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Suburban Satellite Offices: The Future of Work Amid the Pandemic?

June 23, 2020 | by
Reviewed by real estate expert Jonathan Wasserstrum

As businesses across the country reopen following coronavirus-driven shutdowns, business owners and employers are re-imagining the future of work and coming up with a variety of plans to move forward. Some employers plan to shorten their commercial lease to either downsize or let employees continue to work remotely; others want to establish health and safety protocols that allow all employees to eventually return to the office.

The Internet is buzzing with thought leader pieces about whether or not remote work will be the new normal. What if it’s not either/or? Here’s the happy medium between remote work and traditional office space that most people aren’t talking about: the suburban satellite office model.

What is a Satellite Office?

Simply put, a satellite office is a branch of a company that’s located somewhere other than the organization’s main office. Some large corporate companies have a sizable headquarters where many employees work; then, they begin adding satellite offices to attract more customers or diversify the talent pool. For example, Google, whose corporate headquarters is located in Mountain View, CA, has several satellite offices in Los Angeles.

The increasing economic and safety-related challenges caused by COVID-19 may prompt businesses much smaller than Google to consider adopting the satellite office model.

What the Satellite Office Model Could Look like in Houston

Traditionally, businesses try to lease one large, perfectly located office to meet all business needs and house all employees. One of the most important factors when it comes to choosing an office location is commute time for employees. Businesses often try to secure Houston office space in popular office markets.

Here are a few popular Houston areas:

“But with companies seeing that work still gets done when everyone isn’t in the same office, more employers could abandon the idea of one centralized office and instead set up multiple smaller offices,” Christie Moffat writes for Bisnow.

Yes, having fewer employees in the same building would make sanitization and social distancing easier, but it could also reduce commute times for employees. Employees could either work full-time at their assigned satellite office or adopt a hybrid work-from-home/satellite office format, traveling several times per week to the satellite office to collaborate in person.

The Advantages of Satellite Offices

Giving employees the option of working in several different satellite offices rather than requiring they all work in the same large office has many advantages.

  • Transportation: COVID-19 has introduced many challenges for employees, not the least of which is creating a plan for employees to commute safely to work. Experts recommend that people practice social distancing, which involves staying six feet apart from other people. That’s really difficult to do on public transportation. Fortunately, most people in Houston commute by car, which removes the risk of contracting COVID-19 during a commute. However, traffic can be intense, especially on the Loop and the Sam Houston Tollway. If employees worked from home part of the time and worked at satellite offices in varied locations the rest of the time, not everyone would be traveling every day to large offices in the most centrally located areas of Houston. That could mean workers spend a lot less time commuting.
  • COVID-19 safety: The fewer people your employees encounter on a day to day basis, the less likely they are to contract COVID-19. Say that 100 people usually work in your main office. If you adopted the satellite office format and let employees work from home about half of the time, any given employee may only work in the same building at the same time with 24 other people rather than 99 others.
  • A Happy Medium: You don’t have to choose between continuing to use the office format or letting all of your employees work from home. There is a third option: the satellite office format. Many employees appreciate the increased work/life balance that working from home affords them. They can save money on gas, spend less time commuting, and spend more time at home. However, businesses continue to recognize that coming together in person—at least some of the time—positively influences company culture and collaboration efforts, said Bryant Lach of JLL. The satellite office format can provide the best of both worlds.

Moving Toward the Satellite Office Format

Whether or not the satellite office format works for your business depends on a variety of factors, such as company size and revenue as well as employee commute time and preferences. Be sure to not only consider employee data such as distance from the office but also provide an opportunity for open-ended employee feedback, maybe through a survey.

If you decide to try out the satellite office format in Houston, here’s how SquareFoot can help.

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