This article has been written by Sneha Tripathi, a student at
Hidayatullah National Law University.
With the onset of the lockdowns all over the world during the COVID-19 pandemic, various unprecedented human and humanitarian challenges were also brought in. companies around the world have taken actions to safeguard their employees and have swiftly shifted to a new way of working that is working from home. This would play a large role in every industry and executives will have to take initiative to reimagine the role of offices in the post-pandemic era. The commercial real estate which means property used exclusively for business purposes or for providing a workspace is going to be one such industry.
The Emergence of the Challenges
Apart from the growing concern of changing consumer preferences, affordability, and lifestyle after the pandemic are some of the crucial enduring concerns. The consumer preferences which consist largely of office employees consider work from home as a more popular choice and is challenging the way we work, use office tools, working hours, and even how we communicate. With this shift, there are going to be changed in how office spaces will be designed especially in the backdrop of unemployment and nose dipping economy. In the pre COVID scenario, companies competed for commercial real estate in the major urban centers and densifying that is open office designs and co-working was a major game. This is certainly going to change now.
The companies are realizing that they don’t need so much office space right now and as a result, many places are being vacated. Also, the headquarter culture with a large number of employees is going to be a challenge after re-opening. The job losses, salary cuts, and layoffs are making people shift into smaller accommodations that fit into the tightly budgeted households. The people in the real estate business need to understand the consumer needs and come up with more agile solutions such as being flexible with and ready to change the traditional long term lease. The offices will try to reduce the office area per individual and will strategize to reduce the expenses spent on the office space. But this also tests the productivity of the workers which may or may not come from the collaboration and interaction between communities.
A midway between work from home and traditional houses
Work from home does provide the people with an opportunity to commute less which earlier used to chip away the health and happiness of many workers. Excessively long commutes are indeed a waste of one’s professional and personal productivity. The favorable opinions towards work from home in the future will also increase the demand for bigger and more accommodating houses which are convertible into productive workspaces. This will lead to some spikes in the real estate industry.
Telecommunication in this pandemic has been a huge enabler of remote working. Videoconferencing and other digital means of communication have given better results than imagined. It has also helped in achieving new pools of talent with lesser location constraints which can reduce real estate expenses for the companies. The reopening of the offices would change the experience and will eventually lead to redesigning of the office spaces to follow the social distancing protocol thus restricting the movements in the congested areas.
Uncertain demand for office spaces
One can gather that though the demand for commercial real estate has come down like every other business, it won’t crash completely. The new need for de-densification will eventually compensate for the decrease in demand. Demand for redesigning the spaces which help in conforming to the national and international guidelines will surge and social distance thinking would need to become a part of our DNA moving forward. This means more space would be required for maintaining individual work cubicles, more distance between work desks, and accordingly well-planned communal areas. Therefore, while they may need to cut off the space of lay off employees but would still require some of it to maintain social distancing.
Thus one thing which is quite evident is that traditional lease deals will become less significant contributors towards the revenue of real estate businesses. Instead securing a dozen small deals to match the value would be a wiser choice. This also avoids the tedious task of negotiating lengthy contracts and closing the deals would require less time because of reduced commitment towards capital expenditure and more flexibility in it. It would ultimately lead to better cash flow much quicker.
The sector, except for commercial property has been seeing a decline in demand due to the pressure of economic slowdown, regularly changing consumer preference, and liquidity crisis. The policy change in the regulation and procedures which came in 2016 in the form of demonetization, Goods and Services Act and RERA combined with the recurrent NBFC crisis in the recent years has lost the confidence of insiders and outsiders alike despite the availability of various viable projects.
The sector would need support from the government in the form of policies that will encourage workers to return to offices with adequate precautions and necessary protection. Major industries have suffered huge losses from the discontinued businesses during the pandemic but some newer sectors such as warehousing, various e-commerce companies, and data centers have invested in real estate. The pandemic has forced all the businesses to innovate new ways of working and companies dealing with residential housing and commercial property certainly need to adopt new ways of working.
 Employees working from Home, NI Business Info, https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/advantages-and-disadvantages-employees-working-home.
Dhiraj Shetty, Work from home is nice but the office wants you back, The Hindu May 18, 2020, 16:44 IST, https://www.thehindu.com/business/is-work-from-home-sustainable-for-the-long-run-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic-for-the-rest-of-india/article31614488.ece.
 Reimagining the post pandemic workforce, McKinsey and Company, https://hbr.org/1998/05/the-alternative-workplace-changing-where-and-how-people-work.
Disclaimer: This article is an original submission of the Author.
NLR does not hold any liability arising out of this article.