Has technology made bricks and mortar obsolete?

We have all heard about how Amazon has affected retailers and their physical stores (bricks and mortar). I like it just as much as you do, ordering my goods from the couch. Our lives have been enhanced/disrupted in every way since the advent of the internet. Retail was tested, retail adapted.

Now, it’s the office market’s turn. One of my mentors in commercial leasing said the best way to sell is face-to-face; failing that, next best is dialing for dollars. Well, why not dial face-to-face? Zoom and Microsoft Teams have become part of my work life. Never, in all my real estate career, have I had more conference calls via one of these video chat services than in the past year. Our office used to have weekly sales meetings with 30 agents all in the same boardroom, but now this is a Teams call. I had the service all along as part of my Microsoft software but never saw the necessity. Now it’s hard to imagine NOT using it.

I deal with companies that are still not physically in the office and will not be until late 2021 to ensure as little covid impact as possible. They are still in business, still working. So on the outside, one may ask, do we need physical space? Can we imagine a world where we all work from home and all our goods are delivered to the door? It is easy to get there, but that is not the case. Just go to Costco and see the line out the door.

I remember the reaction from the office world at the start of the pandemic. Alright, we can do this! People excelled, keeping their minds and bodies sharp, working from home as we knew we were in it for the long haul. Lately the tune has changed. We need human interaction. I need to focus on my work call without stepping on a Lego or telling my kid “give me five minutes!” My three year old even learned the phrase, on her imaginary phone, “I need to take this call.”

Overall it begged many questions to be asked by companies taking up office space. Do we need less space? Employees can work part time from home. No one needs a permanent desk. Could we provide hoteling/hot desking? We can still be efficient with Zoom calls. What happens to our corporate culture? Everything from how offices are laid out to how a company functions was brought into question. I did not envy any company that had a lease come due and had to make those decisions now for the next 5-10 years. Maybe it will just go back to what it was pre-pandemic? Doubtful.

So what are we learning as we navigate the speed of technology? We are social beings. We want to personally interact with people in the office, not just work virtually. We need to touch, taste, and feel retail goods, as much as I like convenience. Tech will always be changing our lives, but it will be a tool to enhance our lives and give us another option. I do not think it will replace physical real estate. But it will change the way real estate is used, likely for the better.