The future of office: has Coronavirus given the power to end users?
By Méka Brunel, CEO of Gecina
The lockdown with the Covid-19 pandemic was a full-scale experiment for office real estate. Employees have had to work from home for several weeks, and transformations that were already taking shape have accelerated sharply.
An initial series of analyses and comments seemed to indicate that there was no longer any need to actually go in to the office anymore. Everything could be done remotely, the technologies were mature, staff were keen to adopt this approach and, last but not least, this would reduce unnecessary travel and help fight global warming. Off the record: homeworking has been like a Darwinian catalyst exposing companies’ workforces and, through a mirror effect, their overstaffing. With restructurings on the horizon this summer.
Then, as the weeks went by, a second set of arguments emerged. Working from home was seen as a cunning of reason in order to make women return to housework (which has undeniably been the case during the lockdown), while many staff were suffering from the isolation and creativity was being affected by a lack of in-person exchanges. Gradually, as the easing of the lockdown has accelerated, the majority of businesses would like to bring back the vast majority of their staff. Off the record for the real estate sector: “nothing has really changed with this crisis, there have been more fears than actual impacts, it is business as usual, we have seen other crises! Everything must change for nothing to change”.
More than ever, the value of commercial real estate assets depends on their clients and end-users. Empty offices do not have any value by themselves.
However, the Covid-19 crisis has offered a time of reflection for everyone. Now, more than ever, the value of commercial real estate assets depends on their clients and end users. Empty offices do not have any value by themselves. The real estate industry’s transition from a purely B2B approach to a B2B2C or even B2C approach is now no longer simply an option, but essential in order to survive and grow over the coming years.
Three trends existed before March 2020: the metropolitanization phenomenon, seen around the world, bringing together intellectual and economic resources in centrality hubs served by transport networks; the real estate sector’s deployment of new mass technologies and no longer exclusively proptech solutions; the fight against global warming, with public opinion becoming increasingly demanding and sensitive to this issue. All of these phenomena are fundamentally driving real estate companies to transform and develop a customer-centric approach.
Tell me where you work, I will tell you who you are.
Only time will tell whether WeWork has been the Napster of office property. But what is clear today is that the major real estate companies need to position themselves as business partners for their clients, in order to help them develop their projects and successfully harness their talents. And to achieve this, they will need to develop a relationship with their end users, evolving towards a “hotelization” of office real estate. Moving forward, employees will also choose the companies that they want to commit to based on their experience of their workplace. This experience will be modelled around brands, which real estate operators will put in place to develop closer links with their end users, creating a relationship with them built around confidence and trust. Tell me where you work, I will tell you who you are. Our offices will need to be virtuous from an environmental perspective. And technologically efficient as well, because the client experience at the office must be better than working from home if companies want staff to return to their premises. We will also need to promote the human exchanges that have been so sorely missed during the Zoom and Teams reign.
Let’s work towards this together?
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