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Office Trends: Flexible Environments and ABWs

Google the term “how COVID changed how we work,” and what will pop up is about 829 million results with similar themes, mainly with titles from 2020 and 2021. Pew Research Center came out on top with “How Coronavirus Has Changed the Way Americans Work,” followed by Deloitte’s “COVID Forever Changed the Way We Work . . . Maybe for the Better.” Not to be outdone was the BBC’s “Coronavirus: How the World of Work May Change Forever,” and McKinsey’s “The Future of Work after COVID-19.”

Fast forward to now, and stories about COVID-19 and the world of work continue to focus on hybrid activities. Meanwhile, from a commercial real estate point of view, the discussion throws in flexible office space and activity-based working environments.

A JLL article recently noted that office tenants are asking for—and receiving—bundled options along with their office space. Those bundles include utility costs, internet and tech packages. And the space? Flex space, more and more.

Though WeWork and CommonGrounds helped launched the movement supporting short-term leases and fully amenitized workspaces, Kevin Anderson, JLL associate vice president of Partner Enablement said that the trend is not just continuing, but will likely be ongoing.

“Many of those startups are shying away from 10-year leases because they don’t know what the next decade is going to look like,” he said. Adding tech and internet amenities to the mix “makes that space even more appealing.”

Another driver of the movement involves younger adults moving into leadership and decision-making roles. Anderson explained that this generation grew up “in a world where they’re three clicks away from buying whatever they want,” and they don’t want to deal with internet, cable and other tech. “They know they want to be in the building,” he said, “and they’re happy to pay landlords to figure out the rest.”

Meanwhile, part of the flexible work environment involves activity-based working, in which the workplace design provides different spaces and settings dedicated to various activities and tasks. “In concept, these workplace settings are often flexible and reconfigurable, with moveable furniture and an emphasis on technology,” CBRE recently commented.

But the commercial real estate brokerage company also acknowledged that adapting to the ABW style isn’t something that will happen overnight. In deconstructing the “5 Myths and Realities of Activity-Based Working,” CBRE noted that reconsideration of space allocations and dedication to providing “variety and choice to employees” when putting ABW space into action are important.

Furthermore, as COVID is still at “pandemic” status, “it is important to acknowledge that ABW may not be appropriate as a near-term strategy, given these extraordinary circumstances,” CBRE said. As activity-based working involves space sharing, there is a marked chance of viral spread.

As such, occupiers and tenants should continue to examine geographic data for each office location and make decisions based on that information. Meanwhile, long-term strategies for risk reduction can include improving ventilation and air quality, reducing overall density and boosting cleaning and disinfection protocols can help reduce infection risk, especially when it comes to sharing desks and spaces.


Inside The Story

JLL's Kevin AndersonCBRE

About Amy Wolff Sorter

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