In Washington, like everywhere else, a major reevaluation of workspace and quality of life is unfolding.
Imagine building an expansive new corporate campus, then deciding since the onset of COVID-19 to sell it and disperse HQ functions. That’s what REI is doing with its newly completed campus in Bellevue, Washington. The company is instead following a distributed work model for its HQ functions.
Four days after Facebook launched a new college-only online space for students called Facebook Campus, the company completed the purchase of a real one, buying REI’s just-completed campus in the Spring District neighborhood for $390 million. It’s one of several investments the tech giant is making in the region — in fact, it’s right next to three buildings currently being developed by Facebook at the Spring District in blocks 6, 16 and 24.
Along with the deal, Facebook and REI each are contributing $1 million to the Eastrail project, a regional rails-to-trails system that is planned for 42 miles from Snohomish to Renton, running through Woodinville, Redmond, Kirkland and Bellevue. Around 13 miles of the system are open.
“When complete, the trail system will connect the diverse communities and businesses of King County’s Eastside through access to transit alternatives, employee hubs and greenspace,” said REI. “This investment will further outdoor infrastructure for the region that’s been REI’s home base for 82 years — serving the area’s 1.4 million lifetime members with nine stores, a distribution center and its headquarters.”
Facebook Makes Plans
The 400,000-sq.-ft. campus and approximately six acres of land were purchased by Facebook on Sept. 14, 2020. Site developer Wright Runstad & Company and Shorenstein Properties also purchased an undeveloped two-acre portion of the property.
Facebook’s play for property comes even as the company is hiring a “Director of Remote Work” and making its own plans to continue the practice for many employees through mid-2021.
Investments in physical office locations help address Facebook’s rapidly growing workforce, says a company spokesperson on background. In Q2 2020, Facebook added a record 4,200 net new employees (32% increase year-over-year) and now employs more than 52,000. Even as the company envisions 50% of its employees will be working remotely within the next five to 10 years, offices remain important to the company’s culture and to employees who need or prefer to work from a campus. An internal employee survey in May showed that approximately 65% of Facebook employees were eager to return to the office as soon as possible.
“We first opened our Seattle office in 2010 with three engineers,” says Nick Raby, director, Real Estate & Facilities - North America for Facebook. “Our growth over the last decade is a testament to the thriving community and immense talent pool that has welcomed us with open arms. This purchase doubles down on our investment in Bellevue and our commitment to the Pacific Northwest.”
The company now will have over 3 million sq. ft. in the Greater Seattle area. By comparison, Amazon controls approximately 16 million sq. ft. in Seattle proper and in its own growing footprint in Bellevue.
Colin Yasukochi, executive director of CBRE’s Tech Insights Center, says business at many large tech firms “has benefited from the COVID-19 pandemic as we all were forced to make our work and lives more digitally enabled. E-commerce, streaming services, devices and communications, search and social media, and productivity software are some of the more prominent tech sectors that have risen in importance. Tech in general will continue to grow strongly in the future. That growth will likely outpace remote work policies over time and thus additional office space, above current levels, will be required.”
That will come even as he says remote working will also provide greater flexibility to employees and open up the tech talent pool nationally and globally to tech employers.
“Some will certainly reduce their physical office space as they go fully or majority remote,” Yasukochi says. “We believe there will be greater flexibility and more remote work once returning to the office is permitted and safe, but that the office will remain critical to collaboration, innovation and company culture.”