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Expo Real: panic has passed and the office is here to stay

Home working is convenient but will never replace the office, experts agreed at Real Asset Media’s The Future of Office investment briefing, which was held in the International Investors’ Lounge at Expo Real yesterday.

“Offices are still a huge part of our portfolio and will remain a core activity for us,” said Assem El Alami, head of international real estate finance, Berlin Hyp. “The hybrid system can be appealing, but for us and for our clients the office is the place for collaboration and motivation and fostering a sense of identity. It cannot be replaced.”

Now the dust is settling after the Covid-19 storm and it’s becoming clear that some things have changed, but some will stay the same.

Assem El Alamim Head of International Real Estate Finance, Berlin Hyp

“Panic mode has passed and we now know that the office is here to stay,” said Andreas Stegmann, head of commercial real estate investment international, Corestate Capital Group. “But the requirements have changed. The pandemic has been a massive accelerator of changes that would have taken five or ten years to happen, so we must all adapt.”

The changes are for the better: in order to attract tenants offices must be attractive, safe, flexible and environmentally friendly.

Office must be a place that tenants want to go

“Tenants have higher expectations of the office and of the services offered, so it must be a place they want to go to,” said Stegmann. “Mixed-use is a good solution because it offers diversification of risk for the owner and choice for the tenant or consumer. Integration of different uses makes cities more liveable.”

It also makes them more attractive not just for workers but for every urban dweller, said Eva Seeber, executive director, asset management corporates, Swiss Life Asset Managers: “It is good to leave behind the forced separation of functions and places and return to the old concept of business and residential areas together. That’s why I am a believer in the 15-minute city concept.”

One positive consequence of the pandemic has been a renewed focus on the human aspect and on health and well-being.

“Corporates now have to take care of people and be more transparent in their business practices,” said Jake Jephcott, chief development officer, Olivia Business Centre. “We had a lightbulb moment back in 2010, when we decided to focus on the people rather than the buildings and we have worked on perfecting that since then. That’s why we call them residents, rather than tenants.”

Innovations introduced at the Olivia Business Centre in Gdansk long before the pandemic range from women-only co-working spaces to social activities and meeting points, event spaces and a winter garden, restaurants on the ground floor and the roof terrace.

“We wanted to build a destination, not just an office facility,” said Jephcott. “That is the way to bring people back to the office.”