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SF Hubs and East Bay Spokes: A Conversation with Nick Polsky

Nick Polsky, Sr. VP of Occupier Services at Colliers, recently sat down with the coDesign team to share his thoughts on how COVID has permanently impacted the way that we work, and in turn, the commercial real estate market. Nick has worked as a tenant rep at Colliers for over 10 years. For the first 7, he served clients in San Francisco, but in 2018, he migrated to the firm’s Oakland office to represent companies seeking space in the East Bay. Nick made this move, because he believed that the East Bay would be the next hot spot for commercial real estate, and he still does. He anticipates that post-COVID, more SF-based companies will lease satellite spaces that will cater to their employees who don’t live in the city.

In conversation, Nick shared, “[For some time], everyone has been predicting that [the East Bay] will become a big hub-and-spoke, spoke… We’ve seen a handful of big, corporate deals, but everyone is waiting for the floodgates to open and for more of those to come about.” Nick expects that this flood of change won’t take place until companies reach a point of “critical mass,” when a significant number of employees have returned to the office. In his view, observing usage and hearing employee requests will ultimately lead companies to recognize the need for satellite space outside of San Francisco.

Why will companies need East Bay locations? Because employees will want them. “...I think that when people head back into the office, they’re going to realize the benefit of being there, but they’re also going to want flexibility and they’re not going to want to commute from the end of the Walnut Creek line into San Francisco…They’re going to want to have the ability to go into the office and collaborate, but to do it a bit closer to home,” shared Nick. Employees will want the option to head into an office once, twice, or even three times a week, but without the nuisance and time suck of a commute. COVID has given employees the power to make requests of this nature, and if employers want to attract and retain top talent, draw people back into the office, and build strong corporate cultures, then these kinds of requests will have to be met.

The difficult question is, when will we achieve a buzz in the office, or the “critical mass” that Nick speaks of, and when will companies consider investing in new models of working? Nick suggests that Spring Break might be the starting point for change. He explained, “the [corporate] year really mirrors the school year… and I think the next [calendar marker] is Spring Break… People will put their kids back in school and feel comfortable coming back into the office.” With so much uncertainty surrounding COVID, it’s hard to know if workplace occupancy will, in fact, increase post-Spring Break, though it will certainly happen at some point. Regardless of when this begins, however, it does seem safe to say that more flexible work cultures, including hub-and-spoke work models, is the direction in which we’re headed.

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