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The office reimagined: Reflections from Paris Real Estate Week


To have or not to have offices?

That was the (most burning) question of Paris Real Estate Week, which the Innesco team had the pleasure of joining. Perhaps to no one’s surprise, the overarching topic of the conference was Covid-19 and the effects the pandemic will have on cities and real estate. Taking place this week in lieu of MIPIM, the event was held over three days; as a physical event in Paris, and streamed online. Below are our key takeaways.

 

If the majority of people will regularly work from home at least two days a week going forward (compared to none pre-Covid), this will bring with it a series of implications. In the session ‘What makes a city great?’, the panel discussed how cities will evolve as a result of changing working habits. One panellist noted that the change may lead to more investment in mixed use, as people will want to live and work closer together. It might also lead to a rise in flexible office space, as companies abandon big, collective offices in favour of several hubs in the same city, allowing workers to choose an office space closer to their homes – which, in turn, will change the layout of cities, as residential and office clusters blend together.

 

Research is showing that the majority of people today believe that some form of working from home will from now on be considered a natural part of company policy. But while there is no doubt that we are dealing with  a complete overhaul of workspace, most agree that the office will still have a role to play – we might be working from home two days a week, but that leaves three days working away from our homes. We therefore need to set expectations for what people could require from the office: What services do they want? What layout and which spaces can support the ways in which they will need to work? One panellist noted that people will need more collaborative space because “they can sit by themselves and work from home, so the office needs to fill another function”. Offices therefore need to be more agile and offer space that can be evolved and adapted to the type of work which is  to be carried out there – for example by creating comfortable spaces to meet or to think, and creative spaces where people can walk around instead of sitting down. Another panellist added that “we have experienced what we can do from home, so offices will need to show us that it is worth a two-hour drive to get to it”. This may well mean creating facilities that promote learning and collaborating, thereby increasing creativity.

 

Similarly, the session ‘Reimagining the workplace: the future of work after pandemic’ highlighted that working remotely creates a risk for missing out on important aspects such as collaboration, innovation, brainstorming, career mobility and interacting with people outside your direct colleague group. Harvard Business Review has shown that people worked 40 percent more with close colleagues over lockdown, via for example frequent Zoom meetings, but collaborated or worked 10 percent less with other people in the company. It is clear that we need to assess what the implication of this loss of connection will mean long-term.

 

On a panel called ‘Addressing tomorrow’s challenges’, one speaker hypothesised that office buildings will become more strategic; less about housing employees on a day-to-day basis, and more about expressing the company brand, a place in which to embody corporate culture, reinforce team efficiency, improve creativity and serendipity, as well as attract talent. With Covid-19 accelerating trends such as flexibility, digitalisation, wellbeing and “the era of services”, there will be a decrease of office volume; therefore, office developers will need to improve in order to compete, which will mean having a combination of the best location, the best building space and the best services.

 

Consensus seems to be that there is a need to revolutionise office space following Covid-19. This draws similarities to the way retail has evolved in response to e-commerce; just as retail has had to reinvent itself to offer something that online simply can’t, offices will need to evolve into offering something that our kitchen tables won’t. As with retail, experience may well be the key word here. Summing up the conference, one panellist on the session ‘Investment & creative placemaking’ noted that “thirty years ago, people looked at real estate as a commodity, a physical asset class where everybody spoke about price per square metre. In the last 20 years, real estate has become a financial asset class where it was all about cash flow, cash flow, cash flow. Today, it is changing – yes cashflow still matters, but also what real estate is bringing to our lives.”

 

However, not everyone agrees. In his much-anticipated keynote in Paris, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy said: “because life is more important than circumstances, life after Covid-19 will look very much the same as before. Every time there is a crisis, we say that life will never be the same again, but every time the crisis ends, everything is exactly the same”.

 

Mr Sarkozy’s beliefs aside, OUR gut feeling is that once Covid-19 is over, life will look very, very different – not least when it comes to the ways in which we work.

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