Tag Archives: commercial office building

Small Towns, Big Ideas: Coworking Trends for Post-Pandemic Success

Much like the rest of the world, the coworking industry had a tumultuous 2020. Coming off the heels of WeWork’s collapse in 2019, it entered straight into a pandemic that didn’t exactly welcome strangers working in close quarters. But, over a year later, with vaccine rollouts moving at warp speed, coworking’s future is bright once again. The pillars that make up the original model – community, flexibility, and convenience – are exactly what the workforce is seeking in their return to the physical. In fact, according to CBRE, 82% of companies will favor buildings that offer flexible office space and shared meeting space, especially as they test out long-term hybrid work policies.

That’s not to say coworking won’t look different upon our return. The original model provided tenants a standard set of amenities designed to appeal to a wide audience, a catch-all strategy that didn’t consider industries requiring more tailored solutions. This next generation addresses what the modern workforce craved throughout the pandemic and accelerates the trends driving coworking well before: hyper-niche, hyper-curated spaces that attract and cater to targeted tenant types.

Communities seeing some of the most exciting new offerings are smaller markets like Richmond responding to the ongoing influx of mobile workers and creative talent migrating out of major cities. Our local team of coworking experts – Studio Director, Jessica Zullo, NCIDQ, IIDA, Senior Designer, Patrick Gegen, and Interior Designer, Jordan Camp, IIDA – share some of the trends and providers helping shape the post-pandemic flexible office landscape in RVA.

The Home Grown Hero

Beyond serving as office space, coworking is leaning hard into its ability to foster a sense of belonging within communities, seeking to expand opportunities for member bonding outside of the 9-5 window – especially for those new to the area. Convenience, inspirational design, and dynamic programming that serve member interests are key. At Gather, the Richmond-based coworking platform, each location pays homage to the city with design details specific to the individual neighborhood and its history. Programming caters to their membership of start-ups and entrepreneurs while engaging with the community through cross-promotion of local brands or Richmond-based services. Some examples include headshots by a local photographer or pop-up gallery events that feature local artists and provide a unique venue for members to meet with clients.

The Social Club

Following a year (or what feels like decades) in near isolation, many are anxious to make up for lost time. Richmond’s Common House, a local gathering and social hub, offers a coworking model emphasizing exclusivity on top of convenience and shared interests. Their members-only cultural experiences are designed for entertainment – spa and fitness services, wine tastings, live music, fine dining – all offered under one roof. These curated environments act as third places for both business and social pursuits, injecting creativity and lifestyle into the work experience to expose clients and colleagues to an additional layer of brand identity, status, and personality.

The Test Kitchen

Though essential to a typical coworking environment, the standard combo of open office, private huddle rooms, and shared conference amenities overlook the needs of entire industries – industries whose membership would benefit from specialty tools, technology, and spaces they don’t bear the brunt to finance and maintain. One of our favorite new examples is food hall, Hatch Local at The Current, a Richmond-based residency program catering to a rotation of food and beverage startups under one roof. Off the heels of a pandemic that made the restaurant industry particularly vulnerable, this coworking concept allows up-and-coming chefs and entrepreneurs to conduct market research and gather intel from consumers in a high-traffic area before committing to a retail front of their own. Members also have access to a commercial kitchen, office, and storage space as well as mentorship and advisory opportunities.

The Impact Incubator 

Beyond physical resources, the networking and mentorship opportunities available in a coworking environment grow ten-fold when offered among like-minded professionals. At the Collaboratory of Virginia (CVA), nonprofit organizations work alongside each other in a neutral shared space designed to facilitate innovation and collaboration among members and prioritize efficient use of networks and resources. In addition to receiving consultation or mentorship, members benefit from the exchange of information and experiences of others within a shared community which helps build stronger platforms by uniting support around similar causes.

The Frequent Flier

Remote work has granted us an unprecedented level of flexibility – in our schedules, our furniture, and just about every inch of our lives. Untethered to our desks, we can work from anywhere, in our beds or at the beach. Even as we return to the physical workplace, that level of independence remains of paramount importance and some professionals will maintain the transient habits they’ve grown accustomed to. To accommodate those workers, we anticipate a greater need for coworking locations that offer daily or even hourly rates for drop-in guests.

On-demand services like LiquidSpace, connect professionals directly with a temporary desk or office space in the city of their choosing, including our fan favorite, Gather. This agile model serves mobile professionals with tasks that require focus like participating in an interview or when they need specific tools like photocopiers. Even workers who do have a designated office space may look for a third-space or touch-down location for off-site collaboration or retreats. Finally, short-term rentals allow coworking brands to capture unleashed space while exposing them to a new set of clientele, ones that could easily convert to long-term members down the line. Because now we know that so long as there’s Wi-Fi, nothing can stand in our way.

Mass Timber’s Moment: What’s Next for CLT?

The 80 M Street SE mass timber addition will be the first of its kind in Washington, DC.

Just last month, over 1,300 tons of mass timber arrived on site at 80 M Street in Washington, DC’s Capitol Riverfront district. Having completed its journey from the forests of the Pacific Northwest and Eastern Canada, the timber was hoisted atop the commercial office building and, over the course of a few short months, will result in 105,000-SF of additional leasable tenant and amenity space. The 80 M Street renovation, the District of Columbia’s first mass timber and glass vertical expansion project, is a triumph for a number of reasons, the most crucial of which is its signaling to the real estate industry the possibility for further development of its kind.

The culmination of extensive research and a lengthy entitlement process including the approval for code modifications and community review, 80 M Street came to fruition under the guidance of a client with vision and the collaboration of an invested project team who saw the sustainable material’s long-term potential. And the potential is endless, insists the senior designer behind 80 M Street, Tom Corrado, LEED AP, who, in partnership with John Lang, AIA, a senior associate at Hickok Cole, has been exploring the next opportunity for mass timber development in DC.

“We’re at a point where every conversation we have with a client begins with mass timber,” Tom stated. Having witnessed the rise in remote workers this past year, and well aware of the housing crisis in the District, Tom and John venture that timber could reconcile these issues.

Due to its pre-fabricated nature, timber construction takes approximately 25% less time to build, resulting in faster lead times and improved quality control.

“Residential construction is primed for timber, especially when you need housing fast,” comments John. Having specialized in residential design throughout his tenure at Hickok Cole, John is an advocate for affordable and attainable housing and sees it as timber’s next step. “The module for housing is smaller than office and timber construction excels on shorter structural systems. Better still, mass timber comes in pre-fabricated panels that speed up construction and reduce the amount of labor on-site. Consequently, that usually means improved quality control.” With labor costs skyrocketing and skilled labor dwindling, this could ultimately help drive down or at least steady rent prices, he pointed out.

“Not to mention the biophilic element and connection to nature these residences would provide,” adds Tom. “Humans are not meant to live in these 600-SF boxes. We need access to greenery and sunlight. And just being surrounded by wood accomplishes that – it’s definitely better for you than concrete and dry wall.”

With the increased attention to health and wellness due to the pandemic, John explains, it’s obvious that the housing industry will require a shift as well. “That includes everything from better HVAC systems and ventilation to availability of outdoor amenities and remote work accommodations. But, we’ve also seen how drastically our presence impacts the planet. With nowhere to go this past year, the roads were clearer and so were the skies – we can’t ignore that.”

Studies show exposed wood has resulted in improved mood and productivity levels for building occupants.

It’s true that our definition of a healthy lifestyle has expanded to include a focus on climate change and reducing our carbon footprint – and that of buildings. It’s especially true when you consider that the construction and building industry accounts for nearly 40% of global carbon emissions annually. Not only is wood the only building material that is 100% renewable but as they grow, forests actually sequester nearly 13% of total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions per year. As a result, buildings made from wood store that carbon throughout their lifespans.  

The case for timber is clear and has been made countless times. So, if it seems so obvious, then why has it been so challenging convincing developers and building owners to pursue mass timber construction? As is usual with the early stages of any new technology, the biggest hurdles are cost and the associated risks (including a decent learning curve in this case) with being the first. But, as Tom points out, we’re not the first. We’re not even close – at least not globally. In fact, most of Europe and Canada, and even parts of Asia, including China despite its robust steel economy, have been investing in the material for some time now. In West Coast states like California and Washington, where timber is easily accessible and often cheaper, experimenting with timber in a variety of project types including schools, hotels, and even entertainment venues began almost a decade ago.

“We’re looking into medical office buildings as well,” Tom added. “There’s been a shift in the medical community away from single practitioners occupying a portion of a larger building towards several providing care under one roof. We predict folks will be going to a single location for all their health and wellness needs in the future so why not create a better environment and improve the user experience holistically?” Mass timber can improve air quality and acoustics, and has been proven to elicit a positive human response from occupants.

The current premium on mass timber is driven by a lack of readily available resources on the East Coast and subsequent low demand. One solution is for jurisdictions to alleviate costs by offering incentives like tax credits.

Now that timber has made it to the nation’s capital, the question remains: how can we propel the timber movement forward? Cutting down costs is one way – but that comes with increased supply. One of the biggest factors contributing to the premium on wood is limited resources on the East Coast. “We need to make the case for forests on this side of the country. Areas in the northeast like Maine and Vermont are well suited for it,” says John.

The next step is understanding the International Building Code and navigating jurisdictional zoning laws and safety regulations. “Form your project team early on, involve local representatives and jurisdictions right away, and educate the community,” Tom suggests. “Every project is different, but it only takes a few early adopters to remove uncertainty from the equation.” From there, he says, the knowledge is public, and you now have a pool of experts who can take the lead on the entitlement process or negotiating code modifications, as needed.

“It’s true that sustainability alone isn’t enough of a motive for development to occur, especially if the dollars don’t lean in your favor,” says John. “And developers shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of these costs. That’s why it’s crucial to have an open dialogue with your jurisdiction.”  Putting your cards on the table and seeing how your goals align can prompt the introduction of sustainable incentive programs, tax credits, grants, and other forms of government support.

“The results are in on timber. We should no longer be concerned with early adoption,” Tom contended. “In fact, our biggest risk is being last to get on board.”

80 M is scheduled to deliver in the fall of 2021, just a few months after construction launched in March.

Want to explore mass timber for your next project? Contact Laura Roth, Director of Business Development, to schedule a conversation with the team.