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CRE - Returning to the Office in 2021? Q&A with Rich Berliner, CEO and Publisher of 5th Gen

With the ongoing vaccinations, the announcement of availability of additional vaccines, and falling infection rates, many are asking when we might start to see some signs of “normal” when it comes to tenants and visitors returning to their former places of work in 2021. And what kind of longer-term routine changes will we experience with regard to more home office time, increase in flexible or staggered work hours and shared workspaces, etc. We talked with somebody well versed and highly connected to leaders across this space to get his view.

i. From a CRE perspective, is the worst impact of the pandemic behind us, do you sense any kind of light at the end of the tunnel for 2021, what are owners and tenants saying, doing, planning for 2021?

From where I sit the real estate business is just beginning the turnaround that we all expect to see during 2021. As more people are vaccinated and more people who have had the virus begin the normalization process, I know we will see the number of people in offices rise gradually. I hear occupancy numbers in the major cities at 15 to 20 percent today but the number of people that go into the office for some period each week is clearly on the rise. I hear anecdotally that all landlords are doing things to make the office safer, but the actions are all over the place from better and more efficient ventilation to surface cleaning and touchless elevator operation. How necessary and effective many of these upgrades are remains to be seen, but they seem to be the moves that are generally considered table stakes for RTW (Return to Work). In short, landlords are stepping up their activity to help prep for a RTW.

ii. Any kind of interesting Proptech (or policy) building owners are talking about or deploying to help tenants return to the office?

There is great interest in new technologies and new tenant amenities from the real estate community. These are very bright people who have taken huge risks to assemble sizeable portfolios of properties and must take enlightened positions to obtain and retain their customers, who we call tenants. There is no doubt that there has been a lag in adoption of many new things by real estate owners, but the pandemic has accelerated the pace of adoption or at least strong consideration for a whole host of new products and services.

iii. Work From Home mindset – short term or long term? How is this impacting current properties and tenants moving forward, do you expect any kind of longer-term change in behavior for tenants and enterprises to reduce or rework their workspace footprints in the future?

Let me be frank and honest- nearly everyone working from home is sick of doing it every single day. Saving a long commute was a huge relief for the first months of the pandemic but almost everyone is ready to see their colleagues, start to take business trips again and make human contact again. The hybrid WFH schedule is the way the world will work from now. We are probably six months away from some semblance of normal work weeks and the office environment will show the effects of this by fall. Work as it used to be in the many years of my career where I sat at the same desk every day is probably gone for good though.

iv. Any bold forecasts for the CRE space for 2021/2022? (Private networks take off, 5G deployments, buildings getting smarter, growth/decline of co-working spaces, more flexible schedules, and environments….)

One undeniable trend is reducing the carbon footprint of building by using new technologies that will help achieve this. Some cities, like New York have passed ordinances but there are many new technologies that can help with this. The good news for property owners is that this will reduce their costs in most cases and may also help reduce CAM charges for tenants too. This seems to be a great time from owners to explore new tech and figure out what their play should be in this area. Making sure that everyone in a building has good cell coverage is another trend that is playing out in this era of the pandemic. This plays into the safety trend and to bringing tenants the amenities that they crave the most. Geoverse is becoming a recognized name in one of the newest trends which is called Private LTE. I’ll leave it to them to discuss this in more depth but using the newly approved frequencies that the government has allowed real estate leaders to use In-Building called CBRS has been called “the great gift that the government has given to real estate” by John Gilbert of Rudin. In this newsletter there is information on how to take advantage of this and the Geoverse team can help even further.

v. Do property owners, tenants, have a clue about 5G? Many surveys by the major carriers show that many people are “aware of” or “have heard of” 5G but are unclear what 5G actually is or what it will do for them, but they think they want or need it.

So where are we going with 5G that has been hyped to the sky on TV by the wireless carriers? Yes, it’s real but we are still very early in the cycle of installation and very early in the development of the killer apps that will use 5G. My example is UBER and Lyft that came about by virtue of 4G LTE. We didn’t know what we were missing until they came into being but once they existed, they became indispensable. There will be killer apps for 5G like UBER and Lyft but it is too early to tell what they will be yet. I would bet you that there will a ton that will address real estate owners and tenants, but my brain power is way too low to guess what they might be. CBRS and Private LTE will help real estate owners achieve 5G coverage in their buildings. It’s going to a brave new world when all of this comes to pass.

Rich is the Publisher of Connected Real Estate Magazine. He formed a new firm, Fifth Gen Media in 2016 after a 35-year career building and developing wireless networks for the major carriers and turf vendors. Connected Real Estate Magazine is a print and digital publication about Wireless that goes to Commercial Real Estate professionals to educate and promote the industry. Rich ran a public company, Berliner Communications (BCI) for nearly 15 years which was an early player in the In Building connectivity space. He has consulted and contributed to many other wireless firms over his career and is considered a “thought leader” in this space. Rich is a graduate of Rutgers University and resides in New Jersey. Rich can be reached at: or 908.472.4700.

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