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Why offices are likely to change, not disappear after pandemic

By Arjay L. Balinbin, Senior Reporter

DESPITE THE work-from-home boom and accelerated digital transformation, offices are not likely to disappear after the pandemic, a real estate expert said.

“If I talk about the shape of the future of our offices, they are not going to disappear. The office will stay. It will stay in a different shape,” Christophe Vicic, country head of JLL Philippines, Inc., said during the recent BusinessWorld Virtual Economic Forum.

“The shape and the type of brick and mortar in real estate, such as office, residential, malls, and hotels, will change in design, in conceptual reality. The technology, the digital piece of that will be enormous because we need data to make the right decision. All of us have to consume certain data to make the right decision,” he added.

Most companies began implementing work-from-home schemes for employees when Metro Manila was placed under a strict lockdown in mid-March. Even as restrictions eased and offices reopened, companies continue to allow some employees to work from home.

In its property market overview for the third quarter, JLL said the overall office vacancy rate in Metro Manila had increased to 9.7%.

“Office space in the metro continues to be underutilized as work-from-home setup remained the predominant work arrangement,” the report noted.

“The prolonged community quarantine in Metro Manila caused investors to remain in the sidelines and hold investment plans until the end of the year. Also, move-outs from POGO (Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators) players during the latter part of the quarter further increased vacancy rate in Metro Manila,” it added.

PLDT, Inc. Chief Revenue Officer and Smart President and CEO Alfredo S. Panlilio said the pandemic has become an opportunity for telecommunications firms to further develop the digital ecosystem by improving connectivity and providing platforms for online payment, shopping, education, and health, among others.

He said the strong demand for internet connectivity is expected to continue even after the pandemic.

“Companies like us, PLDT and Smart, have been rethinking our office space requirement because you have to consider social distancing. I think the work-from-home setup will be part of our normal working scenario nowadays, so we would have to have connectivity not only at our corporate buildings but also at home. The strategy of how we will now plan our office space is changing, but I think there will be a combination of working from home and people going to work,” Mr. Panlilio said.

On mobility, Ting Wu, partner at McKinsey & Company China, noted that customers are becoming more “individualistic and digital” now, and there is a rediscovered appreciation of individual mobility as part of the impact of the pandemic.

JLL Philippines’ Mr. Vicic cited potential solutions for post-pandemic transit and commuting, such as dual-location strategies, extended remote working, flexible workspace solutions, and shuttle services.

“For investors and landlords, there is a need to assess parking capacity and new modes of transportation, improve sidewalk use, create new bike lanes, and enhance transit capacity and operations,” he added.

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