The New Trade Office – Grand Forks Herald
701, a coworking space in downtown Grand Forks, is the kind of place you’d expect to be flattened by the pandemic. Its operating model brings people together, in public – instead of working from home.
But Maggie Brockling, executive director of the group that runs the project, said it was recovering well from a meltdown amid the pandemic. Office workers, it seems, don’t always want to work in an office. But they don’t seem to let go of the human connection either. A guest, Brockling said, works remotely on quality assurance for a Nevada software company.
“He comes into space curled up every week to two weeks,” she said. “He’s taking time off and working from home, but it seems like he’s thriving or proliferating because he’s around other people and he can talk to them.”
The 701, and all the benefits it offers future home office dwellers — from social interaction to conferencing technology — captures the current moment in post-pandemic culture. Office workers are returning, yes, but not to the same world that existed before 2020. Office space is a different commodity now.
Blue Weber, who heads the Grand Forks Downtown Development Association, points to a local business whose office has transformed into less of a 9-5 destination and more of a work hub, with workers who come and go as needed.
“Their office space, of course, they still have their lockers and their little stand-alone cubicles,” he said. “They really addressed it because ‘the office now provides a collaborative space’. When you have to work from home for a day, you can work from home.
Upper Midwest real estate professionals say it’s no surprise. Business demands have been scrambled by the pandemic, sent in new directions that could boost construction and real estate in the Upper Midwest for years to come. The effect is different for offices, for industry and for retail and more, but all of this can be attributed to what COVID has done to work, living and shopping habits – all of which shape now the new economy.
Zach Frappier is Director of Real Estate for West Fargo-based Epic Companies, which handles leasing and development and more. He said local clients often seek smaller office spaces, which translates to fewer demands on a central office.
“I was working with a medical group, and they can do a lot of things remotely… So there will be virtual appointments one day a week, and then they’ll come into the office three days a week,” he said. declared. “So the requirements (of the area) have dropped a lot. They occupied maybe 2,500 square feet, and now they work in a space of 1,500 square feet.
Mark Fabel, executive vice president of development at St. Paul-based McGough, said that in the case of office space, the market doesn’t have so much strong demand for new office buildings as it has a redesigned approach to the office – emphasizing amenities that make employees want to be part of a central location. Fears that companies would start selling office space at high rates, he said, have not materialized.
But where the market is really booming, Fabel said, is places like domestic manufacturing and distribution. The pandemic has upended global supply chains and demonstrated a vast appetite for goods sold online. Now investors – squeezed by competition in these big cities – are catching up and pouring capital into buildings ready to accommodate growing supply chains in smaller towns too, where he points out there are often fewer rental storage space.
What the future holds is never easy to predict. But Fabel sees strong demand for domestic distribution and manufacturing networks for years to come. One of the things that will continue to motivate him, he said, is the growing awareness that big projects in big cities can also drive talent elsewhere.
“Projects are being pushed further and further away” from big cities, Fabel said. “And they’re jumping to smaller regional towns…because the access to labor is stronger.”