By Amy Rosen - 25th July, 2020
In response to the implications of COVID-19 on the corporate environment, Lehigh University’s Center of Real Estate invited a range of experts to join their in-depth panel discussion on June 23rd to discuss the future of the workplace. Lehigh specifically curated the group of panelists in such a way that the session would be able to illustrate landlord, tenant, architect, engineer, and transportation perspectives. PLASTARC Founder and Executive Director Melissa Marsh was invited to moderate the panel discussion in which she embraced the interactive capacity of the virtual format by strategically incorporating a variety of content and audience participation methods into the event.
The session began with a set of short presentations from each panelist to emphasize their particular lens and their respective roles within the industry. Thomas Durels, Executive Vice President of Empire State Realty Trust, introduced emerging real estate trends in New York City and Connecticut that have resulted from the COVID-19 crisis. Then, Kevin Kelly, Senior Managing Director at Savills, expanded on a few workplace trends that he has observed to-date. These focused primarily on emerging regional trends, as well as whether the trends that were surfacing pre-COVID-19 are continuing or diverging in relation to the current pandemic and subsequent rise of distributed work. Kevin’s focus on the implications of this new global workplace model allowed him to highlight some of the ways in which place-making and workforce location behaviors will likely shift in the future, including those impacted by the current complexities of public transportation.
David Weinberg, Principal of ZGF, highlighted that there is no definitive roadmap to returning to the physical workplace, but that individuals must remain open-minded, agile, and committed to being part of a people-first solution. David shared a presentation on some of the specific lessons that COVID-19 has introduced to design and workplace strategy, such as the value of physical offices as outlets for social interaction, the logical health and wellness benefits of staggered attendance plans, and the importance of landlord partnership in adequately addressing site safety and maintenance protocols.
Following David’s overview of how COVID-19 is impacting workplaces from a design perspective, Melissa invited Scott Ceasar, Senior Vice President and Director of Sustainable Design at Cosentini, to dive a bit deeper into the relationship between engineering and healthy buildings. He touched on four elements of transmission risk: distance, environment, time, and activity. Scott illustrated the importance of incorporating HVAC, architectural, material, and technological variables in healthy workplace decision-making. In particular, he emphasized that overall occupant wellbeing relies on enhancing HVAC systems to specifically include modifications related to air quality, air treatment, air exchange, and humidification.
Following the panelist introductions and presentations, Melissa led a moderated discussion amongst the panelists on how COVID-19 is influencing the location and means with which work will be conducted in the future. With an audience primarily composed of real estate professionals, faculty, and students, the group spent a significant portion of the discussion on how the impact of the crisis on real estate needs going forward will directly relate to the capacity and willingness of organizations to adapt to distributed workforce needs. In addition, future transportation and urbanization trends were debated.
Then the conversation shifted towards the role the virus has had in increasing the relevance of health and wellbeing in overall workplace development going forward. The panelists each commented on key emerging design innovations and their respective benefits and challenges. The conversation closed with a lightning round of responses from the four panelists that touched on distributed work, wherein they each had the opportunity to share positive changes in the workplace realm that will likely occur post-COVID.
Throughout the event, live polls allowed attendees to respond to topics introduced by the panel, enabling multiple modes of direct audience engagement and interaction. They also provided an opportunity for panelists to adapt the conversation in response to attendee sentiment and unique workplace concerns. Thanks to her experience in workplace strategy and change management amidst the COVID-19 moment, Melissa was able to successfully tie the perspectives of each panelist together in order to provide the audience with a multi-disciplinary understanding of what needs to be taken into account when planning for the future workplace.