Fast Five: The office is dead narrative is finally dead

Notes on what Electronic Arts' massive office expansion really means.

Visual Capitalist’s new HQ. “I've loved this iconic flatiron building at the entrance to Gastown ever since moving to Vancouver 18 years ago,” says founder Jeff Desjardins. “Now we're excited to call it our new home.”

“For years, we believed the digital age would enable us to “work anywhere” – a utopia of people living in quiet mountain cabins, tapping away at their laptops through the magic of the information superhighway. In fact, the opposite has happened. Wealth, information, power, and opportunities have concentrated, as innovation is a function of ideas having sex.” - Scott Galloway in The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google

In early March 2020, like most leaders, Visual Capitalist’s Jeff Desjardins sent his whole team home. Then later that Spring, perhaps earlier than most companies, he opened his office at 20% capacity in case staff needed a change of scenery in small doses. In November, when his lease was about to expire, he charted a narrative violation by extending it by six months.

Then in March 2021, with vaccinations starting to pick up steam, his team felt confident in looking for a new space. “We felt that it was a bit contrarian,” he said, “and that we might be able to snap up a location that would have never been available years ago.” He took over a lease in Gastown at Cordova and Water Street (building pictured above).

“We've already had a few curious people on our team check out the new office, and we've had about 5-6 people there a day since moving in a week ago,” he shared. “It's much bigger space than our previous office so lots of personal space currently.”

“This week,” he told me in May, “we're starting to expect more people coming to the office on a semi-regular basis. That said, there is absolutely no requirement to come in at all. We want people to feel safe, and working remote/flex is always an option with us.”

1. Last August, CNN proclaimed that “The office, as you know it, is dead.” But qualitative and quantitive data suggests otherwise. Companies like Visual Capitalist haven’t abandoned the office life, and according to CBRE’s latest Q2 2021 Who’s Moving report, many tech firms—companies that would be well-positioned to operate a remote workforce—are opting to keep or grow their physical footprint.

2. For example, proptech firm Operto has taken space on Hastings; Notch Therapeutics has moved to Great Northern Way; Katerra is in Mount Pleasant now; Cisco has kept their Burrard street digs; fintech Tally is in a downtown building on West Georgia; and fast-growing Klue has snagged some space on Hornby. 

3. “WFH fatigue starting to settle in,” according to Alain Rivére, a vice president with CBRE. “Companies are finding they want to have employees together at least 2-3 days a week to maximize productivity, collaboration and innovation.” Here’s my favourite tweet on this phenomenon:

Apple: we made more money than God Herself with nearly everybody working from home who normally works in an office.

Apple: everybody back to the office!”

4. Another local case in point: Electronics Arts announced its office expansion in the False Creek Flats neighbourhood last week. The company is moving into 1077 Great Northern Way, an award-winning 120,000 SF LEED platinum office building, joining companies like Samsung Electronics, Tesla, Chinook Therapeutics, Inc., Genevant Sciences, MEC, O2E Brands, Blackbird Interactive, Axiom Zen and Semios. 

5. EA’s big move signifies what many people have probably been thinking, but perhaps haven’t said out loud: ‘The office is dead’ narrative is finally dead.