Monday, November 27, 2023

The Little Answer to a Big Question

 I just had a weird and wacky idea and, since you are already here, I might as well tell you.  It all started when I broke down and finally read this article:

What two empty floors of a Columbia tower can tell us about Howard County’s office market, Giacomo Bologna, Baltimore Banner

It kept popping up in my feed and I kept passing it by. I vaguely remembered writing a post about how the pandemic might derail some of the current downtown development. At the time of writing none of us knew that one of the biggest changes to come out of those years would be a long term desire for many in the work force to work from home.

That change is what has fueled those “two empty floors of a Columbia tower.” In the article, commercial real estate broker Adam Nachlas reveals what that looks like:

“Companies now want smaller spaces with conference rooms and desks for employees who only come into the office two or three days a week.”

We’ve all seen news articles about the methods that companies have been using to try to lure employees back to the office. Some look like the proverbial Carrot, others evoke the punitive feel of the Stick. None of them have worked all that well.

So what should they put in all that empty space?

Child care. Beautiful, high quality, properly ventilated, on-site childcare. Can you imagine the appeal to workers and the goodwill this would engender? Investing in excellent childcare centers would increase employee loyalty and probably increase the amount of time they’d be willing to spend on site. 

It would also result in more traffic to surrounding businesses. Of course it would help if a good chunk of them were child-friendly, so that mom or dad could pick up their child and go have dinner, or stop and have breakfast on the way, for instance. If this transition to offering childcare resulted in more student spaces than the office building needed, they could be opened to the public and that would bring more people to that area, more people patronizing area businesses.

Two big challenges come to mind. One is that really good childcare costs money. This is not a solution that’s going to fill anyone’s eyes with big dollar signs. Someone would have to be convinced by the long term positive aspects of this investment. I can see why it would benefit both workers and their employers but someone whose job it is to add up all the numbers might not. 

The second one is outdoor play. Kids need it. It’s non-negotiable. 

Where to put it - - on the roof? Don’t laugh, Google it. Although certainly there are other places where childcare has been incorporated into office buildings and outdoor play spaces have been constructed at the ground floor level. It’s doable. It would take creative thinking and people who are willing to invest in the big picture. 

So, here’s my pitch. If you want to fill unused office space, provide a reason to get more workers back in the office, and support surrounding businesses…the answer is childcare. Invest in the kids and their parents will follow. 

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