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Volatile Office Landscape Influences Moving, Expansion Choices

SBJ Economic Growth Survey: Market Development

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Like many businesses, nonprofit Leadership Springfield was forced to quickly exit its office space amid the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. However, the professional development organization’s five employees, who had opened the group’s first office in December 2018 on West Battlefield Road, took the time away to become fully remote.

Working remotely wasn’t considered a full-time shift, but vacating the office turned out to be a permanent decision, says Executive Director Carrie Richardson.

“We had been working completely remote since mid-March and were finding a lot of efficiencies,” she says. “We had found a great way to work together and realized this was something that we could operationally and culturally continue.”

Richardson says one of the contingencies in response to the pandemic was finding an alternate plan to renewing its office lease with Warren Davis Properties. There wasn’t a desire to work from home 100% of the time, which led to a September 2020 move to the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center, the downtown home of the Efactory business incubator.

“It was important to us that we still have a home base in Springfield,” Richardson says, noting the nonprofit now has one dedicated desk in coworking space, which provides 24/7 access to the facility. “We had been working with the Efactory for a number of years. We’ve hosted things there and toured there.”

Leadership Springfield is now operating a hybrid model, with most of its employees continuing to work remotely, Richardson says. It’s part of a changing office landscape that Brad Erwin, president and principal architect at Paragon Architecture LLC, says started pre-pandemic.

“We’ve been moving in this direction at our firm for the last three or four years and just being very intentional with those design decisions that make it easy for somebody to be remote or for that person to come into the office and have a workspace to go to,” he says.

Most of the project design shifts have been subtle but intentional, Erwin says, with the focus to provide work environments that are multipurpose. Examples are a break room set up to also allow for workspace or a meeting room where individuals can take a call or work away from their desk. He says the firm’s designs also are incorporating technology needs to allow those in the office to use conference rooms for virtual meetings, for example.

“Some of the things with a remote or flexible workforce, the pandemic has just kind of pushed some of that a little bit more to the forefront and made those conversations a little bit easier in all the market sectors,” he says, noting the firm completed office projects last year for JMark Business Solutions Inc. and Volt Credit Union.

Paragon had just completed a move to its new downtown office on West College Street a couple of weeks prior to the pandemic, Erwin says. While staff exited the office for a few weeks, he says they were back by May 2020, noting all employees were given laptops in 2019 to allow for remote work and in preparation for the move. The new office also includes patio space for meetings or outdoor work. Both were office designs that quickly paid off for the firm, he says.

“Being able to pack people into a room for a team meeting might feel a little uncomfortable right now for some. But to stick five or six people on the back patio, that’s great,” he says. “Doing that pre-pandemic has been really important to how we’ve been able to adapt to our new office.”

At the Efactory, Richardson says she typically works portions of three days on-site, noting the other employees still enjoy being fully remote. However, the staff holds an in-person meeting there once a week and books space for coworking time a few days a month, she says.

Financially, Richardson says Leadership Springfield reduced its expenses by 5% over the past year through the move. She says the organization was able to award $35,000 in scholarships for its programs because of the savings.

After occupying two different office spaces in less than two years, Richardson says Leadership Springfield has no intention of leaving the Efactory anytime soon.

“We don’t have any plans immediately to secure our own office space because this is really a perfect partnership for us,” she says. “It’s exactly what we need at the exact time we need it. It allows us to put our dollars toward our mission and programs, which is absolutely where we need to be.”

That view of businesses maintaining its physical footprint reflects the general sentiment from respondents in Springfield Business Journal’s 2021 Economic Growth Survey conducted by H2R Market Research. Roughly 53% of respondents say they plan to keep the same footprint over the next five years, while 32% have plans to expand over that period. Only 19% of respondents in the small-business category, which is five employees or less, have expansion plans, according to the survey.

However, staying the course is not on the agenda for SRC Holdings Corp. The Springfield-based group of remanufacturing businesses is amid $75 million-$100 million worth of developments through its 10-year plan announced in March. That includes expanding existing Queen City properties by 1.1 million square feet over the decade, officials say.

Part of SRC’s plan includes developing roughly 70,000 square feet of office, retail and restaurant space fronting its 43-acre East Sunshine Street campus, as well as a 50,000-square-foot self-storage building on the rear portion of the property.

Dick Moger, SRC executive vice president, says the future commercial development on Sunshine Street will take the evolving office landscape into account. That includes providing restaurant tenants with drive-thru space, outside dining and booth dividers.

“Let them come to us and tell us exactly what they need and be willing to step up to the plate and sign up for it. Then we can build it,” Moger says. “Right now, a good developer’s motto would be ‘Let them come and we’ll build it.’ That’s especially with the costs and issues surrounding construction right now.”

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