Telecommuting Effects On Commercial Offices

I have witnessed firsthand the rapid growth of remote work arrangements over my 18 years in commercial real estate. This fundamental shift, accelerated by COVID-19, is impacting urban and suburban office markets in some profound ways. In my conversations with clients and industry peers, here are the most salient transformations we see unfolding.

Key Takeaways

  • Remote work adoption is driving down demand for traditional urban office spaces, with higher vacancies and new flexible workspace models emerging
  • Property owners are repurposing buildings through adaptive reuse and integrating amenities to remain competitive
  • Impacts vary by region – suburban and smaller markets benefit as people migrate from city centers
  • The future outlook suggests continued evolution in how spaces are designed, leased, and utilized to enable hybrid work

Telecommuting Trends Reshaping Commercial Real Estate

The Remote Revolution Reshaping Office Demand

The statistics say it all – up to 75% of the global workforce now works remotely at least part-time. Many major employers have instituted flexible policies, boosted connectivity infrastructure for their people, and reimagined their spaces. One commercial developer shared how over 50% of new RFPs (requests for proposals) emphasize hybrid work capabilities. This data signals the scale and permanence of current telecommuting trends.

With growing cost pressures and a desire for flexibility, businesses are rethinking the need for traditional offices. Employees enjoy ditching commutes and working in casual clothes. Though physical offices enable critical collaboration, creative energy, and mentorship, their role is being redefined for the digital age through ongoing experimentation.

Declining Demand Causes Market Imbalances

  • Urban office vacancies have jumped over 20% in major cities like San Francisco and New York, forcing landlords to offer concessions and improved amenities. Surplus sublease spaces also glut the market.
  • However, in certain suburban counties, absorption is robust. Sunbelt markets like Austin and Miami take the spotlight.
  • Coworking spaces and centralized hubs with hoteling desks prove attractive to employers seeking flexibility.
  • Global companies like Salesforce, Microsoft, Siemens, and HSBC have publicly announced large reductions in office portfolios.

The need for impressive corporate headquarters has notably diminished. Location preferences emphasize convenience, comfort, and connectivity for distributed teams over flashy buildings. Businesses require less area per employee, given remote-friendly roles and on-site rotation schedules.

New Property Uses and Business Models Materialize

Old Office Turns New Home

The market shifts have paved the way for repurposing and reimagining obsolete spaces:

  • Converting offices into residential apartments is a popular adaptive reuse tactic, including adding affordable housing units
  • Outdated offices morph into vibrant mixed-use properties blending hotels, event venues, retail, and open areas
  • Some landlords opt to lease unused floors to healthcare providers, education centers, or indoor agriculture

Suburbs Become Hotbeds of Activity

Blurring geographical barriers, the ascent of remote work spurs demand for closer-to-home spaces:

  • Suburban coworking spaces mushroom to cater to the stay-at-home workforce
  • Companies establish regional outposts and satellite campuses for local access
  • Relocated city dwellers transform houses into work-live properties

Smarter Building Tech Takes Hold

Landlords integrate sensors, mobile access, and other smart systems:

  • Occupancy tracking helps landlords optimize usage and environmental conditions
  • Video meeting amenities make buildings attractive for client presentations
  • Touchless access, air quality monitoring, and WiFi boosting grow common

Not All Markets Equally Affected

Urban Exodus to Suburbia

  • Urban residents untethered from daily office commutes migrate to greener suburban pastures, believing bigger spaces justify higher rents and housing costs.
  • Younger mobile talent also spreads to smaller cities, with remote jobs allowing lifestyle location optimization.

Global Infrastructure Inequities

  • Adoption of telecommuting remains inconsistent based on countries’ digital infrastructure and readiness. So effects on office demand diverge.
  • Per recent surveys, India and China significantly trail more mature markets like the U.K. and Germany in sustaining productive remote work.

Cultural Comfort Varies

  • Cultures that value physical interactions and strict supervision (presenteeism) continue to drive office occupancy over virtual teams. Companies brace reluctance from managers through empathy training and leading by example.
  • Generational differences also permeate – older cohorts often associate work with “going to the office,” limiting policy progress in certain markets.
Telecommuting Effects On Commercial Offices

The Rise of Remote Work and its Effects on Traditional Office Spaces

The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated remote work arrangements for much of the global workforce seemingly overnight. While many companies expect to maintain flexible policies post-pandemic, what implications could a large remote workforce have for traditional office spaces?

For starters, demand is declining, especially in major cities. Vacancy rates have steadily risen while office property values sank. Businesses are realizing substantial cost savings from downsizing centralized offices. However, traditional spaces retain importance for collaborative projects, company culture, and new employee onboarding.

The future is likely a hybrid model balancing remote accessibility with in-person connection. Companies that proactively reconfigure layouts and integrate technologies to enable seamless remote work will have a competitive edge.

Commercial Real Estate Sector Response to the Increase in Remote Work

The commercial real estate industry experienced massive disruptions due to remote work’s ascendance. Landlords are getting creative to attract tenants in the changing landscape. Many revamped buildings focus on flexibility, comfort, and connectivity.

For example, new floor plans cater to hybrid teams, advanced video conferencing facilitates remote meetings, and mobile access apps control smart building systems. Additionally, properties integrate wellness amenities like gyms and walking trails to optimize worker health.

Coworking spaces and executive suite models are also proliferating to accommodate businesses seeking agile arrangements. Though challenging market conditions persist, the commercial real estate sector has demonstrated remarkable resilience and progress in adapting.

As the remote work revolution impacts office vacancy rates and property revenues, commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) face heightened risk exposure. Lower occupancies and rents on underlying mortgages threaten loan repayments that ultimately fund these complex investment vehicles. Remote work’s cost savings also incentivize businesses to exit leases early, further stressing properties.

Though the CMBS market recently rebounded, segments concentrated on urban office spaces appear vulnerable. Additionally, softened property values could trigger clauses mandating inflated payments, creating cash flow issues. Investors may continue shifting allocations away from office-heavy CMBS products given the uncertainties remote work brings.

Flexible Work Arrangements and the Future of Office Leases

With growing remote work adoption, traditional multi-year office leases face disruption. Businesses now demand more flexibility to scale up or down based on evolving needs. Landlords are responding by offering shorter lease terms, expansion/contraction options, and coworking spaces allowing fluid growth. Some providers even eliminate fixed leases via on-demand monthly plans.

Performance-based pricing dependent on utilization is emerging too. While uncertainty persists around hybrid strategies, most industry experts expect companies to retain some physical footprint through these flexible arrangements vs. fully remote models. Agile leases enable reassessment as work preferences solidify post-pandemic.

Assessing the Work Environment Post-Pandemic: Remote Work vs. In-Office

Business leaders considering remote policies must evaluate productivity impacts, employee sentiment, company culture, and operational costs. Studies demonstrate telecommuters maintain or even improve individual output. However, fully-remote models can inhibit organic collaboration, entrepreneurship, and bonding. Onboarding new staff proves challenging too.

A tiered approach may work best – roles requiring deep collaboration happen on-site, while individual contributors go fully remote up to a point. Regardless of structure, introducing deliberate team building combined with smart meeting formats helps ensure cohesion. Maintaining rigor around output targets and transparent communication remains vital as well.

Strategies for Maintaining Productivity and Work-Life Balance in New Workspaces

Optimizing productivity and work-life balance across dispersed teams requires intention regarding schedules, meetings, and change management. Mandating defined daily hours where all employees sync up via video calls can help ensure collaborative alignment. Conducting meetings primarily between 10 AM and 4 PM reduces early/late disruptions.

Managers should also reinforce taking regular breaks, disconnecting after-hours, and establishing ergonomic home office setups. Explicit company policies around effective written communication prevent misconceptions. Promoting social events and providing flexibility empowers workers to customize arrangements suiting personal effectiveness. Maintaining open dialogue as policies evolve ensures sustained alignment.

Telecommuting Effects On Commercial Offices

The Forecast – Mostly Cloudy With Some Sunshine

Design and Amenities Race

To attract tenants, commercial developers pay acute attention to delivering:

  • Flexible floor plates accommodating both open and compartmentalized plans
  • Advanced AV-conferencing and presentation facilities
  • Wellness amenities – gyms, walking trails, healthy food options
  • Work-life balance services – dry cleaning, daycare provisions

Leasing Innovations

Landlords implement creative leasing structures given fluid headcount planning, such as:

  • Shorter lease terms and space options tailored to long-term uncertainties
  • Billing based on usage, through smart building occupancy analytics

While short-term pains persist in struggling urban submarkets, the overall commercial real estate sector remains resilient. Developers and tenants enjoy opportunities to reshape spaces to balance productivity, connection, convenience, and well-being. Through consultative partnerships, we help clients navigate the complexity of hybrid work strategy.


How do cultural factors relate to the adoption of remote work policies?

Cultural comfort with policies supporting extensive telecommuting varies globally based on norms around presenteeism, supervision, generational dynamics, and technology exposure. Markets slower to embrace remote arrangements see less immediate impact on commercial real estate.

What kind of amenities are commercial landlords adding to properties?

Landlords now integrate digital features like smart occupancy tracking, mobile access, and video conferencing amenities. More are also providing wellness facilities, community events catering, and work-life balance services to aid productivity, morale, and convenience.

How has coworking space demand been impacted?

Coworking spaces allow flexibility and networking opportunities, thriving with more independent professionals and employers seeking short-term solutions. The average size of coworking leases rose 30% last year as hybrid work created new use cases. Suburban regions observe particularly strong growth.

Why are businesses increasingly relocating offices from cities to suburbs?

Many former city-dwellers migrated to suburban areas but still require office access nearby. Additionally, properties in suburban locations often offer larger, cheaper spaces allowing social distancing configurations favored by businesses. Proximity advantages related to worker commutes also come into play.

What should companies consider when developing return-to-office policies?

Leaders should solicit broad input before finalizing philosophies, allowing collaborative shaping aligned with their culture and constraints. They must empathize with anxieties around change but also clearly communicate the reasons behind their selected policies, whether fully remote or hybrid.

What is the future outlook for commercial offices in light of remote work?

The future of commercial real estate will likely involve a hybrid approach, combining remote work with a return to the office as companies navigate the effects of the pandemic.

What are the potential long-term impacts of remote work on the commercial real estate industry?

Remote work may lead to a reevaluation of the demand for office space, potentially reshaping the commercial real estate market in the long run.


As discussed today, the recent expansion of telecommuting has sparked several commercial real estate market transformations – declining urban occupancy, new property models, and regional shifts. There remains an incredible opportunity for landlords and occupiers willing to intentionally reimagine their spaces balancing productivity, flexibility, technology, and people-first principles.

I urge business owners to avoid reactionary conclusions and instead take a consultative approach, allowing the unique needs and preferences of your organization to guide your real estate. Let’s connect in the coming weeks to discuss your situation and explore options creatively moving forward.

Ready to discuss how these telecommuting effects apply to your situation? Schedule a consultation today to unpack the options and opportunities for your next strategic moves.

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