Next Steps to Normal

In Buzz, June 2021 by Tracy JonesLeave a Comment

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Downtown Raleigh gets back to work.

It’s been over a year since the initial shutdown, and Downtown Raleigh is eager to welcome both businesses and patrons back to its streets again. 

To do so, Downtown Raleigh Alliance has been working tirelessly to bring people back Downtown as most state restrictions have now been lifted. Through a recently conducted public realm study, DRA is looking at everything from what to do with outdoor dining expansions to activations like bringing in live music after work to enhancing public spaces with Wi-Fi. 

“In many ways, people will have choices about where they work from,” says DRA President and CEO Bill King. “What can we do to make them choose Downtown? In the study, we’re trying to tease that out. Is it lunchtime music? Is it afterwork fitness? Is it before-work yoga? All of the above? Are there different things that work better than others?”

DRA has reached out to more than 50 Downtown employers to have conversations about when they are coming back, what that looks like and any concerns they might have. What they found was a broad range—from employers who are already back to those planning on coming back throughout
the summer.

Some Downtown companies, like civil engineering firm McAdams, have had the majority of their employees back for some time. While employees initially worked from home, McAdams now has more than 70% of its DTR employees in the office and has hired more than 90 new people in the past 14 months across its five offices. 

“We’re a design firm, and while you can collaborate online, it’s not nearly as effective as collaborating over a set of plans,” says McAdams President and CEO Mike Munn. “There’s just real synergy that comes from working together over a plan, and it’s hard to replicate all of those needs over Zoom.”

McAdams wants its employees to feel like they are a part of something and engaging in person aids in that. And happy hours with teammates, rounds of buying lunch and a rooftop with a view overlooking Downtown encourage that kind of socialization and collaboration.

“You go through these struggles, and the community really binds together in a better way,” says Munn. “In Raleigh, we are more bound together in the backside of this. As the workforce comes back Downtown and the amenities open up, I’d say stay tuned. Over the next few weeks, it’s going to get even more vibrant Downtown.”

McAdams is not alone in welcoming the majority of its employees back. Law firm Williams Mullen has had its employees back following safety protocols since last June, and design firm Kimley-Horn asked its employees to return
Downtown in April.

“We were so grateful to be able to keep our employees productive and engaged while working 100% from home in 2020,” says Julie Beauvais, Kimley-Horn senior vice president and communications director. “But it also made us realize the importance of culture and how challenging it is to sustain it when you’re not together.”

Bumping into clients on the street, grabbing coffee with a co-worker, or dining out at one of the many restaurants nearby for lunch is something we used to take for granted. Now, employers are hoping employees yearn for those daily perks. 

And Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin also sees the value in bringing employees back. “We don’t want there to be a third or fourth wave, but people have to start thinking about the summer,” said Baldwin in a recent sit-down interview with Raleigh Magazine. “How can we get people back into the office? What does that look like? Is it some type of hybrid? Are people going to redo their offices and reenvision their workspaces? I think a lot of companies are starting to think about that. The new buzzword is the hybrid office—some people working from home part of the time; some  coming in. But, either way, we need our businesses to start bringing people back.” 

By already testing a few ideas, like hosting Dine Out Downtown on Saturday nights and moving Moore Square Market to Sunday mornings, DRA is focused on incorporating new safe ways to get people back out and about. Future incentives include a lunchtime music series in June at City Plaza and a Thursday night music series the City of Raleigh is launching at Red Hat Amphitheater.

“This is all part of a strategy to get people back Downtown,” says King. “It’s been, first and foremost, engagement and outreach. From there, you start to execute.”

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