Office Space in a Post-Pandemic World

When Rip Van Winkle falls asleep in the Catskill Mountains just before the Revolutionary War, he doesn’t wake until twenty years later—beard grown a foot and a rotting, rusty musket by his side—to a post-war world that’s very different from the one he remembers. How does this relate to commercial office space after Covid-19, you ask?  CoeoSpace is here to address what we anticipate will happen.
While it’s a bit much to suggest that we will emerge from our current isolation to find a world as altered as the one Washington Irving presents in “Rip Van Winkle”. Although self-isolation beards do seem to be a thing, there will certainly be changes. This will range from how we greet colleagues (no handshakes, please) to what we require from our office space.
So, Change, even positive change, like a promotion or a new office, can be hard. So, the reasons behind today’s workplace changes are anything but positive. After all the worry and loss, we look forward to the return of normalcy. Yet we may find that the workplace we’ve been so eager to return to differs considerably from the one we left behind. Office space will likely be hard to recognize from pre-pandemic times.

Personal safety, always a top priority for employers, has a new look—one that requires keeping people at a safe distance to help limit the spread of disease. So, the productivity benefits related to open floor plans and desk sharing are taking a necessary back seat to the need for individual workspaces and agile work-from-home options. To return workers to the office safely, companies are having to make significant adjustments.

Your company’s return-to-work plan may begin with your schedule—possibly alternating two weeks at home with two in the office, in an effort to decrease office population density. When it’s your day to return, give yourself a little extra time to actually make it to your desk—there may be a wait at your now voice-activated elevator, due to the limited number of people permitted inside. Arriving at your floor, you take a circuitous route down designated one-way hallways intended to limit your interaction with colleagues. You get to your usual desk in the open office plan only to discover that it has been moved six feet away from your coworkers’ desks, and “sneeze guard” partitions have been installed. The on-site gym has been shuttered, and in the office cafeteria, seating is limited to a single person per table.
While this degree of change may seem daunting, it’s likely coming. Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate firm, has already created “the six foot office,” which uses design tools such as some of those described above to keep coworkers at least six feet apart, thus mitigating the risks inherent in returning to work.
Businesses in the U.S. are also taking cues from those with offices in parts of the world where employees have begun their return to work. As Jena McGregor of the Washington Post reports:
“IBM, which has begun adding back workers in several locations in China and South Korea, has developed global standards for returning to the office. They include bringing back those who need access to on-site equipment or labs first, staggering arrival times so elevators don’t become too crowded, eliminating buffets and shared serving tools in cafeterias, and taking out furniture in other spaces to ease social distancing concerns in conference rooms.”
Other companies, like Intel, have also implemented strategies to limit the spread of disease, such as requiring more frequent and visible office cleaning, distributing masks, providing disposable plastic covers for shared keyboards, and screening for symptoms.
As Uri Berliner of NPR points out, some protective measures require making judgment calls, such as deciding whether to mandate temperature checks and contact tracing. Along these same lines, sensors used to monitor desk usage, once touted as a way to maximize utilization, are now being investigated as a way to ensure that those same desks are not being used too much, and are being cleaned at appropriate times.
At this early juncture, much is still unknown, including whether companies will, as some people posit, ultimately require less office space. As Rani Molla reported for Recode:
“In short, it is too early to tell if companies will lease less space,” Julie Whelan, Americas head of occupier research at commercial real estate services company CBRE, told Recode. “While they may need less space because some people may conduct some of their work remotely, they may also need more space to provide the social distancing that employees may feel they need to be comfortable.”
It’s also too soon to tell how many of the changes now being implemented will remain in place even after we have a COVID-19 vaccine or effective treatment. It seems likely, however, that the ones most apt to stick around will be those that provide benefits beyond mere social distancing. When CoeoSpace made the decision to offer live remote tours of commercial real estate properties, for example, its short term goal was to allow landlords and tenants to continue to safely find and visit commercial real estate spaces while social distancing, but long term, these remote tours will offer the continued benefit of cost and time savings to those attempting to locate and secure property from distant locations.

Returning to old Rip Van Winkle and the new world he found himself in, let me assure you that everything worked out just fine. His grown daughter took him in, and although it was some time before he could fully comprehend all that had changed while he slept, he eventually resumed his old habits and did very well for himself indeed.

We hope it will be the same for all of us, in time as we look to return to the office space we so miss.

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by: Kim Pierson
for CoeoSpace

Pittsburgh’s Oakland Neighborhood: Education and Innovation

Mention “Oakland” in most parts of the U.S. and people will think of the large California port city. Not so in Western Pennsylvania. Here, people identify “Oakland” primarily as the neighborhood at the forefront of Pittsburgh’s academic and healthcare renaissance.
Home to three nationally-ranked universities, the University of Pittsburgh, Carlow University, and Carnegie Mellon University (technically part of neighboring Squirrel Hill, but just over the border), Oakland’s predominant landmark is the University of Pittsburgh’s 42-story Cathedral of Learning—the tallest educational building in the Western Hemisphere. Be sure to venture inside the Cathedral to view its enormous Commons Room (the four-story, nearly .5 acre room looks like something out of Harry Potter) and tour its 31 Nationality Rooms, all of which were “designed to represent the culture of various ethnic groups that settled in Allegheny County.” The rooms are particularly festive when decorated for the winter holidays, so stop in then if you can. Keep in mind, however, that the vast majority of the Nationality Rooms serve as functional classrooms, so touring is limited to weekends and other times when school is not in session.
While the Cathedral of Learning might be the easiest landmark to spot, it is only one of many architectural wonders in Oakland. Both the neo-Gothic Heinz Memorial Chapel (one of the most in-demand wedding venues in Pittsburgh) and Soldiers & Sailors Museum and Memorial Hall (paying tribute to American veterans from all branches of service) are also on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus, each less than a block away from the Cathedral.
Also nearby are the stunning Carnegie Museum Buildings, including the renowned Museum of Art (don’t miss the tremendous archive of Teenie Harris photographs) and the Museum of Natural History (the original skeleton of Dippy, one of the world’s most famous dinosaurs, has been on display there since the completion of the 1907 expansion required to house it!). A statue of Dippy stands outside the complex—sometimes sporting a scarf for winter, or dressed to support Pittsburgh sports teams—a sure sign that you’re in the right place. The historic 1,900 seat Carnegie Music Hall and the main branch of the Carnegie Library complete the Carnegie Museum complex, portions of which date back to 1895.
Across the street from both the Carnegie Library and the Cathedral of Learning is Schenley Plaza, which features gardens, the Victorian-style PNC Carousel (open mid-April through mid-October), and The Porch, a popular restaurant featuring seasonal, local food with a rooftop garden and beehives (be sure to try the wood-fired pizzas).
Continue along Schenley Drive into the 456-acre Schenley Park to Flagstaff Hill, known for its movies in the park (shown at dusk throughout the summer) as well as the Carnegie Mellon Buggy race (held each April—this year celebrates the race’s 100th anniversary). The park is also home to the Phipps Conservatory, one of the greenest buildings in the world, as well as one of the most lovely, with exhibits that change frequently (the winter flower show and light garden is a must-see). The adjoining Café Phipps is a good spot for a reasonably-priced light lunch, with numerous vegetarian options.
Other top restaurants in the area include Spice Island Tea House, a longtime favorite for Southeast Asian food, Mount Everest Sushi for fresh sushi and poke bowls, and Butterjoint for burgers and cocktails. For dessert, follow the scent of homemade waffle cones to Dave & Andy’s for unique and absolutely delicious ice cream. Check for festivals, too, such as St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral’s Greek Food Fest (the 2020 event will be held May 3-9), for excellent food and entertainment.
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has numerous offices and hospitals in Oakland, including UPMC Presbyterian and UPMC Montefiore, both closely affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. In addition, UPMC has announced plans to build a new heart and transplant hospital on the UPMC Presbyterian campus. Magee-Womens Hospital (where approximately 45% of all births in Allegheny County take place) and Western Psychiatric Hospital are also in the neighborhood.
In an area known for education and innovation, it’s no surprise to find high-quality coworking spaces such as Avenu, “just a moment’s walk from the invaluable resources at Pitt, CMU and UPMC and geared toward university-affiliated innovators and entrepreneurs.” With flexible leasing options, and an outstanding reputation for hosting start-ups, Avenu provides a suitable work environment for everyone from students to established business owners.
With all that Pittsburgh’s Oakland has to offer, it’s only a matter of time before even those living outside of Western Pennsylvania recognize the name.
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Written by: Kim Pierson
for CoeoSpace

Whatever You Need, You Can Find It in the Strip

If you can’t find something in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, you really should question whether you need it at all. What was once largely a neighborhood of mills and factories, then wholesale warehouses (convenient to both the river and railroad), the Strip District has found new life in recent years, with former warehouses now serving as specialty boutiques, art studios, restaurants, and small grocers. Some of the best shopping, eating, and sightseeing in the Burgh can be found along this roughly half square mile neighborhood between the Allegheny River and Liberty Avenue.

Arrive early for the best parking options and start your visit with the most delicious breakfast in town. I’m partial to Pamela’s (try the chocolate chip banana hotcakes, you won’t be sorry) or Kelly O’s (offering a Pittsburgh version of eggs benedict—with pierogies and Kielbasa), but you can’t go wrong with Café Raymond or DeLuca’s, either. Only want coffee? Stop at Prestogeorge Coffee & Tea, La Prima Espresso Company, or Allegheny Coffee & Tea Exchange for a freshly brewed cup (and be sure to treat yourself to a biscotti or macaroon from Enrico Biscotti Co.).
If you’re coming for groceries (and really, you should be), bring your cooler bags, because you can’t beat the selection, or the quality. Fresh fish from Wholey’s, a Pittsburgh institution. Asian staples from Lotus Food Company (or, at the other end of the Strip, the also excellent WFH Oriental Food Market). Spices from Penzey’s. The tortillas at Reyna Foods are not to be missed—if you’re lucky, they may even still be warm. Sample imported cheeses from Pennsylvania Macaroni Company and take home your favorites. Grab some of the city’s best bread and pepperoni rolls from Mancini’s. Stop at Mon Aimee Chocolat for fabulous gourmet chocolates, and experience the same joy Charlie felt entering Wonka’s factory when you walk through the doors at Grandpa Joe’s.
And that’s only a small fraction of what’s available.
If you’re not too full from snacking on your purchases, stop for lunch at the Smallman Galley, a restaurant incubator featuring four up-and-coming restaurants that change periodically. Relative newcomer Gaucho Parrilla Argentina has proven a popular lunch spot as well, as has family-owned Italian restaurant DiAnoia’s Eatery .
After lunch, those who want to explore non-grocery options have many from which to chose. The Heinz History Center—“the Smithsonian’s home in Pittsburgh”—is a stellar museum in a city known for its exceptional ones—be sure to stop in to get your pickle pin. Or pick up a Steelers shirt from Yinzers, bourbon from Wigle Whiskey, a one-of-a-kind serving bowl from Penn Avenue Pottery, or a gorgeous wreath from Roxanne’s Dried Flowers.
Most of the shops listed above are located on either Smallman Street or Penn Avenue, between 16th and 25th Streets, but if you don’t mind a bit of a walk, favorites like Eide’s Entertainment for comic books and LPs (on Penn near 11th), Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor (on the other end of the Strip, on Penn near 28th), and Salonika Greek Imports (Smallman and 35th, near Lawrenceville) are not to be missed.
For dinner in the Strip, my personal favorites are Big Burrito’s acclaimed Caribbean-inspired Kaya (don’t miss their happy hour), and Penn Avenue Fish Company.
Be aware that many stores keep only daytime hours (most restaurants are open later), and often close early on Sundays. Saturdays can be particularly busy, making parking tough to find, so come early. Some restaurants are closed Mondays.
Expect some areas to be under construction—it’s necessary in what executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Robert Rubinstein, calls the fastest growing neighborhood in the city. The Produce Terminal, a 1920s art deco building that runs along Smallman from 16th to 21st, is one area currently being renovated as part of the Strip District’s ever-evolving nature. When complete, the building will have restaurants and shops (including a market) on the first floor, offices on the upper floors, and will offer parking.
One highly-anticipated construction project is the 21-story glass office tower slated to replace the New Federal Cold Storage Building—the now-empty cement warehouse known for its prominent display of the smiling neon Wholey fish. CBRE, the brokerage firm that will lease the property, has recently begun promoting the project.

If you’re fortunate enough to work in downtown Pittsburgh, the Strip is only a short walk away, and businesses are increasingly recognizing the charms of the area. Both Oxford Realty Services, one of southwestern Pennsylvania’s leading commercial real estate providers, and Serendipity Labs, a nationwide coworking and office space, recently opened locations in the Strip, at 3 Crossings, a 16-acre mixed-use development overlooking the Allegheny River. The location provides easy access to all of the Strip’s excellent restaurants and shops, as well as convenient parking (for cars, bikes, and even kayaks) and access to the Three Rivers Heritage Trail.
If you’re planning a trip into Pittsburgh, you’ll be glad to know that the Strip is home to several hotels, including a Homewood Suites, a Hampton Inn & Suites, and an AC Hotel.
Whether you’re new to town or simply a Pittsburgher who hasn’t made a trip to the Strip in a while, it’s worth a stop on a sunny day—or even one of Pittsburgh’s more typically overcast ones. Between the energy and bustle surrounding the neighborhood and its gorgeous view of downtown, it’s a place to lift the hearts of even the most curmudgeonly.
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I know, I know—I missed your favorite place in the Strip! Please post and tell me (and everyone else!) about it. I can’t wait to try it!

Written by: Kim Pierson
for CoeoSpace