While Hines’ Senior Managing Director John Heagy was able to close a massive deal with Microsoft at the 523,000 square-foot Atlantic Yards office development in West Midtown Atlanta in May, he admits COVID has upended the office leasing process.
“There is no question that the environment for traditional marketing has been completely rocked,” Heagy says. “While we were working with Microsoft [before the pandemic], we were able to show space, have meetings with them directly and meet them at the site on a regular basis. We’re just not able to do that right now.”
While brokers are now able to meet with clients again, if both parties are willing, the process is still cumbersome. Everyone is wearing masks, staying socially distant and arriving in different cars.
“You’ll hear that [that the process is cumbersome] from brokers that you talk with on the ownership side, but we have worked pretty hard to make it as easy as possible for brokers to do tours with us,” Heagy says.
Like many firms, Hines has adopted virtual leasing to supplement more limited in-person interactions. “We’ve gotten really good at doing virtual tours,” Heagy says. “Whether we’re taking up a camera and introducing ourselves over the camera and then walking around the building and doing the tours via Zoom or other means, we’ve gotten very good at doing that end of the presentation.”
The pandemic has also shifted the focus of tenants to such issues as how to accommodate workers in this social distancing era as well as health and safety features. Such details matter greatly during the marketing process.
Despite talk of a widespread movement to telework, Heagy thinks businesses remain very focused on bringing workers into an office after the pandemic subsides.
“Their interest in the office buildings remains very focused,” he says. “And it’s not likely to change anytime soon, certainly not in any of our careers. The office is where careers are built and where corporate cultures are improved and nurtured. It’s hard to do that virtually on a Zoom call. I think offices are a forever thing.”
However, he does think COVID has shown some companies that a certain portion of their workforce can telework.
“Maybe part of our office culture adjusts to these modern opportunities,” Heagy says.
The focus of social distancing in the office may eventually create a better work environment.
“A year ago, everyone was trying to see how to get people crammed together,” Heagy says. “Now, there’s this whole notion that we need to create a whole lot more space for our employees on a floor, and they need access to the outdoors.”
When Heagy interacts with customers, he says they are now very focused on health, wellness and safety.
“They want a no-touch environment in terms of the facilities that they have access to, such as elevators and bathrooms,” Heagy says. “So that creates another challenge for corporate real estate executives to know exactly how much square footage they need for both the near-term and long-term, and just how much the whole work-from-home idea takes hold.”