spec building totaling about 100K SF and wanted to add the kind of amenities that Drive Time has at its HQ in Tempe. He found that the plan ate into the building's parking ratio. The amenities had to be scaled back.

Parking is still so important that developers have to maintain high ratios. If developers can lessen parking, they can have larger amenity areas. That might happen if driverless cars become the norm, at least in the urban core.