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Pandemic changing way local commercial real estate companies approach work

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Posted at 6:53 PM, Aug 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-26 18:55:30-04

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Redwood Living Inc., a regional developer and owner of more than 13,000 apartment homes spanning seven states, opened its new, state-of-the-art headquarters in Independence Thursday afternoon after a multi-million dollar renovation spanning the course of the pandemic.

Prompted by the need for collaboration and teamwork, Redwood's return to the office represents one of several, vastly different approaches employers are taking to how and where their staffs will be working in a post-pandemic world.

Redwood staff and management cut the ribbon on the company's new 32,000 square foot facility off Pleasant Valley Drive, which features open concept office spaces, employee lounges and a "speakeasy." The company moved to Independence from Beachwood five years ago and had been operating out of a tired, cramped office before renovations began on the Pleasant Valley property. Even as renovations continued through the course of the pandemic, which has caused major shifts in how and where people work, John Lateulere, the senior vice president of development at Redwood, said it was important for the company to return to the office. Equally as important was an open, free-flowing space that promotes collaboration.

"We struggled a little bit toward the end before we brought people back because we didn’t see that type of collaboration happening," Lateulere said. "It was really hard over Zoom or Microsoft Teams to call somebody up and have that coordination. A cell phone can only take you so far. We really felt that was an important part of our DNA, all the way to our core value—communicate openly and honestly—You can’t do that when you have doors. You have to bring those doors down so we can all talk to each other."

For employers whose work involves collaboration and team-oriented tasks, a full return to the office is the prevailing trend. Other industries, however, are going through introspection from the top-down. Employee sentiments are driving those conversations.

"A lot of the decision making that is being done on the C-Suite Level about where they are going to locate and how they are going to operate has more impact now from the employee level than ever before," said Nathan Kelly, the president and managing director of Cushman & Wakefield. "You see a lot of diversity in decision making around how people are using their real estate. Some of that was changing before COVID but we are seeing all of those changes accelerated."

Although there are currently a multitude of different approaches being taken by employers, Kelly said those approaches will coalesce around whether to fully embrace working from home or develop flexible employment models. Smaller employers are more likely to embrace a full work-from-home structure. Remote work is also being used in the retention and recruitment of new talent in an increasingly tight labor market.

"COVID exacerbated [the tight labor market] because now there are other trends that are giving employees more options to work—not just from home but from home in another market from where they are actually employed," Kelly said. "When employers are thinking about how to address the real estate needs, they are very cognizant of those changes and what they need to attract the best workforce, serve their clients and have a strong business too."

In addition to how employees work, where they work may also change, Kelly said. Businesses of varying sizes and industries may seek to offer enhanced flexibility to their employees by establishing smaller satellite offices in suburbs like Independence.

Communities like Cleveland's outer ring suburbs could stand to see a windfall of these changing attitudes. After issuing only one incentive package to a business seeking to expand or relocate in 2020, the city has offered four such incentive packages this year alone.

"We want to be something for everybody. If it’s the core operation, we want to be a part of that," said Independence Mayor Gregory Kurtz. "If we’re taking on their branches, we want to provide them the same level of service that they would get in their primary location. It’s a comprehensive approach."

Independence's centralized location proved to be a major selling point when Redwood first moved to the city five years ago and it was a major point of consideration as the company explored its options for a new headquarters.

"We were very purposeful about making sure that everybody had a half hour drive so that nobody was driving five minutes and somebody else was driving two hours," Lateulere said. "This has also allowed us to attract a different talent pool while also allowing us to retain the talent we had on the east side."

Kelly said it is important to note that the central urban core like downtown Cleveland shouldn't be counted out. The new headquarters for Sherwin-Williams is proof of that.

"Downtown has the amenities, the energy, the density, the talent and all of the assets that the top tier of talent we’re trying to recruit wants," Kelly said. "[Some businesses] want to be able to have shared values, shared culture, shared experience but also be able to deploy new management capabilities, tools, etc. It’s easier to do that in a more dense environment."

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