Press Club

The pandemic has moved office work to the home. As at least some of that work moves back to office buildings, the next frontier might be outdoors.

In Arlington, a recently-renovated 1980s office building in Courthouse offers a glimpse of a greener office future, with a year-round outdoor working space.

The new 16,000-square foot landscaped outdoor plaza at 2000 15th Street N. — the centerpiece of a $11 million renovation project — is the largest outdoor plaza of any office building in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, according to American Real Estate Partners (AREP).

“The renovated plaza, wired for connectivity, extends the office to the outdoors, offering all-season, year-round use as a work and meeting space, and provides a spectacular backdrop to the indoor conference and amenity spaces, creating an urban oasis,” said Paul Schulman, AREP’s Principal and Chief Operating Officer.

The group says the renovation will help tenants coax employees back to the office with new experiences and stronger health features, such as air filters and purifiers. Experts say such projects are the latest examples of how incorporating natural elements into built environments can improve employees’ health while promoting environmental stewardship.

COVID-19 has altered many people’s work and personal habits, and these changes are likely to stick around, according to a Post-Schar poll released this summer. Three-quarters of respondents said they’ll spend more time outside, two-thirds said they’d wear comfortable clothing more often, and nearly 70% said they’d wear a mask when sick.

People and offices are adapting to these behavioral changes, in part, by working outdoors — or by bringing elements of the outdoors inside — and focusing on wellness measures.

During the pandemic, experimental outdoor work spaces popped up in Crystal City and in Rosslyn’s Gateway Park.

Meanwhile, new office projects here boast natural elements — such as Amazon HQ2’s water- and mountain-inspired “Helix” building — and wellness, such as Skanska’s new office project near Quincy Park, which has been recognized for its focus on health and well-being.

The seeds for natural, “biophilic” design elements were planted decades ago, says Dr. Gregory Unruh, an expert on sustainable business strategy in George Mason University’s School of Integrative Studies. It took a pandemic and the right technology to get people to rethink their work environments and to see nature integrated into offices.

“There’s something about us having a connection with the world,” he said. “Before the conversation around ‘biophilia’ existed, there was scientific research that suggested if you give people windows with a view of nature, they tend to be more productive, happier and less sick.”

Other research demonstrated that, without outdoor air circulating in and with the synthetic materials in carpets, paints and cleaning supplies, indoor office spaces had poorer air quality than the outdoors, despite the gas-burning cars and other pollution sources outside.

COVID-19 connected these issues, Unruh says. Building owners outfitted indoor spaces with machines that regularly bring outdoor air inside while people spent more time outdoors.

Although employees and employers realized that remote work could be as productive as in-person work, they still recognized the need for interpersonal collaboration — a need he says the rise of outdoor working spaces will meet.

“These collaborative outdoor spaces are going to play a role,” Unruh said. “These initial experiments we see in Arlington are very encouraging, and I think they enhance the working life and community life of people.”

Integrating nature into workplaces could encourage environmental stewardship among more people, says Elenor Hodges, the Executive Director of EcoAction Arlington.

The biophilic elements at 2000 15th Street N. and other under-construction projects support the environment in addition to workers, she says. Additional trees improve stormwater management and green roofs keep the county cooler.

Particularly in urban areas, she said, strengthening one’s connection to nature is important for encouraging sustainable habits.

“People need to see nature in order to understand the importance of stewarding it,” she said.

She notes that the county-level conversations about biophilic design, still in their infancy, are pandemic-driven.

“We’ve seen at County Board meeting people raising these questions [about biophilia],” she said. “I don’t think that would have happened before the pandemic.”

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Morning Notes

Fallen Pentagon Officer Remembered — “George Gonzalez was a proud New Yorker, ever loyal to his home turf of Brooklyn and the New York Yankees. He was also a proud Army veteran, having served a ferocious tour at the height of the Iraq War, always mindful of his comrades who didn’t come home. And he was a proud police officer, like his older brother, having served as an airport security agent, a federal jail guard and finally a Pentagon police officer.” [Washington Post]

DCA Passenger Traffic Still Down — “The airport’s passenger count in July was down 35.2 percent from the same month in 2019… The biggest challenge facing Reagan National will be an ongoing dearth of business travel. While some airline executives are expecting to see some rebound this fall, the U.S. Travel Association predicts that business-travel spending will not be back to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.” [Sun Gazette]

VHC’s New Lobby Piano Debuts — “We were honored to host Arlington resident, Andrea as our first volunteer to play the Steinway B Grand Piano featured in our newly refurbished lobby. The piano was recently gifted to Virginia Hospital Center by Sid and Reva Dewberry, longtime Arlington residents and VHC  donors.” [Twitter]

Local Workers Want Telework to Continue — “Nearly half (48 percent) of area workers have teleworked in the past month, according to the Washington Post-Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University poll, and more than half want to continue to telework at least some of the time. With a larger population working remotely, fewer people and less money would come to dense commercial areas that rely on a steady stream of people.” [Washington Post]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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Morning Notes

Yorktown Grad Sets Record at Olympic Trials — “18-Year-Old Arlington Aquatic Club swimmer Torri Huske just exploded in the first heat of women’s 100 fly semifinals, breaking the American Record. After showing off her speed this morning, splitting under World Record pace on the first 50, Huske blasted a 55.78 to touch first tonight. The swim marks a personal best by nearly a full second, and makes Huske just the 2nd American of all-time to break 56 seconds in the event.” [SwimSwam, Twitter, Twitter]

Amazon Adopts Hybrid Office Schedule — “We’ve adjusted our guidance on our plans for returning to the office and added more clarity. Going forward, we’ve decided to offer Amazonians a mix of working between the office and home… Our new baseline will be three days a week in the office (with the specific days being determined by your leadership team), leaving you flexibility to work remotely up to two days a week.” [Amazon]

Arlington Man Imprisoned for Harassment — “For more than a decade, the employees of a Washington think tank were traumatized by an unlikely harasser: a career Foreign Service officer. In hundreds of emails and voicemails, he called them ‘Arab American terrorist murderers’ and ranted about how they should be cleansed. Yet there was almost nothing they could do.” [Washingtonian]

Marymount Gets Federal Grant — “Marymount University has established a new fellowship program to prepare Clinical Mental Health Counseling graduates to serve high-needs populations and meet the demands of a growing profession. A $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will fund 84 fellowships for students within the University’s School of Counseling.” [Press Release]

Reflections on Halls Hill History — “One of those local historians is Wilma Jones, who grew up in the mostly Black community of Halls Hill in Arlington, Virginia. Now the neighborhood is rapidly gentrifying and Black families like hers have been pushed out. Today, Jones says it’s too late to save Grandma’s house, but it’s not too late to save her history.” [With Good Reason]

Vote: Favorite Outdoor Dining Spot — There’s one day left in the voting for this week’s Arlies category: Favorite Outdoor Dining Spot. [ARLnow]

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(Updated at 8:40 a.m.) Some federal agencies are looking to continue remote and hybrid working options for employees post-pandemic — a shift with potential impacts on Arlington’s office and residential real estate markets.

The Biden administration expects White House staff to return for full-time, in-person work in July, but on Thursday federal agencies were told that they will be able to offer increased work-from-home flexibility, even after the pandemic. Remote work may become a permanent option for some federal workers, just as is happening for many private-sector workers.

“I think the office market will cool as companies continue to assess what the remote work shift means for their workforce and space needs in the next few years,” said Eric Maribojoc, the executive director of the Center for Real Estate Entrepreneurship at George Mason University.

Arlington has a sizable federal presence despite the Base Realignment and Closure Act, which saw the relocation of military-occupied office space. The experience taught the county some lessons about diversifying its economic base, meaning Arlington today, preparing for more telework, is in a different boat than in 2005 facing BRAC.

Those familiar with the county’s market trends say there will be impacts but they will likely be tempered by a more diverse economy, a trend toward hybrid options that involve some time in offices, and a continued need for in-person work among certain agencies and large tech companies.

“Many companies are just beginning to plan for their potential return to the office and discussing a fully remote future is still largely speculative,” Arlington Economic Development spokeswoman Kirby Clark said. “We anticipate companies will continue to offer telework flexibility during this next stage of recovery. However, we hear from many of our major employers that there is no substitute for in-person collaboration in the office, especially for knowledge-based science and technology industries.”

Arlington’s federal workforce   

Although it took a while, Arlington did experience a significant drop in federally-occupied office space.

From 2003 to April 2021, Arlington’s federal office space dropped from 11.4 million square feet to 6.3 million square feet, according to an AED report and the GSA.gov Lease Inventory.

Today Arlington has 29,200 federal employees — excluding military personnel — and is home to the offices of a number of agencies, including the State Department, U.S. Marshals Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Drug Enforcement Agency, Clark said.

Some former government tenants have been replaced with corporate, tech and research anchors and a lot more housing, however. Between 2016 and 2020, Arlington added 5,193 housing units, with 3,175 units under construction and 5,907 units planned for future construction, she said.

“Over the last ten years, the landscape of Arlington’s Urban Villages transformed, becoming more economically diverse and land-use balanced, with residential development replacing old, obsolete office spaces formerly occupied by federal tenants,” said Clark.

As a region, D.C. has the nation’s second-largest pool of potential remote workers, at 49%, behind the San Francisco Bay Area, at 50%, according to a February report from the Greater Washington Partnership. The northern half of Arlington has one of the highest concentrations of remote-capable workers, alongside portions of Northwest D.C. and the Bethesda and Potomac areas of Montgomery County.

The report, which came out before the news of the changing federal work-from-home guidelines was first reported, predicted that some of the largest gains in remote work post-pandemic will likely be among government jobs.

“Two in five federal government workers may spend some time at home, with smaller shares of state and local public-sector professionals working remotely,” the report said.

Among government employees, according to Clark and Maribojoc, these options will likely be expanded for those who perform individual tasks that require focus but not high levels of security clearance.

“Due to the presence of the Pentagon and other defense and security agencies in Arlington, many federal-supporting tenants have security requirements that may require physical office spaces or proximity to major government and defense anchors,” Clark noted.

If more federal government employees go fully remote — a conversation that Clark said is still largely speculative — she predicted that it would be “a challenge not limited to Arlington and has the potential for broader regional impacts in the future.”

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Morning Notes

Cherry Trees Planted in Pentagon City — “We are so excited to be celebrating with @CherryBlossFest and @amazon the planting of 12 Japanese Cherry Trees in #NationalLanding! Thank you for these beautiful new additions to the area!” [Twitter]

Renderings of Possible DCA Bridge — “JBG Smith Properties isn’t waiting to envision the future. In a video released to investors this month, the company showed off some 3D renderings of what a pedestrian bridge could look like, complete with some features that have not yet been showcased publicly for the project. There’s a small set of amphitheater-like steps for lounging on the bridge, for instance, plus some futuristic-looking coverings for people walking along the structure. There even appear to be bike lanes and greenery pictured at points along the bridge.” [Washington Business Journal, Vimeo]

Arrests in Malicious Wounding Case — “Officers located the vehicle the suspects were traveling in and conducted a traffic stop at the intersection of eastbound Route 50 and N. Courthouse Road… Inside the vehicle, officers recovered three loaded firearms including a black handgun with extended magazine, AR-15 style rifle and a shotgun.” [ACPD]

County 911 Center Administrator Honored — “The Virginia Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (VA APCO) has honored Arlington’s Emergency Communications Center (ECC) Deputy Administrator Jeffrey Horwitz with its Public-Safety Communications Information Technologist of the Year award.” [Arlington County]

Feds May Permanently Expand Telework — “As the Biden administration contemplates how to return the massive federal workforce to the office, government officials are moving to make a pandemic experiment permanent by allowing more employees than ever to work from home — a sweeping cultural change that would have been unthinkable a year ago.” [Washington Post, Washingtonian]

Virtual Chamber Ensemble Performance — “The National Chamber Ensemble will present a virtual performance of Vivaldi’s masterpiece The Four Seasons on May 29, 2021. The 2020-21 NCE season has been keeping the audience and artists safe as well as connected. Each concert is paired with a live virtual event/conversation with the artists. Taped May 22, the concert links will go out on May 29.” [Event Calendar]

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Morning Notes

Arts Group Pushing for New Venue — “As part of its recently adopted strategic plan, [Embracing Arlington Arts] plans to use the coming three years to build community support for a performing-arts venue that would include a black-box theater and ancillary classroom and office space. Efforts would also be made to identify a site and start raising funds.” [InsideNova]

APS Changing Student Camera Policy — “In response to challenges teachers are experiencing engaging students with cameras off, we have adapted our policy regarding the use of cameras during instruction time, based on input we have received from teachers, staff, parents, the Distance Learning Task Force, and advisory committee members. We are asking teachers to encourage students to turn on their cameras during synchronous instruction and while directly engaging with peers and staff.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Spotlight on Arlington Man’s Heroism — “A must read about Arlington’s Paris Davis, the former publisher of VA’s Metro Herald. His heroism in 1965, while commanding a Special Forces team in Vietnam, seems worthy of the Medal of Honor. But those who served with him say the Pentagon kept losing the paperwork.” [New York Times, Twitter]

Local Nonprofit’s Work Highlighted — “Mohammad Ahmed, 30, gave up working as an Uber driver in March for fear of infecting his wife, 3-year-old son and two elderly parents who live with him. When he couldn’t pay the rent or electric bill for their two-bedroom apartment in Arlington, a local charity funded mainly by taxpayer dollars stepped in.” [Washington Post]

Metro Reducing Rail Service — “Metro this week began reducing Metrorail service during peak commuting hours because of low usage while saying it will boost Metrobus service as new commuting trends emerge during the coronavirus pandemic. The transit agency referred to the changes as a way to ‘normalize’ rail service.” [Washington Post]

Local Economy Expected to Grow — “Greater Washington’s economy will rebound in 2021 as Covid-19 vaccinations become more common and the weather warms up, according to a new regional economic forecast released Friday. That means 3.5% growth in the gross regional product in 2021, a sharp rebound from the 2.9% drop in 2020. But the region will only see a full recovery in 2022, with 4.1% projected growth in the local economy.” [Washington Business Journal]

Many Office Workers Will Stay Remote — “Working in D.C. will continue to look different for the greater part of this year due to the coronavirus, a new study shows. Employers expect less than a third of their employees to physically be in the office in the first quarter of this year, but by the fall, they expect 75% of their staff to be back, according to a study.” [NBC 4, Washingtonian]

Flickr pool photo by GM and MB

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Arlington ranks No. 21 on a new 2021 list of top places for working from home.

The list, compiled by the website SmartAsset, takes into account factors like “estimated percentage of the workforce who can work from home,” “percentage of the workforce who worked from home in 2019,” and “housing costs as a percentage of earnings.”

Arlington was No. 1 on the list in terms of ability to work from home — 40.4% of the workforce — but ranked lower as a result of our high housing costs. Also, only 6.1% of workers worked from home pre-pandemic.

A previous set of rankings explained by Arlington’s work-from-home ability is so high.

“A large percentage of the workforce in Arlington, Virginia is involved in two white-collar occupations: management, business & financial operations and professional & related job,” SmartAsset wrote. “According to [Bureau of Labor Statistics] data, 60% of management, business & financial operations workers and more than 42% of all professional & related workers can work from home, so many Arlington workers have that ability.”

SmartAsset noted that remote work is likely here to stay for many workers.

“In the late spring of 2020, about half of American workers were working from home, according to two surveys conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research,” the company wrote. “Many researchers believe that increased work flexibility and work-from-home opportunities may continue even after the pandemic is over.”

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