Special Report: Olivia Business Centre – A people-focused project

Olivia Business Centre has had well being at its heart from the outset – and now it’s paying dividends, writes Paul Strohm.

As the prospect of a resumption of near-normal business activities becomes more of a reality, albeit tinged with the reality that Covid-19 will be a long-term concern, employers and landlords are focused on finding work models that provide a reassuring level of safety as well as other attractions for staff to enable offices to flourish again.

Progress on ESG in the building sector means that some property owners and occupiers were already tuned in to employee well being, so the necessary post-pandemic adaptations to buildings and operating models have not been as demanding as might otherwise have been the case.

Olivia Business Centre in Gdansk, Poland, is a prime example where the goal has always been to create a people-centric environment. Jake Jephcott, development director at Olivia Business Centre, explains: “Olivia Business Centre has always been a people-focused project from the beginning. But now wellness has come into play and we have a number of projects on the go which enhance that.”

Olivia was already in many respects self-sufficient as its facilities include eight restaurants, four cafes, a professional fitness centre, a nursery and kindergarten for 100 children, an elementary school, high school, IT academy, medical centre, dentist’s office, a pharmacy and five bank ATMs. 

Olivia enters the ion age…

Ion air purification is a technology that has attracted more attention because of its potential to help in the drive to create safe working environments, free from coronavirus and other pathogens.

The technology, more properly called needlepoint bipolar ionisation, has previously been used in the White House, the Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi, and in private Gulfstream jets.

Olivia Business Centre installed ion air purification technology in 2020 as part of its bid to keep its occupiers safe and was one of the world’s first commercial office centres to do so. The technology works in combination with ventilation systems by saturating tenanted areas with ions capable of destroying viruses, bacteria and other pathogens while being safe for people and objects such as computers and office infrastructure. 

The air purification process biologically deactivates viruses by removing hydrogen molecules from their genetic structure. Ions generated are filtered out of the air as it passes back through the ventilation system.

The process eliminates 99.4% of viruses and bacteria and also has the benefit of removing unpleasant odours, dust, mould and fungus spores from the air.

With such a large space and having a diverse list of tenants, creating a sense of community has been a key and sports clubs, art and cultural events have helped to create bonds. A ‘pocket garden’ between two of the centre’s buildings was designed to bring greenery closer to occupiers and through the pandemic the business centre has built and completed an enclosed tropical winter garden with thousands of plants and furnished with seating. The aim was to create a space for less formal meetings and relaxation which would stimulate creativity, irrespective of the weather. 

Jephcott explains that Olivia Business Centre was quick to employ new technology and upgrade existing technology when the pandemic hit. “Many Polish companies never left the Olivia Business Centre during the whole of the pandemic, from the start until today,” he says. “There has always been a contingent of people here.”

Office comforts

Olivia’s approach seems to be working. Jephcott says that since the start of 2021 there has been a twofold change. First, there is more ‘fatigue’ around working from home but people also feel a bit more comfortable in the office when there is ample space to utilise. But air quality and mental well being have become big topics and this will continue, Jephcott says. 

‘Many Polish companies never left the Olivia Business Centre during the whole of the pandemic, from the start until today.’

Jake Jephcott, Olivia Business Centre

Another endorsement of Olivia’s approach is the significant letting success during lockdown. Amazon has been present in Poland since 2014, since when it has created more than 18,000 jobs in the country and for some time it has had a technology development centre located at Olivia – the centre is notably the birthplace of the Alexa voice solutions technology. 

In March 2020, following the launch of Polish-language online shopping service Amazon.pl, the online retailer located a customer service centre at Olivia with plans to hire 650 people by the end of the year. Amazon signed a 10-year lease on 15,000 sq m of space in what was the largest office letting in the Pomerania region in 2020 and the second largest letting at Olivia. 

Amazon is one of a list of Olivia’s multinational tenants that also includes: Airhelp, Arrow, Bayer, Deloitte, Energa, Fujifilm, Nordea, PwC, Ricoh and ThyssenKrupp.

WELL-appointed work environments

There is a growing realisation that environmental and social factors – the ‘E’ and the ‘S’ in ESG – have considerable overlap. It has been underlined for the real estate sector by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has also made the WELL Building Standard more relevant than ever.

This year Olivia Business Centre achieved the maximum WELL rating, scoring 25 out of 25 points in the 22 basic categories and three new ones related to innovations implemented on site. It is one of few buildings in the world to have achieved this status.

Launched in October 2014, the WELL Building Standard is aimed at buildings, interior spaces and communities “seeking to implement, validate and measure features that support and advance human health and wellness”.

The rating is data-based and independently verified and assesses buildings and operational rules, including maintenance standards. It also takes in stakeholder engagement and contingency plans to ensure maximum Covid-19 protection.

Core assessment areas

The WELL assessment includes 22 criteria across five core areas – cleaning and sanitisation procedures; emergency preparedness programs; health service resources; air and water quality management; and stakeholder engagement and communication. A minimum of 15 criteria must be met for the award of a WELL Health-Safety seal.

“We keep the safety and quality of life of our space users as an absolute priority, which is why we are happy to undergo such an important certification,” says Konrad Danecki from Olivia Business Centre. “During the preparations, we set ourselves the goal of meeting the requirements down to the smallest detail.”

A number of the measures that the Olivia Business Centre introduced are primarily a response to the pandemic. For example, it became one of the first office complexes in the world to introduce ion air purification technology (see above).

The level of filtration in air handling units has also been stepped up to the highest level available and sensors for pollution from volatile organic compounds and particulate matter have also been installed.

As a result, the purity of air can be monitored and harmful compounds eliminated. Systems for controlling the intensity of air exchange have also been installed based on the knowledge of the current CO2 level.

In addition, active titanium coatings have been applied in the common parts of the buildings, including elevators, lobbies and access routes to parking garages, which keeps frequently touched surfaces free from bacteria, fungi and viruses.

Additional measures to protect office workers include providing entry card sterilisers, and changing elevator settings so that in stand-by mode the lift doors remain open to allow a change of air.