Even before COVID-19, flexibilitywas a focus for companies. 

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But Greg Martin, a principal withAvison Young, thinks it has a much more significant meaning now ascompanies seek to accommodate their employees. 

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"Flexibility will stretch longerthan just the 'short term,' which is why we're gearing up to seeeven more movement to suburban locations," Martinsays. 

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Martin sees growth in demand forsuburban office space as companies seek to provide more flexiblework options that many urban buildings may not be able toaccommodate. "Downtown office markets will likely soften in thenear future with an increase in vacancies, as the traditionaldowntown tenant [financial and legal] seems to be embracing thework-from-home concept and will seek to implement it into theiroverall occupancy strategy," Martin says. "We expect to see anincrease in sublease opportunities as well."

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Part of this new officeflexibility could come from the hub-and-spoke model. In that setup, theheadquarters is in a core location that is accessible to publictransportation. The spokes are a dispersed network ofoffices.

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"The hub-and-spoke model hastraditionally been used for a salesforce or the more traditionalmobile employee roles," Martin says. 

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But these hubs could evolve tomeet the needs of staffers who are no longer comfortable travelinginto headquarters locations. 

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"Going forward, these setups mayaccommodate some of the traditional headquarters roles that havealways been close to the executives and in-house, such asaccountants, information technology and data processors," Martinsays. 

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Martin says office users will bevery selective about these suburban office spaces, preferringlocations that are highly amenitized. "It will take more thanlandlords being flexible on lease terms," Martin says. "It's timeslike these when the location and quality of a building willultimately attract tenants."

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Martin is seeing office tenantsasking for floor plan configurations, indoor/outdoor space andshorter commutes for their employees. He predicts that tenants willgravitate to offices with flexible floorplans, traditional andcollaborative workspaces, indoor and outdoor common areas largeenough for social distance practices and proximity to a range ofdining and shopping amenities.

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"Just because suburban employeeswant to be closer to home doesn't mean they want to miss out onurban amenities," Martin says.

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As things play out, Martinanticipates a lot of upsizing, downsizing, restructuring andevaluation on the horizon. "While the need for corporate office andcorporate culture will remain strong, the way it is used andmanaged by the tenant may undergo some changes," hesays.

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Already, he sees some suburbanlandlords making changes. "Suburban office owners will start toevaluate their overall operating procedures of their building fromcleaning specs to operating hours and services," Martin says. "Manyof the tenants are seeking to accommodate the individual employeeneeds, and building owners will seek to do the same and toaccommodate the tenant."

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Leslie Shaver

Les Shaver has been covering commercial and residential real estate for almost 20 years. His work has appeared in Multifamily Executive, Builder, units, Arlington Magazine in addition to GlobeSt.com and Real Estate Forum.