Cover Story: The shifts in WORKSPACE DESIGN & status of Commercial Real Estate

Cover Story: The shifts in WORKSPACE DESIGN & status of Commercial Real Estate

This Cover Story on Commercial Real Estate and Shifts in designing of Workspaces led by COVID-19 was initiated through a special Webinar by SURFACES REPORTER (SR) magazine. Moderated by Vertica Dvivedi, Editor-in-Chief of the magazine, most of the inputs in this article have been picked during the LIVE discussion. More than 750 people joined the virtual meet directly while 12000+ people viewed the session through the active social channels of SR. Bringing out the filtered highlights along with an update on the current status is what we thought will add great value to this story.

What added more energy & enthusiasm to the session was the presence of highly esteemed dignitaries from three different sectors (Pharmaceuticals, Media, and FMCG) who joined the SR discussion to add meaningful and action-oriented takeaways. Architects & Designers could get firsthand information about the sectors with messages for the design fraternity. Feel free to share your opinion at press@surfacesreporter.com.

COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE IN INDIA - Status

The rise and fall of Real Estate have a significant effect on the economy as it is the second-largest employment generator; contributing 6% to India’s GDP and this contribution is expected to increase to 10-11% soon as economy revives. It is also the bread and butter of many related industries dependent on this sector. While the residential sector is sort of standstill and going southwards, the commercial real estate is facing the maximum instability & burn led by COVID19. The recent outbreak of the pandemic has jostled it upside down putting it a weak spot.

Arguably, commercial real estate is one of the most volatile segments of the economy owing to major fluctuations. For the past few years, a steep rise could be seen in the office rentals and the prices of commercial properties owing to the fact that companies be it the startups or international, were in the expansion mode and wanting to have bigger premises to accommodate their growing workforce. According to a recent report by JLL India, the industrial real estate market of India has attracted FDI of over USD 10 billion since 2017, backed by professionally managed groups. There is a ready-to-shift industrial infrastructure to the tune of approximately 22 million sq ft. However, the statistics are largely affected with the pandemic at the center, forcing companies to adopt the “Working from Home” policy in order to survive and keep working. The recent lockdown has a significant impact on the major corporate clusters particularly the MMR and NCR regions who unfortunately are also the worst affected from the diseases. The rent is affected big time with delayed payments particularly from startups and small enterprises while major corporate joining the bandwagon soon. www.surfacesreporter.com wrote an article on how office rental vacancies may rise 150% (Read: https://www.surfacesreporter. com/articles/51753/office-rental-vacancies-mayrise- 150).

The demand for office space across seven major cities is likely to drop around 30 percent this year from record leasing in 2019 as corporate companies have deferred expansion plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic, JLL India CEO and Country Head Ramesh Nair said. According to our panelist, Ar Raman Sikka, the new creations in office space will not happen for some time now. Already if we look at particularly the NCR region, we see so many pending projects whose future are now completely in the lurch.

“We are going to reduce the size of our office to save on rent as well as to save on a lot of employees who can basically work from home or whose services are not required by the company.”

The concept of ‘Working From Home’ is not a viable option in every case as there are many households particularly in urban cities where there is a lack of space owning to bigger families and smaller houses. In such scenario, productivity drops. The demand for Co-working spaces is sure to go up in the coming time as they are becoming a viable option with the availability of the right infrastructure and atmosphere to work near home, without having to go to the office or compromising productivity at home. Such spaces are expected to maintain high-level of safety and ensure proper hygiene and providing the right recourses and seamless working. Today, India is the second-largest market for flexible workspace in the Asia- Pacific region after China with over 1,000 coworking spaces. The cumulative area under co-working spaces in India currently stands at 6.9 million square feet, according to the real-estate consultancy JLL.

The demand for Co-working spaces are sure to go up in the coming time as they are becoming a viable option with the availability of right infrastructure and atmosphere to work near to home, without having to go to office or compromising productivity at home.

With the Pandemic accelerating, the co-working space providers while having suffered set back in the form of decrease in demand from small businesses and start ups, the future looks brighter as they are receiving enquiries for big companies who have either given up their office or are looking to decentralize their setup and bring in more flexibility for the employees. While in 2020, it was earlier expected that around $400 million investments will come in the co-working segment with 13 million people working, now there will be a shift but still it will remain a lucrative option in the commercial real estate.

Along with hygiene, air conditioning also needs to be taken care of as no longer, the offices can afford to circulate the same dirty air in the name of maintaining the temperature.

What is a satellite office?

A satellite office is typically a smaller office space in a different location from main location of the company. It is not like a branch office since all the decisions are taken at the main location and the space can house from one employee to ‘n’ number. An organization may want to open a satellite operation in order to
reach an underserved area, expand the business, or address lifestyle and quality of life factors for employees.

Short and long term effect of COVID-19

Most experts stressed the vulnerability of real estate during these troubling times as it will be one of the worst affected sectors. They talked about downsizing the office spaces and cost-cutting in every possible manner. Ar Raman Sikka says, “The sheer scale of the COVID-19 impact is going to be huge. In the short term, I think everybody will look for cost-cutting in every possible way. Many companies will downsize. Real estate is sure facing a flat curve for office spaces in particular. I believe that the creation of office spaces as an industry will not happen for some time now. Users will have to very upfront in coming up, rethinking how they are going to use it. Real estate industry will defiantly be affected in the short term, midterm, and long term as well.”

Seconding the opinion, Anil Khaitan, Managing Director, Sunil Healthcare said that companies will go into downsize mode to save up on the rent and other necessities due to most employees being working from home. “We are going to reduce the size of our office to save on rent as well as to save on a lot of employees who can basically work from home ormwhose services are not required by the company.”

"The new creations in office space will not happen for some time now. We are going to reduce the size of our office to save on rent as well as to save on a lot of employees who can basically work from home or whose services are not required by the company." - Ar Raman Sikka, Associate Principal, Sikka Associates, Delhi.

Talking about the psychological impact, Jimmy Mistry, says, “The COVID-19 situation has a shattered psychological aspect of human beings. We realized the fact that many of the businesses will not see the light on the other side of the tunnel. Right now, we don’t know anything for sure as the situation is so dynamic. Last year India had a fantastic run on commercial real estate and its service areas are to be believed about 45 million square feet of commercial real estate, which is a record of a sort.”

Materials to be used for designing workplaces

Extraordinary situations call for extraordinary measures. The same can be true for workplace design post the Pandemic. The offices have to be geared up for the ‘Neo’ Normal. The experts in the SR webinars were quite vocal about the hygiene and cleanliness efforts to be taken up in every office. Sensor-based equipment, materials that are seamless and without joints that inhibit the growth of virus and bacterial will now be preferred by designers and people alike. For a smooth running of the offices, Masks, Gloves, PPE kits and isolated sick rooms will have to be readily available.

Voicing the same sentiment, Ar Sikka says, “In the last few decades, many changes have happened, i.e., first sustainability, then technology-driven smart solution. Today we need a new generation of solutions that are safe and hygienic while not giving up the advantages of the solutions that are already with us. The products could be completely touchless, seamless, without joints, easy to maintain etc. Home office is a whole new sector and has good opportunities for such products and materials.”

"At the start of 20th century, when workplaces are a sort of typically text-driven with work by the typewriters, with the change in technology, they have evolved to a great extent. From monochromatic offices to being eclectic and from people working in silos to shifting in very collaborative offices, everything has changed. This situation of COVID is a metaphor where we don’t know what lies behind the doors. A very famous person once said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it. We architects are mostly optimistic by nature and we would like to say everything that is not right around us we take it as an opportunity for us to improve."- Kshitij Limaye, Executive Director, Sankalpan Infrastructure Pvt Ltd. 

Along with hygiene, air conditioning also needs to be taken care of as no longer, the offices can afford to circulate the same dirty air in the name of maintaining the temperature. Proper measures to ensure fresh airflow inside the premises have to be taken care of.

Anil Khaitan, Managing Director, Sunil Healthcare posts a different perspective. He emphasized that first of all, we need to ensure that our employees actually come to work which can only be done by instilling a sense of trust in them. He said, “Workplaces require to upgrade their system to convince and assure its employees of sanitation protocols which have been established so as to give the team members confidence in returning back to the working environments. Further, commuting support will also need to be provided so that employees can come and go to the workplaces with minimum hassles since public transport will open up slowly and that too in limited capacities. To get people back to work and also perform their work efficiently, it is imperative that they first be drawn out of the mental and physical inertia that happened during Lockdown and put back into normal routines.”

Changes in the Workplace Design In the Pre COVID-19 era, Open workplaces were in trend. However, with the pandemic raging on, they no longer seem to be a viable option. According to the experts at the SR Webinar, the Office Reception will play a key role in keeping the infection at bay as it will be equipped with measures like thermal scanning, sanitization etc. Even Changing Rooms just like the Pharmaceutical industry can be provided to the people coming to office. While open offices are going out of trend, we will see more cubicles with elements like Acrylic glass to ensure physical distancing in order to keep the communication alive.

"The trend of Open offices is not going be compete abolished, however, as designer, we need to make sure to make such workplaces safe. So desk based systems with dividers, acrylic boxes etc. with the arrangements of workstations in such a way to ensure no faceto- face sitting is a must. Instead of having one large cafe, we can have smaller break spaces across the facility along with plenty of natural lightening and ventilation which will suffice the purpose. We need to have the wellness factor into the office space." -Sudheera Mure,Director-Interiors, KGD Architecture.

With SR’s workspace post webinar many interesting points came into view. Reputed designer and real estate conglomerate Jimmy Mistry talked about how offices are going to change with high emphasis on ‘Zoning’ and ‘Decentralization’. He stressed that while the current pandemic has put the commercial real estate industry on its knees, it’s the time when we should think about Decentralization, meaning segregating different departments in different offices rather than having one central premise so that if you get one case of the disease in one office, there is no need to seal the entire premise, other offices can continue to work from other locations.

"Instead of changing the materials, one can also install the latest anti-microbial sprays and other measures to make the workplace safer. The norms of social distancing within the officeare also need to be understood. These are the new products that the architects and designers will now recommend including antimicrobial fabrics, anti-bacterialelements on door knobs and door handles, supply bags etc. Airconditioning is also very critical subject. TFS is to be installed across to bring in fresh air from outside. While earlier, there was little consideration for the filters change, now it will become a priority. Also isolation of airconditioning needs to be done from zone to zone. Zoning of air-condition is going to happen. Another thing for the designers is to utilize UV light as a weapon against the contamination. So barricading the spaces into zones is one option, where departmental people work out of zones".-Jimmy Mistry, Chairman & MD, Della Group.

Mr Mistry, Managing Director, Della Group pointed out, “It is very important to work departmentally and the entire workforce need not be in the same office. People can operate from remote zones to make sure that the whole organization is not contaminated. Work should not stop.” According to, Ar Shreshth Kashyap, Director, KNS Architecture Pvt Ltd, “Initially it was an office, then building and later firms moved to own the campuses, however, now the time has come when we would again look towards the smaller, particularly satellite offices.” Kshitij Limaye, Executive Director, Sankalpan, Infrastructure Pvt Ltd, “At the start of 20th century, when workplaces are a sort of typically text-driven with work by the typewriters, with the change in technology, they have evolved to a great extent. From monochromatic offices to being eclectic and from people working in silos to shifting in very collaborative offices, everything has changed. This situation of COVID is a metaphor where we don’t know what lies behind the doors. A very famous person once said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it. We architects are mostly optimistic by nature and we would like to say everything that is not right around us we take it as an opportunity for us to improve.”

Elaborating what the changed workspace means, Ar Kashyap says, “In terms of workplaces, the first change will come in the reception area which will turn into a holding area acting as the virus barrier for the entire office premises. Sanitation and hygiene will be the priority with even having sanitization facility and a Changing Room facility at the reception itself. The Open Office spaces are now going to go back in time with the advent of more enclosed spaces with cubical workstations. However, we are not trying to create social distancing but physical distancing within the office. In terms of planning as well, architects will now have to be more generous while calculating per person per square feet instead of the cramped spaces we saw earlier. At the same time, materials like Plexiglas and acrylic for partitions and cubicles that gives security while maintaining the feel of openness will be popular. Another option is using the circular table since with space permitting; you can actually design the diameter to facilitate the physical distancing particularly in cluster areas like cafeterias, conference and meeting rooms etc.

The trend of WFH is also going to be changed as it will be the new norm.” Giving another side of the story and reiterating what other speakers shared, Sudheera Mure, Director Interior, KGD Architecture stressed that Open Offices will not be abolished completely. “The trend of Open offices is not going be compete abolished, however, as designer, we need to make sure to make such workplaces safe. So desk based systems with dividers, acrylic boxes etc. with the arrangements of workstations in such a way to ensure no face-to-face sitting is a must. Instead of having one large cafe, we can have smaller break spaces across the facility along with plenty of natural lightening and ventilation which will suffice the purpose. We need to have the wellness factor into the office space by using furniture like ‘Sit-Stand Desk’, or creating personal yoga spaces etc. To summarize, physical and emotional well being should be met while designing the offices. It is the need of the hour. Clean and sanitized spaces will make employees to come back to work. Continuous WFH may not work because man being a social animal, we cannot continue to work in isolation. There could be a shift where one may go to office 50 percent of the time to connect with others while rest can be done from home.”

Seconding the opinion of Tateo Nakajima, she said, “There is a pressure on real estate values from a point of view of space but then globally there is an evolution towards the quality of space and quality of the environment and overall what I find is that actually we use space differently so while there would be some industries which will reduce inevitably as a cost-cutting measure, actually if the brand issue is a need then it will be different and I am not quite convinced that the office of the future will be necessarily smaller because some of these spaces actually need more area especially if you want to create privacy without creating enclosures.”

DIGNITARIES WHO WERE SECTOR REPRESENTATIVES AND GUESTS OF SURFACES REPORTER TO SHARE INSIGHTS WITH ARCHITECTS & DESIGNERS FOR BETTER UNDERSTANDING THE NEED AND DEMAND - DESIGNING WORKSPACES FOR THE NEW NORMAL LED BY COVID19 PHARMACEUTICALS - Anil Khaitan, Chairman, Sunil Healthcare Ltd MEDIA - Sandeep Marwah, Founder, Noida Film City FMCG and HOSPITALITY - Sanjib Bezbarua, Exe. VP, ITC.

‘Going to office’ has not remained as normal as it sounds. In view of the novel coronavirus pandemic, employees and employers are highly concerned about the safety and health
issues. According to Anil Khaitan, Chairman, Sunil Healthcare Ltd, who was representing the Pharmaceutical Sector during the discussion with SURFACES REPORTER, the following major challenges are for offices to work during the times of COVID:

  • Getting workers to office
  • Managing health and community issues. Offices will have to upgrade themselves.
  • Offices will have to provide commuting support to staff
  • Sanitisation will become a necessity
  • Taking care of wellbeing of employees; wellbeing becomes a priority
  • Bringing in contactless working

Pharmaceutical Industry has always been a much-sanitized industry otherwise we cannot run our factories with respect to hygiene and cleanliness. With India emerging now as a major supplier of generics to the western world, there is bound to be a spurt in Pharmaceutical plants being set up including the MSME sector and the architects and designers must give particular attention to the MSME sector which is so crucial for our employees, for our GDP and for the prosperity of the nation. This presents a good opportunity to the architects to well verse themselves with the strict compliances and guidelines, which I am sure most of the architects are, which are demanded by various health authorities worldwide when establishing Pharma plants, having knowledge of LEED, Air changes, Change rooms and Sanitization requirements can only bolster the budding architects to align their expertise with the requirements of the industry.

As far as designing hospitality system goes, our basic assumption is that everyone is an asymptomatic carrier of the infection. We make efforts depending upon the reality. ITC has a
very SOP driven structure where it starts from preparing the workspace for occupancy to kind of maintaining it with the objective to control the possibilities of infection and also to give a measure of confidence to the people who would be occupying these workspaces. We begin by an all perimeter approach, i.e., each and every entry point of men and material are identified, sanitization routines to be followed, cool down period for packages. We are also going for a certification of the Hospitality Industry Sanitation Standards in our hotels because the clientele that you are handling, the assurances they would seek is entirely different and therefore the scale of interventions are at a completely different level. - Sanjib K Bezbarua, Executive VP, Corporate Environment Health Safety & Sustainability, ITC

"One of the interesting question is ‘Why we come to office?’ and thinking about the purpose of actually thinking about coming into an office when we are able to work more from home. Certainly I see many of my clients see the office space not as a primary workspace but as a collaboration space, things that we can’t do at home, things that you do in a place where you physically meet and collaborate with people. In the future, because we have a duty of care for our staff, does that mean, we need to take care of the home environment for our staff with technology in different ways". - Mr Tateo Nakajima, Director, Acoustics, Arup.

"There are many changes that will come in the entertainment industry post COVID-19 Lockdown. Firstly, all the theatres in the country need changes, to introduce social distancing. We now need large and preamble areas that social distancing can be maintained right from the beginning. Second, auditorium could only have 33% attendance. So single screen sharing theatres which generally carries over 600 or 1000 seats, need to be removed because how long you can sitting on odd chairs keeping next 2 chairs vacant be possible? This is disheartening for the film producers, distributors and the viewers that they are watching a film in the empty theater. So, all the seating arrangements need to be changed. All the floors need to be vacated and resetting of either the same chairs or probably better than luxury chairs because that’s how the whole system is going to come back. A multiplex where a theatre has 300 seats has allowed only sale of 100 tickets. So sitting arrangement should be changed in multiplexes also. Also, now outdoor events are restricted. Theme parks are to be preplanned. Even canteen setup should be changed in theatres. Whole canteen should be divided into 5-6 cabins where you can only converse with the owner one to one basis. You don’t have to stand in a queue. You also need to replan whole education system and cannot have more than 30 students in one class. The size of the class still remains for 60 and have comfortable seating with ample space b/w 2 bodies".- Sandeep Marwah, Founder, Noida Film City and Asian
Academy of Film & Television.

SR End Note

Man is a social animal. It is difficult for us to stay in isolation for a long time. People would want to come out, meet the loved ones & friends, go back to work, collaborate, and stay connected with other fellow human beings. However, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is necessary to follow the norms to stay safe. In the words of Tateo Nakajima, “It’s a wakeup call for the resilience and sustainability of our lifestyles and operations, time to take stock of where we are moving, as building industry, as to which direction things are going. The changes need to be quick as well as radical.” Office spaces must be remodeled to a large extent to facilitate safe working. Innovation by architects and designers is necessary to make the workforce work with peace of mind. Businesses do not want to go back foot even during the times of COVID so safety is paramount.

"Surfaces Reporter Feels, It Is High Time, As Frontrunners of The Building Design Sector, Architects And Designers Must Brainstorm And Come up With Ideas To Make The Workspaces Suitable For The New Normal. They Need To Focus On Designing For The ‘New Normal’ Offices With Better Ventilation, Anti-Bacterial Materials, Touchless Products, Zones, And Automation, With Safety In Mind So As To Mitigate The Worries Over Hygiene Which Is Likely To Be High Among The Employees Even After COVID Is Over."

-Vertica Dvivedi
Editor-in-Chief, Surfaces Reporter Magazine | Founder, WADE ASIA

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