An Inside Job: Impacts of COVID-19 on Commercial Office Design Opportunities

By Stephanie Staub

Speculation about the long-term effects of COVID-19 extend far beyond just health impacts. Many suggest the commercial real estate market will not look the same as pre-pandemic times, as the pandemic has allowed employers to see high productivity from those who work from home. According to the Gensler Research Institute’s U.S. Workplace Survey of more than 2,300 U.S. workers conducted this past summer/fall, workers want to return to the office. More specifically, they want to keep the benefits of flexibility (hybrid work schedule) and access to physical privacy in the workplace. Make way for the suburban office, as the demand for satellite offices could emerge as the new pattern within the commercial real estate market.

Clear Separation

Over the past decade commercial interiors migrated toward open floor plans. Glass offers visual openness and natural light, as well as acoustic privacy and social separation. Pre-manufactured systems, such as those provided by furniture dealers, often do not provide the same level of design flexibility as fully customized, glazier-provided systems. Glazing contractors can customize design solutions to meet functional and aesthetic goals, with the added benefit of being able to do so cost effectively since as, we say, “glass is all we do.”

Traditional glazing systems are found in CSI Division 8: Doors and Windows. However, most interior demountable glass partitions are found in CSI Division 10: Furniture, Fixtures, and Equipment. Division 10 benefits the building owner or tenant because it allows them to qualify for the same seven-year tax accelerated depreciation that furniture receives. Many people mistakenly believe these systems must be purchased from a furniture company to qualify for this accelerated depreciation. But systems supplied by glazing contractors also qualify.

Know Your Worth

Systems furniture manufacturers and dealers do not provide fully custom glass applications. When design professionals specify interior glazing as part of a system’s furniture package, they miss out on the creative partnership, design skills, fabrication ability, and, most importantly, installation expertise of professional glaziers. Glaziers’ expertise is more important than ever. The increased use of large-sized glass with minimal framing and the need for versatility and flexibility favor glass experts, not furniture installers.

Pursuing Division 10 opportunities requires a more proactive marketing approach. Why? The buy cycle is much different than what glazing contractors are used to with Division 8, as is the timing. It often happens very early. Educate your customers about the advantages of working with glazing contractors, especially on projects that were incorrectly installed by a furniture company.

Often, the cost of systems furniture glazing is lumped into a larger furniture budget and not evaluated as a standalone item. Keep in mind that, while bids for installation of glass wall systems by furniture dealers and manufacturers may initially seem lower, the true cost is usually buried in an overall furniture package deal. Correcting inferior work can add a substantial amount. Architectural and design firms and general contractors will appreciate your ability to realize their vision through customization—while saving them time and money.

Despite the many changes brought by COVID-19, many of today’s norms will in one form or another be with us forever, the utilization of interior glass partitions is undoubtedly on one.

Stephanie Staub is the director of marketing for the Architectural Glass Institute in Philadelphia. She can be reached at stephanie@theagi.org

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