An Architect, General Contractor and Furniture Expert Walk Into a Podcast – Our own Bernie Donaldson speaks on The Office Space Podcast with host Dougal Jeppe—along with Tom Zurowksi from Eastlake Studio and Tony Iannessa from BIG Construction—on the current state of the office market and design/construction trends and considerations.

“Our outlook looks incredibly positive for the next few years, specific to corporate interiors,” says Tony Iannessa, founder & CEO at BIG Construction.

“Workplaces are critical to maintaining the culture that [organizations have] established…” says Tom Zurowski, managing principal of Eastlake Studio.

Bernie mentions that there’s growth within the real estate sector and adds, “Culture is key…and to maintain that, you have to be together…Employees don’t want to come back to an office that is antiquated, or isn’t ‘safe’ or collaborative, so that’s creating a lot of the inquiries or interest that’s going on right now.”

So, what do employees want to return to? “Design trends last year started with a focus on safety and wellness, but this year, I think we’ve begun to realize that flexibility is really important, meaning how we work today will probably be different tomorrow,” Tom says. “We need to anticipate and facilitate changes in the workplace. That means investing in high-performance furniture that can easily be reconfigured and…investing in demountable walls that can be re-worked.”

“The focus is collaboration.  That’s an important part of what workplaces are going to look like moving forward…It’s not leading to smaller spaces, it’s leading to smarter spaces…People have been remote for so long, they’re looking for some sort of contrast from their home.  It’s a key part of the stuff that we’re working on…important to our clients,” he adds.

Bernie chimes in, “[The number of projects requesting] demountable walls [or pre-manufactured construction]…have grown exponentially since the pandemic started. There are a lot of reasons for that…the cost of raw materials has gone up a lot, and…[it’s] part of making, as Tom referenced, a ‘smart space.’ …From a labor standpoint, we have to deliver projects faster and more efficiently than we have in the past.”

Tony comments in depth about logistics, material lead times and material pricing, noting everything from cargo containers to railcars, the trucking shortage to drywall, glass, flooring and data cabling. The common theme? Longer lead times and increased cost.

The three then harmonize on advice to create a better client experience: “Onboarding all facets of your project team early.” The fruits of acting early are bountiful, and your project team can help identify which products can be substituted to beat long lead times.

What do our futures hold? “There’s no doubt that the office space is going to be different, smarter and more vibrant…and I look forward to that world for sure,” says Tom.

Bernie concludes, “We live in a world-class city, and Chicago has proven over the years that it can flex and it can change…and the opportunity is very bright for all of us.”