Key To Future Office And Home Work Spaces: Flexibility


Are you among those who seek crystal clear forecasts about trends impacting you? If so, you’re not likely to find direction in the endless surveys, studies and analyses focused on whether or not work from home (WHF) is here to stay.

Just when you feel one prediction has the future 100% correctly pegged, along comes another prognostication to upend the earlier report’s findings.

A recent study by JDP seems to suggest there would be little problem with Americans working from home forever. Research into the sentiments of 2,000 respondents found two-thirds convinced their productivity is as good or better when working from home. A huge majority (92%) believed their boss trusts them when working from home.

On the other hand, a nearly concurrent Digital.com study found lack of WFH experience, coupled with anxiety related to the pandemic, have left some workers less productive when toiling from their home offices. A lack of collaboration, interference from streaming media and TV and reduced mental stimuli led the list of productivity snuffers.

For its part, a Gensler study found just one in eight respondents (12%) desired permanent work-from-home confinement.

That finding appears to back what’s long been known about humans: We’re social beings whose health and longevity rests on in-person contact.

Middle ground

What does seem to be taking shape is the notion that while working from an office will not disappear in a post-pandemic world, working from home won’t either. In the Gensler study, 44% of respondents preferred no work days from home. Another 26% wanted one or two days in their home office, while 18% thought three or four days at home would be just fine.

That suggests the future may see some sort of accommodation among office staffs, with bosses and colleagues deferring to some employees’ wishes for remote work on some work days. The dividend paid out by this transition to greater flexibility could eventually be a healthier work-life balance for office teams than previously thought possible.

And just as greater flexibility may be prioritized in how future work is split between home and office, flexibility is also being emphasized by designers and manufacturers focused on WFH furnishings. When people are not working away in the office, they will need home office furnishings and equipment flexible enough to turn home interiors of any size or layout into a work space where they can be highly productive and efficient.

Office leads

That evolution comes in the wake of an earlier one years ago in corporate offices. There, technology helped make teams more fluid. Staff were able to shift from their desks to collaborative spaces and social settings, and yet remain just as efficient as before. In turn, heightened mobility often increased engagement, improved performance and fostered greater wellness.

Lessons learned in designing offices also apply to furnishings designed for WFH. So says Steve Delfino, vice president of corporate marketing and product management with Ontario-based office furniture manufacturer Teknion.

“In recent years, active design has helped to improve well-being in the office. We need to stand up, stretch, and move around at home as well,” he says. “In the office, we get up to go to a meeting, step out for lunch or walk across the office to chat with a coworker. At home, we may have to be reminded to take a break, make a cup of tea or go outside for a moment.”

Flexibility is the key to a number of Teknion solutions for home workers. Those workers without dedicated workspace can bring flexibility into their lives by using a comfortable dining room chair at a height-adjustable table, or moving a laptop stand to the edge of a living room sofa.

In dedicated home work spaces, a mix of height-adjustable surfaces enable movement between sitting and standing, and deliver the health benefits resulting from those moves. And in flex space, multi-functional modular products like Teknion’s Bene Box – including desks, tables, shelves, stools and storage – let residents create reconfigurable settings enabling work from home during some day parts, and standard home at others times of day.



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Real Estate Buyers Social Distancing As Far Away As Uruguay


As the pandemic’s long-feared second wave comes crashing down on us like a mammoth breaker pounding a cracker box coastal village, some real estate shoppers are looking for values far from the densely-packed districts that are their customary areas of interest.

How far? How about Uruguay? As in the South American nation of 3.5 million inhabitants nestled between Argentina on the south and southwest, and Brazil on the north and east?

Uruguay is not exactly a hop, skip and jump from places like Miami or New York City. But it does possess myriad qualities increasingly prized in these fraught times. With many placing more and more emphasis on living in contact with nature, luxury developments encircled by green, wide-open surroundings and untrammeled environs have become more popular in today’s real estate market, serving as appealing, secure investments for foreign buyers.

Uruguay, long a magnet for Brazilian and Argentinian investors, is increasingly luring Europeans and North Americans for exactly these reasons.

Whether it is a beachfront apartment, ocean-side single-family home, a country estate built on a sprawling ranch or an elegant domicile in a private community, investors are finding more space at less expense in Uruguay, a safe place of economic, social and political stability, where foreign real estate investors are not only accepted but welcomed. Recently announced tax incentives provide incentives to invest, many aimed directly at foreign investors. Other fiscal advantages, such as a 77% reduction in the minimum requirement for real estate investment, have helped seal the deal for a good many North Americans.

Ranch lots

Uruguay’s up-and-coming luxury residential developments include El Secreto, on the wind-damped sunset coast of Jose Ignacio in Maldonado and Las Garzas, a place of pristine beaches, exclusive amenities and spectacular flora and fauna, in Rocha. Garnering perhaps the most attention is Las Carcavas, a high-end development situated along the Rocha coast in the state of Garzon, 15 minutes from the exclusive Uruguay summer resort destination of Punta del Este.

From the Punta del Este Airport, visitors heading toward Las Carvacas motor along Road 10 and over the legendary circular bridge on Garzon Lagoon. Soon they enter the development that takes its name from the way rock formations are carved by the erosive force of rushing waters. Las Carcavas features two dozen ranch lots measuring 2.5 acres each, with space for 16 bungalows. Ranches go from $580,000 to $3 million in U.S. dollars, with each turnkey, ready-for-move-in bungalow valued at approximately $1 million.

Natural splendor

These spaces are spread across 128 acres of spectacular land on a UNESCO national biosphere reservation. Included is access to more than 250 meters of exclusive beachfront lapped by warm tropical currents flowing in from Brazil. Also incorporated is an array of high-end amenities, including a beach club on the shore of a lagoon, natural grass tennis court, grill area, fire pit, corrals and swimming pool

“Sustainability and environmental impact are two concepts getting more attention nowadays, generating lots of interest from investors,” says Fernanda Prece, commercial director of Las Carcavas. “Even in these times of adaptation and transformation for many areas, our projections are positive given the current scenario.”

Sustainability and a fierce dedication to the environment are among guiding principles of Las Carcavas. That’s why pre-established architectural guidelines preserving the flow of the natural landscape guide the building of new ranches. The late John Brookes, one of the world’s foremost designers of gardens and landscapes, collaborated with the Barzi Casares Studio on the development’s emerald open and communal spaces.

The land owner and developer of Las Carcavas is Optimum Capital Partners. The entire project is under the signature of Isay Weinfeld. Prece believes those behind Las Carcavas understand the rapidly changing nature of future residents’ needs. That is reflected in the developers’ commitment to providing, she says, “substantial advantages to an investor who knows the market, and is eager to find projects that contemplate new trends.”



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Preparing Offices For The Safe Return Of Employees


Lockdowns are ending and Americans are slowly returning to their old workday haunts, aka their offices. It’d be great if they were doing so with the peace of mind the deadly virus is behind us. Sadly, as we’re constantly told, COVID-19 is still “out there.” The need to return to the office while sidestepping exposure is sparking all kinds of debate. Issues include how to prepare offices for workers’ safe return, whether brand new buildings will prove safer than old ones and even whether there exist ideal settings to dodge COVID-19.

Questions about how to prepare workplaces for an influx of germaphobes led design firm Nelson Worldwide to compile a tip sheet with guidelines fostering a safe and motivating workplace setting. The ground rules include a number of notable line items. To mitigate germs, use disposable flat wear and eating utensils and temporarily outlaw reusable cups and utensils. Minimize contact with communal settings like conference rooms and gathering areas and their tables and chairs by urging stand-up meetings. Give workers physical protection between work stations by installing clear panels or sneeze guards.

Re-entry software

With workers re-entering their old offices, changing guidelines and evolving practices of the type cited above are challenging the ability of commercial property owners/operators to handle everything at once. Building operations software providers are responding.

Among them is Building Engines, which is giving free access to critical building operations software to help CRE pros deal with COVID-19 response. Building Engines is offering three simplified software modules preconfigured to buttress property reopening salvos during the pandemic. This new release provides rapid access for those property teams without in-place operations software or software that can address COVID-19 use cases.

The first of the modules focuses on work orders, providing a fixed set of issue types related to possible demands resulting from the pandemic. This module enables operators to start work more expeditiously, and lets tenants submit orders from preferred devices.

The second module drills down into building communications, addressing owners’ and operators’ need for ongoing communication with tenants, and the fact emergency-specific communication protocols and safety guideline notifications are now even more a must.

The third module zooms in on inspections, which increasingly will be undertaken to learn whether masks are being worn, hand-sanitizing stations refilled, and high-touch surfaces cleaned. This module provides COVID-19 and cleaning-demand related templates that will become increasingly essential in an era of critical attention to disinfecting.

New and old

Just when you thought you had heard every aspect of the pandemic discussed, a fresh debate has emerged around the issue of new versus old buildings. In Manhattan, most office space exists in buildings more than a half-century old. That’s spurred the question of not just whether landlords can adapt, but whether the underlying structures themselves are adaptable enough, and whether brand new buildings might enjoy an advantage in being more pliant and malleable.

Arguing new buildings do have a leg up are officials of RAL Companies, designer and developer of the under-construction Manhattan office building Zero Irving. Ground had been broken and work begun on the structure before the health crisis unfolded. But as they considered their new building, members of the development team recognized it likely would benefit from a distinct flexibility and nimbleness older buildings lack. That might make it a preferred office setting for employers seeking to keep their workers safe.

“We understand that tenants will have very different needs depending on how they decide to move forward in this new reality,” says Josh Wein, managing director with RAL, noting the building will cater to both emerging tech firms and long-established legacy companies. “Zero Irving is in a way privileged. It is uniquely positioned to cater to tenants regardless of how they want to set up their space and tackle office life post COVID-19.”



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How AI Can Help Pinpoint Opportunity Zones’ True Opportunities


When it comes to investing in opportunity zones, what’s the best way to determine the O-Zones with richer investment potential? Is it the traditional facts and figures, such as those from substantially out-of-date U.S. Census data? Or would the better choice be alternative data sources, such as street views, cellular data and social media?

A recent whitepaper from Skyline AI, the New York City- and Tel Aviv-based artificial intelligence investment manager for commercial real estate, suggests answers. In its whitepaper entitled “The Map is Not the Territory: Discerning the True Opportunity Within Opportunity Zones,” Skyline AI found considering these alternative data sources rather than traditional census data delivers clearer views of tracts’ potential opportunity.

Maps and other data tend to grow steadily less accurate the older they become. Consider that 99% of tracts used to determine today’s O-Zones were surveyed based on 2011 to 2015 U.S. Census data. Many are simply a freeze frame capturing a moment in time when there existed more than 18 million fewer Americans and many fewer developments.

A number of the tracts became more well-heeled over time, with most experiencing up to a 20% surge in household income. From 2014 to 2017, 4,981 tracts scored higher median household incomes, while only 1,977 suffered lower incomes. The states showing greatest decline: Louisiana, New Mexico and Nevada. A handful of New York City and Washington D.C. tracts gave evidence of critical and bewildering anomalies. Among them: Enclaves that showed both high household income levels and unexplained poverty ratios.

It’s no shock the U.S. Census data doesn’t provide the critical insights O-Zone investors need. After all, a major census is undertaken only once every 10 years, and is largely conducted through the mail and by in-person census surveyors. The digitization of the census should help bring greater accuracy and clarity. But that provides little comfort to today’s O-Zone investors, who need greater insights now.

Not enough

“Arrival of the first-ever digital [U.S.] Census marks an especially promising development for OZ investors in 2020,” says Or Hiltch, co-founder and chief technology office for Skyline AI. “But this alone will not be enough. While updated data will help drive better OZ investment decisions, alternative data sources will still be critical in ensuring investors have a clearer picture of where true opportunities lie.”

Skyline AI’s research examined such alternative data points as average commute times, consumer and mobile phone trends, international flights, percentage of people with health insurance, distance from subway stations and carpool availability.

Community trajectory

The company discovered an assortment of non-standard signals could be leveraged to ascertain area economic growth long before it’d be recognized by traditional data sources.

For instance, by utilizing anonymous mobile device locations, forecasts can be undertaken of alterations in area college student and graduate demographics right up to current day. Variations in the number of Airbnb listings enable the correlation of points of interest with year-over-year rent increases. Adjacency to a Whole Foods Market or Trader Joe’s provides a dependable indicator of commercial real estate rent and value expansion.

“When we apply these new lenses to O-Zone tracts, we find lots of these positive indicators of sustained economic growth present in areas otherwise listed as troubled,” the whitepaper’s authors noted, adding at least 20 designated tracts now contain a Whole Foods Market, making them eligible for O-Zone tax benefits and fairly safe bets in improving enclaves.

“Poverty and income data alone cannot serve as meaningful indicators of opportunity for investors,” Hiltch says. “Alternative data sources are needed, as they can reveal which communities significantly matured, which stand out as prime, under-tapped opportunities, and which are in decline. Short-term rental listings, car ownership rates, proximity to public transportation and consumer and credit card data can all help indicate a community’s trajectory and identify worthwhile investment opportunities.”



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