The changing workplace: As more work from home, some firms are still opting to go back to the office

Business

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Why pay office rent if you don’t have to? Work from home makes sense if everything you need is under your own roof, but some people who are working remotely right now may end up back together again.

Smaller firms, such as boutique advertising firm Mainivent of Chesapeake, have leveraged the idea of connecting instead of commuting.

“We don’t have to be in an office,” said owner Mike Keesee. “This has absolutely changed the way that we’re doing business, and I’m actually finding that we are more efficient now.”

Keesee and his team of seven used to lease space along Greenbrier Parkway.

“Productivity did not stop in my office which was great. Everyone in my office is self-sufficient,” said Valerie Sutton, Vice President for John A. Steer freight. She describes the shipping logistics company as a “travel agency for cargo.” Her team of 16 went virtual 13 months ago.

In Norfolk, Economic Development Director Jared Chalk sees it very differently.

“People still want to be in an urban, walkable environment. Not everybody wants to work at home all day, so coming downtown presents that different lifestyle choice,” he said.

Chalk says a lot of new office space will come from old places, like a former downtown department store at Granby and Freemason. Renamed the Assembly Building, it will be a campus for technology companies, innovators and startups.

“It will be an open environment and probably the first office [new office space] built post-pandemic,” Chalk said.

Others like it when going to work means getting out of bed and not much further.

“I work from home and my employer has been awesome. They let me move cross country to be with my children,” said Pam Boyson.

Retired Navy Senior Chief Bradley Waters is now a contractor for the Navy. He’s been working from home ever since the pandemic began.

“My wife makes a much better lunch than I do, and I can help with quick little helping items during the day,” Waters said.

But he did mention a couple drawbacks: “Lack of office cohesion and being able to yell over the walls for an answer.”

“I am working from home and LOVE it … my dog agrees,” said Lisa Porten. “I used to travel close to half the time to visit customers and employees. Now I Zoom or teleconference my meetings.”

Kimberly Grewal says she loves work from home. “I’m able to balance work and my son’s school so much more efficiently. There is talk about us returning to the office … I will start looking for a new job before I go back.”

As far as office space converting to working from home, Chalk says call centers are good candidates to turn out the lights and go virtual.

Capital One and its 1,500 call center workers pulled the plug on 1421 Kristina Way in Greenbrier, which has the highest concentration of class A office space in Hampton Roads. Commercial Real Estate Broker Perry Frazer says he has two or three prospects to fill the space on Kristina Way. He says he began to see a turnaround late last year.

“Decisions were finally getting made, so people had figured out how to work in this environment,” Frazer said.

The Summit Pointe complex in Greenbrier combines retail, office and residential space, including the new headquarters for Dollar Tree.

“[Dollar Tree has] gone to a work from home model. But we’ve talked to the senior leadership there at Dollar Tree and they are committed to making sure that they bring their people back into the office,” said Chesapeake Economic Director Steven Wright.

10 On Your Side toured the brand new five-story 555 Belaire, two blocks from the Dollar Tree tower, with Wright and Perry Frazer, Executive Vice President of Colliers International Real Estate.

It has common meeting space, a rooftop balcony, and a view of Town Center in Virginia Beach as well as downtown Norfolk.

555 Belaire was built “on spec,” meaning there was no anchor tenant signed up when ground was broken. A tech company will occupy the top floor, and a law firm will hang its shingle downstairs.

“We believe this building, at about 150,000 square feet, will be full very, very soon,” Wright said.

For smaller firms, work-from-home will continue to work.

“For the most part our bottom line is absolutely increasing,” Keesee said about his ad agency.

But Sutton and her shipping firm says training, quick updates and onboarding are much easier in person.

And working from home does present its own kind of distractions.

“Someone is ringing my doorbell,” Keesee said during our Zoom interview, so he got up to see who was there and calm his barking dog.

Chesapeake’s Wright says many medium to large sized firms are looking to grow their office space right now because they know the economy will rebound, and they want to be ready when it does.

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