Why Outdoor Spaces, Gyms Rank High in Office Space’s New Era

In this new world where people may get a choice about working from home or from the office, landlords face the challenge of making their properties so enticing that working from the office is preferable.

As a workplace design firm, we see two primary strategies emerging to make those spaces enticing: providing an outdoor workspace option and offering an indoor/outdoor gym.

Granted, these strategies may depend upon having temperate weather for most of the year and will be more successful in Southern regions of the country. If rain is a bigger impediment than frigid temperatures, though, consider that covered areas are valuable for both rain and sun shelter and may still yield a winning outdoor strategy.

For building owners fortunate enough to have space beyond the four walls of their buildings, creating a multimodal outdoor workspace is a wise option to consider. Keep in mind you will need weatherproof power and Wi-Fi throughout the site.

For a project being built right now in San Diego, the property owner is providing tenants with outdoor lounge seating for social meetings as well as tables with power, data and shade for work meetings and other collaboration. For work that requires more privacy, the owner is providing meeting pods that are enclosed on three sides and the top.

By providing choices, a landlord can accommodate the larger range of workstyles that developed during the pandemic. For the project just referenced, the landlord is also investing in beautiful hardscaping and lush landscaping throughout the outdoor work areas, again, to encourage people to want to work there.

Some building owners are also devising ways to monetize these newly activated outdoor areas. Coffee carts and food trucks are popular. Newly constructed awnings can offer rooftop space for solar panels that can help power the outdoor workspace or even some of the building’s requirements. The covered outdoor space may accommodate vending machines, too, which can be used for food, beverage, tech equipment and more.

Adding Value to Leases

Additionally, uncovered occupiable patios in multistory buildings, excluding ground-level spaces, can be counted as part of a property’s total leasable area, according to a change in Building Owners and Managers Association standards several years ago. Having access to these highly functioning outside spaces will add value to leases, help attract and retain tenants and increase the property’s value.

At the project referenced above, we’re helping the owners remodel the gym and expand into some newly claimed outdoor space. An on-site gym—especially one with exterior workout space—is attractive to tenants and one more reason to want to work from the office rather than home. But lessons learned during the pandemic influence current design trends.

Gyms were at the top of the high-risk category during pandemic shutdowns, mostly because enclosed spaces where people exert themselves pose a high risk of aerosol transmission. Herd immunity from COVID-19 will likely happen soon, but new awareness about wellness protocols is driving consumers to well-ventilated or outdoor gyms now.  

Generally, people feel better and perform better when they don’t sit in one spot all day. By providing space that allows for indoor or outdoor work, as well as workout and nature breaks, a building owner helps its tenants make the case for bringing employees back to the office as a preferred option versus working from home.

A property owner doesn’t need an acre of open space to make a difference. If parking demand will decrease, consider reclaiming some of the parking area as outdoor workspace, if possible. Just be mindful of parking ratios guaranteed in lease contracts.

Small, landscaped plots can be redesigned to include a shaded meeting space. Some building owners can even consider activating their rooftop spaces.

Most employers will see value in collaboration time with their teams and will require some sort of office space. Those same employers need their teams to feel safe and excited about coming to the office.

With some reduction in office space demand likely, the winners on the building owner side will be those who make smart investments to create safe and enticing workspaces.

Amy Tobia is a senior project manager at FS Design Group, a workplace planning and design firm headquartered in San Diego, Calif. This article first ran in Commercial Property Executive.

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