Phase 2: Day 3 – Life In Color

Remembering

I’ve been reading and thinking lately about how the ability to work from home will influence the future of work, and in particular the future of commercial real estate.  For nearly all of my work career, there was never a thought given to the ability to work somewhere other than the office.

The concept of “butts in seats” never occurred to companies in the 80’s and 90’s up until just a few years ago, because we worked at work.  Even my most recent manager, with half of his team already working in remote locations around the country, was highly resistant to the idea of his Charlotte team working remote except for extreme circumstances.  He once admonished me for wanting to work remotely from an out-of-town B&B on a Monday before a Tuesday holiday, reasoning that I was “really on vacation” and should just take a vacation day.  Things might be different now., but my theory was that with a phone and a laptop, know one knows where you are working from and it shouldn’t matter.   That is proving to be true for a lot of workers.

The idea of a Corporate Headquarters has traditionally been a reflection of the huge budgets and egos of the corporate elite.  Bank of America has the tallest building in Charlotte at 60 stories tall, and why wouldn’t they?  Depending on the day they trade places with JPMorgan Chase as the largest bank in the US.  The building is a monument to the empire of Hugh McColl and the company he created.  Down the street the building that is now the Duke Energy Center started off to be the new headquarters of Wachovia.  We know how that turned out.

But right now all of those buildings are mostly sitting empty.  People have been told not to expect to go back to the office any time soon.  So what will happen to all that office space?  Good question.  Companies have started to realize that space is expensive.  Add to that the potential cost of refitting workspaces to meet new health rules, new cleaning requirements and the potential of workplace-illness-related litigation, suddenly all that office space starts looking pretty unattractive.  And companies are realizing that shifting occupancy costs to their employees will save them some Big Money, allowing the Big Wigs to get even Bigger Bonuses.

It’s just the beginning of that cycle, I’d guess.  It will be interesting to see which way and how far it goes.

4 thoughts on “Phase 2: Day 3 – Life In Color”

  1. The future of work is indeed an interesting question. Here in Australia, offices are mostly centralised around the city centre which of course, is expensive real estate, and as you point out, companies are rethinking the need for so much space when right now they are not using any of it and still operating as per “normal”. The problem for the city however, is what will become of all the small businesses that used to support the hordes of office workers that used to have lunches and coffees etc.? And what of all the clothing stores, tattoo shops, bars, and so on? Already there are many “For Lease” signs on shopfronts of businesses that didn’t have quite enough reserve to see this through. Our cities in Australia were not designed to be decentralised so we’re facing some pretty tough questions and I imagine that may be true for other places as well.

    1. The cycles of commerce are certainly interesting. When we moved to Charlotte in the mid-90s the city had recently completed an indoor “Overstreet Mall” that connected many of the buildings through retail on the second level. As a result much of the street level retail space went vacant, and the few department stores moved to the suburban malls. In the last 10 years or so, a surge in uptown (Charlotte calls it “uptown”) residential properties created a return of street level retail and the return of night time activities. Who knows what will become of those properties in the future.

  2. I also wonder how it will play out. Being retired I won’t be in the midsts of it but it will have some impact on all of us. I remember when I discovered the cost for HP to have me sit in a small cubicle. It was four times my wages and ,sadly, that extra cost was coming out of the customers pocket. Yes, the strip malls have devastated the small stores in older towns. Now they all are facing it. For me the massive size of these larger corporations need to be downsized but I have no idea how. Maybe it will happen by need and not through any planning.

    1. We could have numerous conversations about the impact of mega corporations on small businesses and on our our lives in general. The optimist in me hopes that a little independence will give the individual worker more freedom from the corporate overlords, but I’m not naive enough to think they will allow that to happen without a lot more “oversight” than they have now. If anything, the remote worker will see his/her privacy even more compromised than it has been. A scary scenario to be sure. I’m also glad I’m not in the workplace these days.

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