Leaders Talk

Commercial Real Estate Segment's Post Pandemic Evolution

The global pandemic has had a massive impact on various industries across the globe. The real estate segment, especially the commercial real estate sector had to undergo difficult times. While the pandemic brought in challenges, the industry adapted quickly to the new demands believes Sonia Pimenta, Associate Director, CBRE South Asia. She further adds, real estate demand slowed down due to the huge uncertainties, however slowly the same seem to be picking up as vaccination drives are becoming more robust and business leaders are focussing on getting their workforce back to office coupled with flexibility.

In an in-depth conversation with Women Entrepreneur Magazine, she gives us her views on the evolving role of offices, the learnings brought along by the pandemic and much more.

Q. Tell us about your vast experience as a Design - Business Lead.

I graduated Architecture in the year 2004 and from there on, it has been an exhilarating journey. Having tried many facets of Architecture – landscape design and retail design in my early years of my career, Workplace Interiors is where I finally found my calling and it continues to take a major part of my corporate experience.

Back in 2004, with the IT boom in India, large IT and ITES clients were setting up campuses in Bangalore India and I happen to be then working with RSP, who was servicing these clients for both Architecture and Interiors. Large campus projects like Phillips Innovation Campus, IBM Campus, Cisco @ Cessna Business Park were some of the trendsetting projects for workplace interiors. This not only exposed me to some great workplace projects but also gave an opportunity to collaborate with Design & Engineering Professionals of varied experience and exposure.

Followed by my stint at DWP Interics, I designed some of the most creative offices for Google in India, a true example of how eclectic design can also form a harmonious and inspiring workspace.

Post that I was with MMoser India and delivered trendsetting and legacy projects for VMware, Accenture & Broadcom in Bangalore. Working on these projects was a very perceptive experience when it comes to solutioning for your clients, after understanding their business needs, it opened doors to how a workplace design can be approached from a human centric and psychological perspective.

With CBRE I have been engaged now for the past 4 years. When CBRE India leaders approached me with the idea of building a design studio within the legacy CBRE Project Management business, it looked like a very exciting challenge. Although starting something new is never easy with all its nuances, it is also very motivating and has a wide scope of learning. It’s like starting your own company. CBRE has a culture of entrepreneurship, one can really grow, if one has the passion to drive results coupled with leadership qualities that create partnerships and foster innovation.

Being the National Business Lead for Design Services in India, I get to work with not only varied clients and projects, but also with CBRE colleagues, each of them have different personalities and ways of working and I have learnt to mould myself accordingly to get the desired result and to make the business mission successful and profitable.

My team and colleagues in the CBRE Design studio are dedicated and passion driven group of creative individuals and go an extra mile to deliver exceptional service outcomes.

Q. In your opinion how has the industry evolved since the time you entered the field to present day? What have been some of the most impactful change agents for this evolution?

Workplace itself is evolved over the last decade and more – from being a very introspective way of working now we all talk about venturing out, collaboration etc .

I have designed offices built with large cubicles and very focussed work culture, to now the Agile & Hybrid workspace format, where there is no address and one can work from anywhere in the office.

Emphasis is more on the individual and its needs for the day, to create environments that would foster innovation.

With the COVID pandemic, we are also seeing a trend of the work from home culture, while in the design fraternity we have mixed opinions on whether this is sustainable in the long run, we see corporates moving to a more purpose driven workplace design.

With the onset of Technology and Artificial Intelligence, we are empowered with the possibility to work from anywhere.

Technology has been a very important factor in catapulting the speed & quality of output that we are able to produce for our clients and give them an immersive experience of the space much before it is even built-in reality, which was not even remotely possible in the days, I started my career.

So, technology is and will continue to be the game changer.

Q. Give us a summary of significant trends that will develop in the real estate industry going forward in 2022.

With the onset of the latest global pandemic and a successful work from home culture, residential markets will be on the strong front as home buyers would opt for bigger homes.

Offices will be built around need based activity planning, focussing on optimum use of real estate space, this can be the outlook for the next one year, however slowly and steadily as things start getting better, normalcy may also be seen emerging, and we could bounce back to the original work culture. Currently corporates are adapting to Hybrid work environment but the same is under time testing, on potential impact on productivity, engagement, and corporate culture.

Coworking spaces are gaining momentum as businessman want to remain flexible in all fronts, due to the current uncertainties. As this format gives more agility and flexibility on cost components.

E-commerce boom will result in a growth of the warehousing sector as there continues to be a surge in online shopping, groceries and fresh food sales

The growing importance of smart technologies, IoT-powered devices, Big Data, Industry 4.0, 5G and cloud computing has led to Data Centres taking on a more prominent role in businesses in recent times. New Data Centre facilities will have to be built, to meet the ever-increasing Digital consumption demand.

Q. How did the Real estate industry deal with the challenges brought about by the pandemic? In your opinion are these changes temporary or permanent?

While the pandemic brought in challenges, the industry adapted quickly to the new demands. Emphasis on social distancing and retrofitting for wellness standards was implemented as a proactive approach.

Real estate demand slowed down due to the huge uncertainties, however slowly the same seem to be picking up as vaccination drives are becoming more robust and business leaders are focussing on getting their workforce back to office coupled with flexibility.

As much I would say that these changes are short-lived, some of the learnings of the pandemic will continue to exist. The future role of the office would have an increased emphasis on collaboration, engagement and productivity, as new working patterns emerge during the pandemic.