India's commercial realty is weathering the 2nd wave by re-conceptualising the office space
Over a year has passed by since the Covid-19 outbreak changed industry norms across the world. In the case of the commercial real estate market, it led to deeper contemplation of various work elements and brought into focus the sector’s segregation of its ‘needs’ from its ‘wants’, even as offices turned to empty spaces at an alarming rate. The era of remote working had begun, so proclaimed many. Yet, the jury could not concur if that were a boon or a bane for industry.
The past year saw the commercial office market in India striving to hold its own during a period that is now being referred to as the first wave, and ending it on a relatively optimistic note. Hardly had the sector settled into a growth track when the second wave hit the country, somewhat derailing it off course and putting businesses in a tight spot once again. Thus, it has become pertinent to look at the commercial office market anew and steer it back on course. While there are lockdowns going on in most places, with the vaccination drive expected to pick up pace in the next quarter, we believe businesses would resume and offices would open, partly if not fully. If anything, the global work from home experiment taught us in the past year that offices as places of work are indispensable, particularly in India where an average home lacks adequate space for work. Besides, the significance of an organisation’s culture and values were difficult to imbibe and impart while working remotely and without collaboration.
The bigger question that arises then is, will India’s commercial real estate market manage to ride out the newer adversities brought forth by the second wave? From an economic perspective, the country today is in a better position to handle the pandemic, as most necessary systems are in place. Some of the economic indicators, including GST collections and FDI inflow into the country, have kept up confidence in the business environment. Additionally, the government is preparing a stimulus package for sectors affected substantially by the outbreak, intending to support an economy grappling with the localised lockdowns.
Given the assumption that the vaccination drive achieves desired momentum in the forthcoming period, and most offices in the country open up for business after the lockdowns, some of the key issues that would need to be tackled are — how would organisations ensure employees safety and well-being at workplace, with a third wave predicted ‘round the corner. The initial solutions of maintaining hygiene, social distancing and contactless technology in office would not be enough to bring back employees. The new pillars of navigating the pandemic would largely be centered around factors such as nurturing employee wellness and trust, a faster pace of workplace transformation based on flexibility, and people-centric workplace design, amongst others.
Organisations would soon have to come up with strategies that are more long-term in nature, dealing with aspects such as safety and security, productivity, comfort, space requirement, and cost — altogether in a new light. In the past year, people have developed new strengths, habits and expectations. Factors that determine their productivity have changed as well. Persuading them to leave the comfort of remote work will necessitate the creation of a strongerconnection between design and operations, emphasising the importance of corporate culture that thrives on collaboration. Companies must now contemplate a futuristic vision for the workplace, determining areas of investment and retraction and come up with a stable strategy on how to meet the changed requirements of the workforce in a mid- and post- pandemic situation.
Understandably, these new long-term strategies would involve considerable investment while executing a phased and controlled return of the workforce. To ensure this, workplaces must become worthwhile alternatives to working from home. The key will be to build a coherent resolution of organisational goals and employee needs that would help employees work in a way that is different in office than when they are at home.
The real estate industry in the country has evolved by leaps and bounds, accentuated by the Covid-19 crisis. With the second wave bringing further constraints, now is the time that organisations should actively consider changing needs of employees to shape the office of the future — be it in the adoption of hybrid space, hub and spoke model, 4-day working model, or inclusion of more flexible terms.
On a positive note, the commercial real estate sector of the country has emerged as a relatively resilient and reliable asset class — evident even during the first pandemic wave and even expected in the second wave. The fact that a considerable quantum of office space is coming up for renewal this year, holds ample opportunity for the sector, provided renewals are substantiated by the hiring spree observed in large companies. With most IT firms affirming they are not cutting back on hiring, the commercial real estate market is expected to witness a gradual return to normalcy in office space demand in the next 8-12 months. Thus, with new processes, designs and mode of operations in place, navigating the pandemic would perhaps be a lesser daunting prospect than stipulated for India’s commercial real estate sector.
The writer is CEO-APAC, Vestian Global Workplace Services
DISCLAIMER: Views expressed are the author's own, and Outlook Money does not necessarily subscribe to them. Outlook Money shall not be responsible for any damage caused to any person/organisation directly or indirectly.