Joanna Jankowska is an Asset and Property Director at DAMAC Properties, in Dubai. She is a skilled real estate executive with +10 years in strategy and operational expertise across the full real estate value chain in the Middle East. Her professional focal points include mixed-use real estate investment, project management and operations across office, retail and residential properties, and large-scale real estate planning, development, and capital refurbishment.

Given the pandemic, work styles have changed. People now have a variety of options at their disposal, but the office hasn’t disappeared. Although there are people who prefer remote work, offices still remain an important pillar of their work.

“Although homeworking has been more successful in the short term than many expected, the office provides a much broader role in company culture and productivity than can be examined in a few short months.

The office has long provided a place for concentrated work and increasingly a place for collaboration, connection, innovation and social interaction, and the desire for these characteristics has not diminished.”

What’s very visible though, is that even if there’s no denial that offices will continue to exist, the demand has seen a decrease at a global level. This means developers must adapt.

“To be able to meet new requirements and expectations, developers must analyze a wide variety of factors, including: population trends; employment trends, such as the ongoing effects of automation; office attendance patterns by industry; employee coordination, defined as the maximum share of workers in the office at a given time; as well as workers’ ages and incomes.” she says.

Furthermore, Joanna emphasizes, developers should reorientate and build mixed-use developments that incorporate a diverse mix of office, residential, and retail space communities which are going to attract residential and commercial users. 

“At the building level, the new approach is to construct spaces that are adaptable and flexible. The future is a universal, “neutral-use” building whose design, infrastructure, and technology could be easily modified to serve different uses.“

Looking at a macro picture of the global sector, Joanna believes that its future can only be predicted by taking into account a mix of factors, such as: economic growth, technology, space design trends, commuting behaviors, government guidance, real estate cost versus talent cost and density of occupancy. 

The changes on tenants’ side don’t include just their new preferences for different styles of work. What we’ve seen lately is that when they do choose a new office, there are more people involved in the decision, beside the top management. 

Joanna thinks that this is actually critical if you want to build a healthy, balanced workplace.

“In my opinion, taking into consideration employee feedback is crucial in determining the office location and even its design. Highly engaged employees are, on average, 50% more likely to exceed expectations than the least-engaged workers. 

And companies with highly engaged people outperform firms with the most disengaged folks—by 54% in employee retention, by 89% in customer satisfaction, and by fourfold in revenue growth according to global research.”

One other important change we’ve seen in the market is closely related to technology. The pandemic showed us how important it is to be ready, responsive and open to digitalisation. New technologies for the real estate market have emerged and their impact can be seen both in the short and long term.

“Over the short term, the adoption of new technologies will both facilitate remote working and also ensure workers’ well-being and efficiency on their return to office buildings. 

Over the longer term, occupier demand is expected to gravitate toward technology- heavy smart office buildings, reflecting their ability to support companies’ environmental, sustainability, health and wellness initiatives.” Joanna highlights. 

There are many areas in which technologies can play an important role, she thinks, such as:

  • Workplace design & allocation

“Technologies will cater changes in workplaces to design them in such a way to reduce the spread of airborne disease. Advances in building operating systems, smart components, and sensors are enabling spaces with a high degree of flexibility and adaptability.

Flexibility can be applied as a design principle across office furniture layouts, seating plans, and building systems to be able to adapt to these different scenarios or modes. For example, the operation of building HVAC systems to minimize viral spread implies either heavier filtration, more outside air, or both. These measures typically run counter to energy reduction (and climate change mitigation)modes.”

  • Crisis management

“In the future workplace, owners and operators will need to design for a range of modalities to ensure business resiliency. This would mean designing spaces, operations and systems for normal scenarios, pandemic scenarios, climate crisis scenarios, and even multi-hazard scenarios.” 

  • Adapting to a new generation of clients

“Part of a resilient model is the ability to pivot and respond to demand. In the face of a disruption, businesses may need to find new types of clients or industries, and these pivots may affect their office space priorities and needs.” 

Last but not least, the topic of ESG is maybe one of the most important to address today in the real estate industry, both for owners and tenants.

“ESG factors can affect the performance, value, and reputation of commercial properties, as well as the demand and preferences of tenants, customers, and regulators. Long gone are the days when real estate investors and lenders sought and appraised real estate assets solely based on their environmental credentials.” 

Taking them one by one, Joanna explains how the industry can interpret the three concepts in ESG:

  1. Environmental: In real estate terms, this primarily focuses on the energy efficiency and emissions of buildings which are increasingly determined and assessed against “green” rating systems such as BREEAM, LEED, WELL, as well as the use of Display Energy Certificates and Energy Performance Certificates. 
  1. Social: In real estate terms, this focuses on a building’s impact on society, for example, the health and wellbeing of tenants and the local community and is driving demand for larger public green spaces, frictionless (no-contact) building access and support for local enterprises, such as cafes and shops. 
  1. Governance: Governance includes harder to quantify factors such as diversity, culture, and reputation and which are applicable not just to the property owner but also to tenants, management companies and other on-site staff. 

Finally, we asked Joanna to shortly describe her take on the future of the office industry in MENA:

“With full assurance, I can definitely say that the future of the office industry will be driven by flexibility. Developers and owners should offer more flexible, short-term arrangements along with traditional medium- or long-term leases. 

Such segments as gig or remote workers want a co-working location, renting space by the day or even by the hour. With a proactive, strategic approach, office developers and owners can look ahead and build the kinds of space that remain fully occupied, generate a financial return, and fuel economic growth in the region.” she concluded.