CRE 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.
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, from how we greet colleagues (no handshakes, please) to what we require from our office space.
Change, even positive change, like a promotion or a new office, can be hard—and 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.

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. 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 Coeo Space 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.
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by: Kim Pierson
for Coeo Space

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 Coeo Space

Coworking Amenities: What Do You Really Need?

So here’s a little-known tidbit about me: when not blogging about commercial real estate, I write novels. (Hopefully will become a well-known tidbit at some point—rest assured that I’ll keep you posted.)
I also have four kids, ranging in age from 9-17. They tend to be loud, kind of smelly, and often suffer from the mad delusion that my purpose in life is to provide them with things. A ride, perhaps, or clean soccer socks (good luck on that one). And food. Always food.
Having loud, smelly, mildly demanding kids in the   house is not conducive to writing anything—be it a blog post or a novel. So I’ve taken to writing elsewhere, most often with a mindful writing group. We meet in the private room of a local restaurant, listen to a guided meditation for about fifteen minutes, then write for four hours.
There’s food available, and coffee, lots of coffee. Although we’re all in the same room together, the rules are that everyone must be respectful—so no talking. The rest of the restaurant chatter is muted as soon as the door to the room is closed. The only sound is the clicking of keys on laptop keyboards (and the occasional sigh of writerly frustration).
No one asks me for help with algebra. Or cares what’s for dinner. No one smells like they came straight from a soccer game.
It’s glorious.
It’s coworking.
And more and more people are finding that it’s the best way to do their job.
Now, keep in mind that my coworking needs are not great, and as a result, my amenity expectations are not high. I fully recognize that reserving a five-hour-stint in a private room in a restaurant twice a week isn’t going to be a solution to most people’s coworking needs. Still, it’s fine for me, for now. The price is right—the cost of a meal, and coffee, and a really big tip. And the camaraderie can’t be beat.
But the room is cold, no matter the season. And there’s only one (one!) outlet in the entire space. Worst of all—no WiFi. While arguably a benefit when I’m working on my novel (no wasting time on social media), this is a huge inconvenience if I’m researching a blog post.
As someone who blogs about commercial real estate, I read regularly about coworking places like The Writer’s Room in NYC, The Hatchery Press in LA, and The Writers Workspace in Chicago, all of which allow you to share equipment, ideas, and expertise 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They provide access to online databases as well as reference books—and in some cases, even a napping area. I ogle their websites and spend time thinking about my own ideal coworking space, and what would it look like.
As coworking spaces have proliferated, the range of amenities has also grown. Options at various locations now include everything from outdoor seating areas to rock climbing walls, yoga sessions to dog parks.
For those pressed for time, there may be an option for laundry/dry cleaning drop-off onsite. Or a fitness center—with locker rooms, showers, and even exercise classes—that can not only save travel time, but provide an option for stress relief during the day. For those with small children, on-site childcare might be invaluable.
And I can see the appeal in all of these. They’re simply less necessary for someone who is only using the space ten hours a week.
My coworking needs—today, at least—are simpler. My ideal coworking space need only offer the following six basic amenities. Only six, and nothing fancy, but they would need to be done well.
(1) Open Work Space
My current coworking location consists of a single room, where we gather to write at a large central table, seated side to side but with enough space to spread out. This works for me. There’s proximity to my colleagues—that’s why we’re here, right? Because writing is a solitary activity and we need community. But we’re also not right on top of each other.
The table—really a mass of smaller tables that have been pushed together—can be reconfigured if necessary, but it rarely is. On occasion, someone will split off and move a single table to another area of the room, which allows slightly more privacy.
Still, there is no place to go to take a call, or to have a conversation without disrupting others. Since we’re talking ideal, in addition to the large table, my coworking space would offer a privacy pod, and a conference room. Sit-to-stand desks would also make the list.
(2) Supplies/Accessories
I’m not even going to discuss the necessity of fast WiFi. Or abundant outlets for charging. Or basic office supplies, and a printer. Clearly these are must-haves that my colleagues and I currently struggle on without—but in my ideal coworking space, we wouldn’t need to.
(3) Food & Drink
There’s coffee available at my current coworking space, of course—that’s a given just about anywhere. But one huge advantage to writing at a restaurant is that there’s even waitstaff to deliver (and refill) it. Meals get delivered, too. When I’m in the middle of a chapter, and don’t want to get out of my seat, this kind of table service is invaluable. It’s one of the factors that keeps me coming back.
(4) Support Staff
Now, I recognize that reasonable minds may differ on the benefit of table service in a coworking space. Some might prefer to get up and walk around. Maybe hit up a vending machine. I get it. But one thing we can probably all agree on is that excellent service in general—having a friendly and knowledgeable staff running the location, even if not also providing dining service—is a top requirement.
(5) Environmental Factors
I’m fortunate that the room in which I write provides good natural light through its abundant windows (which are also equipped with shades to block the occasional glare). Climate control, however—something so basic you don’t even think about it until you don’t have it—is lacking. For now, I rely on a sweater. And a jacket. Sometimes gloves. But my ideal coworking space would definitely do a better job maintaining a comfortable temperature.
(6) Access and Location
In my current space, my writers’ group gets the same two five hour shifts every week. Would I get more done if I could access my coworking space more frequently, or easily adjust the schedule when I have a conflict? Certainly. Many coworking locations offer 24-hour access (often accomplishing this through an access control system, so that they do not need a receptionist or security guard to monitor use), and my ideal space would unquestionably provide this benefit.
Which brings me to one of my biggest requirements of all—finding a location close to me. For all that my current coworking space may be less than ideal in many ways, it’s also only ten minutes from my house. And that’s one of the main reasons you’ll find me there twice a week. Every week.

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Do you utilize a coworking space? Share your must-have amenities!
Written by: Kim Pierson
for Coeo Space