(WGHP) — Things weren’t going well for the folks trying to fill up empty downtown office space as far back as the George W. Bush administration. Then things got much worse.

“The pandemic basically shut everything down … We all went home. Nobody went to work in an office because of the pandemic,” said Robbie Perkins who saw the issue from two close perspectives: as a career commercial realtor and as a two-term mayor of Greensboro, beginning in 2011. “The leases still existed, but the office space wasn’t used. So what people figured out is that they could work pretty effectively from home, and so corporations … understand that if they could save some money, they’re going to do that. So they started looking at the length of their leases, and they started downsizing. Everyone’s looking for efficiencies, and office space is expensive.”

Allen Joines became mayor of nearby Winston-Salem in 2001 and saw the same thing happen there.

“No question about it,” Joines said. “I think we went from almost 80% people working from home … When it was over, people were saying, ‘We kind of like this.’ I think I saw a statistic that said over 90% of employees say would like to work from home one, two days a week if possible.”

Perkins sees some trends emerging that can work for getting office space leased in downtowns.

“You see a fair amount of space that’s being subleased, and then you see a fair amount of large companies that are going from a large block of space to a much smaller one,” Perkins said.

But the real trick is innovation – providing an office space that’s more than just four walls and some desks.

“I think we’ve seen an example of that in Greensboro with the ballpark,” said Perkins about the building that sits just beyond the first base line at First National Bank Field in downtown Greensboro where the Greensboro Grasshoppers Carolina League baseball team plays. “It’s a brand new building, and it’s essentially full. I think there’s a small restaurant on the ground floor, but that’s about it, and it’s essentially full. And a lot of the vacancy in the Triad … is in the larger footprint, the 1980s, 1990s building. and there’s just not a lot of demand.”

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That’s another trend Joines says he sees in Winston-Salem as well.

“I just think it’s going to take some innovation in terms of maybe even mixed use, partial office and residential on the top floors or something of that nature,” Joines said. “Just looking at what the future of the office market … It’s going to be more open space, more flex space. It’s going to have health centers in there, workout centers.”

“I don’t think office is dead by any means,” Perkins siad. “I think there’s still a big need for office space because of the collaboration factor. Personally, I think people work better when they are connecting with each other.”