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Wednesday, Sep 28, 2022
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Office Hours and the Office Are Being Redefined

I am writing this column from my home office, after the children have gone to sleep, and I am feeling a tinge of last minute energy.

Often, this is my most creative time. And it has been all of my life.

So why is Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer forcing her employees to stop telecommuting and come to work from 9 to 5? Surely, they have all of the tools NOT to come to work — Skype, FaceTime, remote access to the office server, even iPhones. What’s up with her policy?

She is clearly going against the trend. Businesses housed in office buildings are utilizing dramatically less space than they filled a decade ago. In the last century, my firm conducted its market studies on commercial office buildings by measuring demand at 250 square feet per employee. This is an “all in” number that includes hallways, administrative space, etc.

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Over the past few years, however, we have been measuring demand utilizing data from new leases which are trending down from old leases to 165 to 175 square feet per employee, and we expect that number to go even lower to perhaps 125-150 in the foreseeable future.

If you measure this nationally, it translates into as much as 30 million square feet of less space demand at the current growth rates.

The space reduction is not because people are getting smaller. It is because we have substituted our file cabinets in favor of hard drives, servers and the “cloud.” Companies are asking, why do we need to pay for space to house paper when we don’t need paper? Many companies are in a technology-driven downsizing.

There is approximately 120 million square feet of office space in San Diego. I doubt very much that this region will appreciably add much office space to this total over the next ten years. Commercial office construction is going to be more about “cannibalization” — stealing tenants from other office buildings — than it is going to be about responding to net increases in demand for space.

But Marissa Mayer might have a point. Even though I tend to spend a few hours a day in my “treehouse” (home office), I need to be around the crew. I like the office vibe, too. We often thrive off of each other when we are person to person.

The new age has brought new ways to work — hoteling, co-location, work-at-home, remote. I don’t think it will ever give over completely to the wonders of technology. There must be a balance.

There is even a land-use ramification. Many cities, including San Diego, have been pushing “smart growth,” loosely a term for better and more efficient built environments that emphasizes relationships between mixed-uses, including work and live. The point is that many of these projects are transforming existing and aging communities in a positive way. However, they are putting stress on the infrastructure, often traffic circulation.

These new ways to work bring up the question of not only where to work, but how to work. If we are taxing our roadways by stuffing a lot of density into neighborhoods that may not have been designed to accommodate it, we have two choices: either build more roads or other circulation solutions, or ask people to modify their behavior.

These modifications can and do take the form of changing work hours (so as not to over stress the system during rush hours) or using other forms of transportation.

The ultimate traffic cure is with land-use, not building more and better roads. The new San Diego is all about more efficiently promoting a better home to work solution.

This takes me back to my treehouse office. Because I wrote this in a late night creative spurt, I think I will take a couple hours tomorrow morning and workout, mess around with the kids and then leisurely stroll into the office later in the morning.

Mayer take note. You may be shaking up an organization’s culture because you need to in an effort to save the company. But you are not going to change the inevitable. We have the tools to alter the workplace, there are economic imperatives to do so. People tend to be at their best when they have this ability to be flexible. And cities require it as they deal with growth and urbanization.

Gary H. London is president of The London Group Realty Advisors.

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