6 Office Space Trends for 2022 (and Beyond)
What Trends to Look for in Your NYC Office Space Right Now
One of the most frequently asked questions we get is: what does the future of office space look like in our post-COVID-19 world? As we’ve said in the past, COVID-19 hasn’t changed the future of how we work or where we work. We realize that may seem like a bold statement as we continue to be inundated with news headlines about hybrid work, the end of offices as we know it, and the need to reinvent our offices if we want employees to return. The truth is a lot less ‘clickbaity’. Our offices were already changing, as they always have, to adapt to new needs, new behavioral and environmental changes, and adjusted productivity demands.
What the global pandemic did was amplify and expedite an office evolution that was already underway. It wasn’t that long ago that you would stand up in your cubicle to look out over a sea of other cubicles and know someone was in by the smoke rising over their cubicle walls or have to go to the office library (yes, that was a thing) to look something up. We might watch AMC’s Mad Men with nostalgia, but the truth is offices in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s were loud, smokey, stuffy, and let’s be honest, not friendly to women, let alone mothers. It was only relatively recently that you could work outside of the office thanks to affordable computers and smartphones. Email — a cornerstone of our existence today — wasn’t used by the masses until the 1990s. Apple released the iPhone in 2007. Video conferencing like Zoom and Microsoft Teams only became the norm in the last few years. And most companies are just starting to implement mental health and wellness-centric amenities including child care services and mother’s rooms into their facilities.
In other words, the office space your employees seek today is actually similar to what they wanted pre-pandemic. As a decision-maker, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel — just understand that the car is moving and changing, and implement what you can. As real estate professionals, we live these office space needs and wants every day. Here is what we’re office space trends we are seeing that are luring employees back to the office:
Outdoor Space + Natural Air: Private Terraces, Shared Rooftops, Outdoor Courtyards, and Proximity to Parks
15 Laight St. Photo Credit: Newmark Knight Frank
Outdoor space at work is a significant pivot that was well underway before COVID-19 but became top of mind for some employers and employees as a result of the pandemic. Just look at Apple’s headquarters designed by Norman Foster that surrounds a nature refuge. New developments in the past decade have gone a step further and have developed their spaces for long-term impact by bringing outside elements inside. For example, Singapore’s Changi Airport, which is called “the world’s best airport,” unveiled the world’s tallest indoor waterfall in 2019; Amazon’s Seattle Headquarters features spheres where 40,000 plants create an urban oasis; in New York City every floor in 512 West 21st Street has an outdoor space attached to it.
According to a 2017 Inc. article, studies show plants and natural elements increase productivity and well-being. In 2019 The New York Times asked, “The Next Frontier in Office Space? The Outdoors.” They reported at the time, “developers and owners of urban office buildings are adding terraces and transforming once-barren rooftops into parklike settings, where workers can plant vegetables, unfurl yoga mats or swing in a hammock.” They went on to report, “Fueling this trend is growing awareness of the health and wellness benefits from contact with nature, a concept known as biophilia. Exposure to nature has been shown to lower levels of cortisol, the human stress hormone, as well as stimulate creativity. Employers competing for the best workers are using outdoor amenities to show they care about their staff’s well-being.”
With our clients, we’re seeing outdoor space go from a “nice to have” to a “must-have” in some cases. Employees want a place to take a break and recharge, and employers and employees alike want a place to hold meetings, happy hours, and host guests outside. Owners and Landlords are adapting like they were pre-pandemic; in almost any new building in NYC, you’ll find some element of outdoor space included as a tenant amenity, from private outdoor terraces and shared rooftop space to outdoor courtyards and purposeful proximity to parks and green space. If you’re an NYC company looking for office space with an outdoor space element, the good news is you don’t need to take new construction, top dollar space to find it. Because this trend was well underway pre-pandemic, some of the subleases comprising the 20 million square feet of sublease space on the NYC market have outdoor space and we’re seeing those spaces become more competitive and move faster than ever before.
If you don’t have outdoor space in your office and don’t want to move, you have the option to bring outdoor elements inside. When we chatted with our friends last year at Schrimmer Design Group and Lebel & Bouliane for our article on the “6 office design trends post COVID-19,” they told us, “The trend to healthier and greener interior spaces will continue. For many of our office interior projects, we include a landscape consultant …. incorporating plants and green walls into all our spaces allows for connection to the natural world, calm, as well they practically deal with cleaning and filtering the air. Also, with more open collaboration (and frankly talking 6′ apart…) will increase the need for better acoustically performing spaces, so more attention to acoustic materials and design will be key.” Beyond the materials, incorporating outdoor elements in indoor spaces has proven to increase concentration and focus, improve creativity and problem-solving abilities, and increase happiness and retention.
Beyond the mental health benefits, the pandemic highlighted that poor air circulation indoors literally made us sicker and small things like adding greenery throughout your office increased oxygen and airflow and reduced noise pollution. Allowing more natural air to come through the office, whether it be open windows, updated natural air filtration, or having outdoor spaces such as terraces, makes the office a mentally healthy place for employees and makes them physically safer from airborne viruses.
Just as offices have been incorporating greenery and natural airflow (open floor plans) into their office layouts, they are also doubling down on their “living space” feel with elements like internal staircases. Again, we’re seeing internal staircases go from a “nice to have” to a “must-have” for some companies, and the good news is you don’t need to take space in a new construction building to find them. Many companies like Scholastic and Peloton were already taking advantage of the connectivity and “home” feel an internal staircase gives the office well before the pandemic, so if you’re an NYC company looking for one, chances are you can find one in an existing sublease. For new construction buildings, Landlords are adapting to this by pre-planning for their tenants to add internal staircases and in some cases, building staircases for them.
Internal staircases often come with an added benefit: more natural light. By opening up floors to accommodate a staircase you’ll increase natural light as well as create the illusion of higher ceilings, especially if your staircase comes with open space.
High, Exposed, and Double Height Ceilings
Remember Dr. Lester in the Mertin-Flemmer building, on a floor between the 7th and 8th, where the ceiling is very low, in Being John Malkovich? John Cusack’s character, like everyone, was working their way through the office hierarchy while the walls (or, in this case, the ceiling, and floor) felt like they were caving in. The office was suffocating. The film was about changing your perspective of life and what you want the rest of your life to look like. You can apply this thinking to our physical office spaces. If we change our perspective to understand how employees view their workspaces, we will realize how important it is to give people more room to breathe and think.
Open floor plans –which proponents say encourages and fosters innovation and collaboration and provide employees with a sense of transparency and all the benefits of more open-air and natural light — have been all the rage for quite some time now.
But have you looked up lately? High, exposed ceilings are now a cornerstone of office space where employers are looking to increase the mental wellness of being at work. Gone are the days of hiding the building’s HVAC systems with ugly drop ceilings – now, they expose them intentionally and even paint them certain colors to fit the vibe of the space. You as an employee get higher ceilings, a more “tech” and “creative” feel and the landlord can spend their dollars elsewhere instead of covering the ceilings.
In some spaces you will even find ‘double height’ ceilings – these are areas where there are intentional gaps in the ceiling between floors to create – you guessed it – double the height. Like an internal staircase, which also creates this gap in the ceiling, double-height ceilings add connectivity, natural light, and airflow to space. You’ll see many new construction buildings focused on this as a selling point for their space.
Outside of new construction, we’ve seen many older buildings redo their floor plans to accommodate high, exposed ceilings and in some cases open ceilings The once-coveted office space full of cramped cubicles, low drop ceilings, and a dark cave-like feel are becoming a relic of the past, and we don’t expect them to make a comeback anytime soon. Though given the return of 90s fashion – you never know.
Living at Work with Building Amenities: Bike Rooms, Showers, Fitness, and Food Halls
As we noted at the beginning of this post, our behaviors have changed over time. Offices today do not need a separate room to house a library because we all have research tools in our pockets. Offices adapted and swapped those out for copy rooms or rec rooms or another office for an employee. Likewise offices today are adapting. In cities like New York City which has more than 1,400 miles of bike lanes (and counting), more people are taking their bikes to work. Because of this, bike rooms and showers in office buildings are almost always the norm in new construction buildings, and you can find these amenities in the sublease spaces of more forward-thinking companies.
Landlords also have an increased focus on how to use their retail space in office buildings as an additional tenant amenity to boost physical and mental wellness, and facilitate the ‘live and work’ mentality. More buildings are looking for fitness and food concepts in their retail spaces to market as a benefit to employees working there – as we’ve seen with our clients, a building having a fitness concept like Equinox or a food concept like Urban Space or Whole Foods is a more significant selling point now than ever before.
Building A Community and Attracting Talent
As we said above about how internal staircases encourage collaboration by creating a sense of community, so would including a food hall in an office building’s retail space. Food halls have been a trend in many cities for the past two decades and it appears they are here to stay. Many restaurants suffered during COVID-19 so taking on a lease in a shared space may be more palatable and achievable for both up-and-coming restaurants and institutional restaurateurs who are looking to expand their businesses. Food halls and beer gardens are big draws to younger talent who many companies actively try to draw.
Proximity to Residential Neighborhoods Access to Public Transportation
We’re sure you have heard a broker say, “Location, location, location.” It’s an overused saying because it is and will always be true. A new coat of paint or a new flat screen is not enough for the future worker. According to a 2017 survey by staffing firm Robert Half, the average round-trip commute for New York City jobs comes to 57.92 minutes. That is the fourth-longest, behind Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Chicago. The average New Yorker spends 9 minutes longer commuting than the average American. According to Metro, physically speaking, a long commute correlates with increased stress, psychosomatic disorders, and sleep deprivation. Socially speaking, commuting takes up time that could be spent with your family, focusing on your health and wellness, getting a few more minutes of sleep, or watching Netflix. Long commutes lead to unproductivity. Before COVID-19, 23% of American workers have left a job due to a bad commute. 60% of American workers feel that their employers do not do enough to help with their commute.
Technology companies like Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Google, and New York’s own Bloomberg LP have always been “disruptors” when it comes to listening to the trends of future work and creating a space that reflects what employees need to be productive. The reason being is they want to attract young talent and retain them as they grow. What a single 20-year-old seeks in an office may differ from what a married 50-year old with kids seeks. But they have one thing in common: they want to be as close to home as possible. The closer you are to public transportation, especially a massive train station like Penn Station or Grand Central Station the easier a commute for all your employees will be.
And now, post-pandemic, there’s a focus on a trend that was already growing: walking to work. For many employees who can exist for 12+ hours a day in their office buildings thanks to improved office spaces and increased ‘live / work’ tenant amenities, the walk to and from work is a sacred time where they can enjoy the sunshine and fresh air, listen to a podcast or call a friend, or just take in the sights and sounds of the city in peace. We’ve seen clients nix even the nicest, brand new office spaces because the founders or employees can’t walk to work.
The office space you and your employees seek today is quite similar to that you and they wanted pre-pandemic: open, breathable, close to home with natural light and added amenities such as bike rooms and showers. Good decision-makers know: happy employees make more productive employees. We all spend so much of our time in the office, why not make them healthier and more enjoyable?