A Look At Today’s Workforce and Tomorrow’s Workspaces in Washington, DC

The return to the urban core in every major city across the country reflects a desire to be more connected and sustainable than ever before.

The driving force behind this migration may just be the millions of millennials searching for immediate access to locally made, fresh, and now. Their rise in the workforce has led to a renewed nostalgia for entrepreneurship and small business and a desire for local, made-by-hand, and maker products.

The recent purchase of Whole Foods by Amazon indicates a move away from small business, but for Chad Shuskey, Senior Vice President, Research & Real Estate at the Washington DC Economic Partnership (WDCEP), this just underscores how much the direct-to-consumer trend is not just driving urban development but the workspaces that will house the future global workforce.  

Step 1: Meet Businesses On Their Terms

Washington, DC is the second largest office market in the country.

Costar, the leading directory of real estate, was founded in Washington, DC and JLL elected to launch HiRise from the nation’s capital. It’s also why Richard McBride, together with Zak Kidd, decided to launch SwingSpace here in the District.

After practicing real estate for more than 30 years, and with the rise of coworking and shared office spaces, Richard saw an opportunity to help larger offices offload unused space while accommodating the flexible needs of startups and small businesses.

Washington, DC is the second largest office market in the country.

“Small office leases are a pain point for the industry,” says Richard. For brokers, landlords, and tenants alike, the benefits hardly outweigh the overall costs of the transactions.

SwingSpace’s subletting platform adds a huge amount of transparency and removes friction from the process by making it free for tenants to search, compare, and communicate directly with the lessor. If they see something they like, they can apply and transact with a simple pre-approved agreement and submit the rent and security deposit on the platform.

“Fifteen years ago, the only option for a small business or startup was to lease an executive suite which may not have the wrap-around services they desire or enter into a significant financial commitment with a five or ten year lease. While there was excess space in the market, early entrepreneurs sometimes only need one desk,” says Chad at WDCEP.

Step 2: Build Scalable Office Spaces

Scalable office spaces became a key factor for attracting, and keeping, businesses in Washington, DC.

Now, there are more than 70 coworking and/or shared offices spaces in Washington, DC, which make up 10% of the city’s total leasing activity in 2016 compared to the prior year when it only made up 2%, according to WDCEP’s 2016/2017 DC Development Report. WeWork, one of the largest coworking spaces in the U.S., recently opened its ninth office space in the District, making DC one of its top markets for the billion dollar company.

“For businesses looking to expand and/or relocate, if a community does not have a robust shared working space environment, that’s automatically less desirable and suggests there’s no infrastructure to accommodate growth,” says Chad. “Coworking and shared office spaces provide soft-landing spaces that give growing businesses the flexibility, short-term, to grow or contract as needed.”

Scalable office spaces are a key factor for attracting, and keeping, businesses in Washington, DC.

Startups and small businesses are not the starting points of a sustainable economic ecosystem. They are, typically, the ripple effect of a healthier, larger ecosystem supported by a big business infrastructure that funnels financial opportunity, research labs, grants, and investments to  smaller, efficient, and faster companies. And in Washington, DC, where the largest real estate holder is the Federal Government, this provides an immediate customer for thousands of companies both big and small that are based or have offices in Washington, DC.

But, “larger companies are [also] looking for that small business feel,” says Jeanette Broz, founder & CEO for Ariva. Last November, Microsoft announced that it would be placing 300 employees into WeWork offices in New York City and Atlanta. “At the end of the day, people want the same things: communities that provide the services and conveniences that they need to thrive.”

Step 3: Create Workspaces Worth Living In

Less office space and more shared space also means less privacy and need for dedicated wellness space.

As the open office space trend has taken hold, so have the studies that report a decrease in well-being among employees and productivity. In response, the market’s focus has pivoted from corner offices to building and office amenities to attract and retain companies and employees including hi-tech gyms, wellness spaces, health programs, and even meditation and napping lounges.

The idea behind these amenities is to make sure employees are healthy and happy,” says Chad. “Now, buildings are figuring out how to add more natural light, build space for health classes, green spaces for fresh air, and opportunities for staff to take breaks. The spaces of the future are about creating balance at work.”

 The spaces of the future are about creating balance at work. – Chad Shuskey, Senior VP, Research & Real Estate, WDCEP

Less office space has also naturally led to increased teleworking. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 20 to 25% of the workforce teleworks part or full time.

A plethora of methods designed to improve communications from chat apps to video conferencing and online project management systems have emerged in support of a person’s ability to work from wherever, whenever – but even so, “people need people,” says Richard at SwingSpace. “We are all finding new and different ways to interact with each other personally while we are connected technologically. The spaces we are building are where your best people enjoy coming to work and can interact and retract from each other as needed.”

Step 4: Connect Workspaces To The Community

The future of Washington, DC is a sustainable, hyper-local, workplace community.

Ariva helps local city government and organizations attract people to an area by providing relocation support around the globe, many of them in and out of Washington, DC. Global citizens, as Jeanette calls them, live and work all around the world. The one thing they look for the most? A sense of local culture and community.

People value small businesses because they authenticate a neighborhood. -Jeanette Broz, founder & CEO, Ariva

“People value small businesses because they authenticate a neighborhood,” she says. In a transient city like Washington, DC, the best way for a person to get to know a community is through local businesses. Business owners know the neighborhood and city better than most.

The need for real connection and personable interaction has led to another trend in the development industry: authenticity. “The challenge today is retaining the character of neighborhoods while embracing big business and change,” says Chad.

Developers are approaching this two-fold in Washington, DC: by preserving historic buildings and neighborhoods and integrating national chains alongside local businesses. Eyeball the skylines of any neighborhood within a half mile access to a Metro Station and you’ll be met with an assortment of cranes: that is where 80% of all development is taking place over the next thirteen years. Soon, everything that any DC resident will need will be in walking, metro, bike, or delivery distance. And it will be local businesses fulfilling those needs, maybe even by autonomous robot delivery with the help of Postmates and Starship Technologies.

While neighborhoods continue to evolve to integrate local proprietorship with global reach and technology, the core of their appeal remains constant: authenticity and community. It is the people that make the place, and the place that makes the people.

“We’re living in the golden age of DC. It’s never been this good. The neighborhoods work together,” says Richard of SwingSpace. “It’s taken us 40+ years to have this phoenix-like revival where our city is much more integrated socio-economically, with interconnected neighborhoods. This has led to the rebirth of DC’s great food, culture, and lifestyle.”