From office space to hotels and retail, the commercial real estate sector is evolving post-pandemic. To explore and understand these trends, we reached out to a selection of experts. Here are some insights from our conversations.
1. The Hybrid Office Workplace
With many offices downsizing, others are adapting to the new hybrid model. Long gone is the cubicle. As part of returning to the office safely, some office spaces are offering room for amenities.
According to a recent survey from McKinsey, nine out of 10 organizations are switching to a hybrid working model. That statistic means employees will only be in the office between 21 to 80% of the time. But productivity hasn’t changed.
With the new design for the hybrid workplace comes new furniture. Brands like Stylex have created stylish “separation screens” (freestanding wooden planks with sound absorption underneath a layer of fabric) for safe and private coworking.
Architects who design airports are changing their blueprints. The flow of people has to be managed with more space. The overall travel experience will change.
There’s a need for safe areas to relax in airports. There’s a need for the design to calm anxiety levels, too.
Dwayne MacEwen, the founder and creative director of DMAC Architecture said, “I think airport lounges will continue to become a more important part of the travel experience. These lounges need to offer a full hospitality experience with a nod to local culture in their design and F&B offerings. Place making and being connected to a place is important. This will become the differentiator for the travel experience as we come out of the pandemic.”
It isn’t just the technical aspect of design, but the creative side, too. The wanderlust aspect of travel will be tapped into as a core message for travel brands, going forward.
“What inspires us to travel for both work and pleasure should be enhanced,” he added. “The journey matters and how we engage all the senses should create an emotional experience.”
3. Retail at Airports
Just as more vaccinated Americans are seeking post-pandemic travel, the departure gate is seen as a ripe stomping ground for luxury products. Especially with Amazon snapping up shopping malls and turning them into shipping delivery warehouses, this could be one of the last remaining places to truly browse in-person for the latest handbag or perfume — far beyond Duty Free.
Cheryl Nashir, the Director of Revenue Development at San Francisco International Airport, said, “Our retail outlets will be offering personal shopping services, meaning that if they are closed and a customer is interested in a purchase, they will open the store just for that one shopper.”
Dining in airports will change, too. According to MacEwan, the restaurant model inside departure gates will turn into more of a cafeteria or food hall model.
“Airport food and beverage offerings are in question,” he said. “Something we all took for granted pre-covid is that many airports F&B [food and beverage] outlets either did not survive or remain closed as the entire F&B industry struggles to fill kitchen, waitstaff and server positions. The ‘local’ F&B offerings and experience will become even more important as we ‘reopen’ and welcome people back on board the airplane.”
No commercial sector has been hit as hard as hotels during the pandemic. While some travel has resumed, hotels are seeing an increase in local travelers in 2021. In New York City, the occupancy rate is at 66% (compared to 2020, where it was 30%), according to the Hotel Association of New York City.
“To get back to 2019 levels, it won’t happen before 2024 or 2025,” said Vijay Dandapani, president and CEO of the Hotel Association of New York City. “There’s no international travel, no business travel, no convention travel. Almost no conference business.”
Dandapani says that hotels were counting on the 75th United Nations General Assembly, which is only happening online this year.
“Finance and pharmaceutical conferences are cancelled; it’s all virtual this year,” he said.
While hotels wait for international business travel to resume, they’re aiming to be more environmental, cutting costs in housekeeping — the biggest expense, in terms of wage — by offering new towels every day as an optional service for guests. Hotels are also saving money on employee fees, by automating tasks where they can.
“Bypassing the front desk is going to be accelerated, not only because of the virus, but because it’s more convenient,” Dandapani added. “’I’m staying in room 610,’ you go straight up. QR codes are replacing hotel menus and contactless payment will be fully embraced.”
He believes that staying at a hotel is still safer than vacation rental homes like Airbnb.
“Nobody I know got Covid-19 from a hotel, but at a short-term apartment rental, they don’t release the statistics,” he said. “Hotels are safe and follow protocols.”
5. Flexible Common Space
Design is changing in mixed-use buildings, too. According to David Tracz, a partner at the //3877 design firm, architects are looking to provide more flexibility for developers.
“We’re looking to provide our clients with more flexible concepts that are able to evolve alongside human behaviors,” he explained. “Automated doorways and touchless hardware, features that were previously considered overly expensive, quickly became necessities, especially in shared spaces. There is also a new emphasis on putting guests at ease through improved air circulation, UV lights, and outdoor spaces.”
Even when it comes to common space in office buildings, the hot topic that we’re seeing going is a focus on wellness. Once a recreation for just yogis, wellness is integral to the work-life balance, post-pandemic.
“We’re going to see more health and wellness in the design of commercial spaces because the industry is taking stock of its design practices and how they impact the environment,” he predicted. “We prioritize local vendors and green materials when evaluating best practices for any given project alongside the overall footprint on the local landscape and community. For one of our most recent hotel projects, Hyatt Place National Harbor, sustainability was a key focus during the construction process.”
6. Landscape Design Adjacent to Commercial Properties
Outdoor space is going to be used more than ever before, due to the pandemic and the need for more fresh air. Prasoon Shrivastava, the founder and CEO of Prasoon Design Studio in Dubai, said a greater appreciation for the outdoors is going to inspire how designers, architects and especially landscape architects create outdoor space.
“The pandemic has led us to a deeper connection with nature and the natural elements,” he said. “Moving toward the ‘new normal’ in the travel industry, we have seen an already growing inclination for open, outdoor and semi-outdoor hospitality areas. Hotel guests and restaurant patrons have adapted to these exterior settings, becoming more comfortable interacting within these external environments.
Shrivastava is currently designing the Anichi Resort & Spa, a Marriott Autograph Collection Hotel, in Dominica. One main focus of the design is connecting interior spaces with specific, tailored landscapes for guests.
“As hospitality designers, we draw inspiration from nature’s blueprints to deliver a new generation of eco-friendly solutions,” he explained.
He isn’t alone. It’s for all kinds of commercial properties.
“Natural light, fresh air, and open spaces have become the salvation for hotel, restaurant, and airport design while creating more spaces that can be used throughout the year,” he added.
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