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Now that the great work-from-home experiment has made tools like Zoom and Slack commonplace, what will it take to lure people back into offices and public spaces?

Macro trend are accelerating

The last couple of months have felt like a time warp. The high-speed nature of global events has left us in a new reality. Zoom and Slack have replaced face-to-face meetings; our homes have had to accommodate spaces for our professional lives. The boundaries between how we live, work, play and move are not just blurred – they’re non-existent.

Now that the conversation has shifted towards reopening public spaces, what will it take to lure us out of our home offices once it’s safe to do so?

One thing is clear: in isolation, we are craving connection like never before. That need for connection will position experience-centric, community-focused properties, with their ability to deliver not just square footage, but meaningful engagement, ahead of the competition.

Forward-thinking developers, who realized the need for destinations that combine office, retail, residential and public space, had already started delivering on integrated experiences. March and White Design (MAWD) believes this model – projects that provide authentic, cross-generational appeal across multiple sectors – will be the key to success, particularly in the new reality.

The boundaries between how we live, work, play and move are not just blurred – they’re non-existent.”

New projects can set the pace

Take Denver, Colorado: a city with a rapidly-rising, active population of young tech talent and entrepreneurs that make the most of the economic opportunities and the great outdoors (which is easy when you have on average more sunny days a year than Hawaii!) Beyond its business-friendly taxation laws and excellent infrastructure, the vibrant, collaborative culture and focus on wellbeing and work-life balance have set the pace for other forward-thinking US cities. Even before the current situation made home offices the new normal, a coffee bar was no longer enough to inspire excitement about a workplace. MAWD’s approach uses research and insights to create engaging “wow” moments geared towards specific audiences, and for a recent renovation project, we used this information to create a tailored experience for Coloradans’ integrated lifestyle.  Our goal was to make their lives easier through our design, so that they could work smarter and be more productive. The existing massive glass atrium of a 20-story office building featured a lobby that provided light and space but lacked a clear sense of warmth and purpose.  With our design, we wanted to bring it to a human scale and create a more functional destination for meeting, socializing and collaborating.  In addition to a circular bar that connects to a restaurant and grab-and-go eating options, tenants can hang out on “Spanish Steps” that connect to a mezzanine level.  There’s also a flexible “Streetscape,” lined with benches, planting and streetlights, that can be both a meeting spot and a space for pop-ups or functions. But the focal point has to be the communal fireplace, which draws friends and colleagues together in a way that’s both elemental and fun.  In this warm and cozy spot, the local community can rediscover genuine connection amidst the city’s cold, snowy winters.

Experiences will drive success

Although no one could have predicted the urgent need for meaning and reinvention, embracing the learnings of isolation and evolving accordingly will give projects the best chance of luring back the workforce. We believe that in this new world, “luxury” will be measured in experiences. As an industry, we need to be led by our audiences and invest in authentic, imaginative spaces where people can once again connect in person.

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