Colliers is mainly known as a real estate company. But there’s much more to it –can you give us a little insight into the work of Colliers?
Colliers International currently employs around 10,000 people worldwide. We advise developers, investors, landlords and tenants of real estate with an interdisciplinary, holistic approach. As part of these activities, internal architecture offices have been set up at some of our offices. At Colliers Germany, for example, there are currently over 400 employees – 50 of them in our own architecture office, with a focus on workspace consulting and interior design. I am head of this architecture office.
Every architecture office has its own design principles, a DNA that runs through all projects. Which one is yours?
The CEO of Colliers Germany once said to me: We have to be the “city whisperers”. This is our DNA. This has stuck in my mind to this day and I try to heed it with every project. For me it means to always think about the city as a whole, even if we don’t build, but “only” design: In what context was a building created? What significance does it have for the surrounding urban structure? But also, what is still missing in the area? Our own research team will help answer all of these questions. In addition, it is always important to me that art and commerce are not seen as opposites in our projects.
Could you elaborate on that? How do you, as a real estate expert, reconcile art and commerce?
When it comes to our projects, all buildings have to be financially self-sustaining thanks to their design – that’s the commercial side. Art is the aesthetics of the spaces themselves. Each project should represent a contribution with the highest quality standards for both the people and the city.
As Head of Architecture & Workplace Consulting of one of the largest real estate companies in the world: How do you think the current crisis will affect the future of the office world?
We already have a clear strategy for the time after the crisis. We used the lockdown to conduct a survey with more than 8,000 participants in Germany and received over 700 responses. The results were compared with similar surveys from other Colliers branches around the world. We then developed a 3-phase plan for our customers.
This is remarkably concrete in times of collective uncertainty! What do these three phases look like?
As you say, the current situation is characterized by uncertainty. This is phase 1. Everything had to happen incredibly quickly and companies are concentrating on precautionary measures. Nevertheless, the surveys have shown that shifting to the home office worked really well. This applies especially to aspects like technology, communication and the management of employees. People work just as efficiently at home as they do in the office. Having said that, collaboration and social interaction with colleagues was rated as better in the office. That’s all too understandable. The current situation also falls in phase 1: We are allowed out again, but there is still a health threat. The main challenges for companies are occupancy planning and implementing the SARS-CoV-2 Occupational Health and Safety Standard.
Then let’s take a look into the future. What do phases 2 and 3 look like?
In phase 2, the health threat is over, but no investments are made yet. People are still working in the existing offices, albeit based on the findings from the lockdown phase. There will, of course, be internal improvements or adjustments, but in the old premises and with the existing furniture. For this phase, we are currently working on flexible, efficient usage concepts. The implementation should be possible with inexpensive design elements. In phase 3, investments are made again. The internal structures have changed, new office space and innovative spatial concepts are required.
The office of the future, so to speak. What will change in the internal structure and in the space?
We see major changes in industrial production chains and logistical structures. The survey showed, and this is particularly exciting for us, that that the majority of employees would like to continue working remote. As mentioned earlier, productivity in the office and at home is absolutely comparable. The office could become more of a communication space, a lounge for informal exchange with colleagues, and less of a workspace. The need for office space is 20% lower and this would also have a positive effect on our carbon footprint.
Just because fewer employees commute to the office?
Exactly. Our infrastructure only ever fails at peak hours. Commuter traffic would be greatly reduced and both roads and public transport would suddenly be absolutely sufficient as they are now. Business trips will also be reduced. Digitization has worked well, and many trips are being replaced by video conferences. We all noticed in lockdown that this is possible. Based on these assumptions, we forecast 25% less CO2emissions, but things will be just as convenient.
Can this crisis also be seen as an opportunity for the environment?
Absolutely. Precisely because the loss of convenience was always an argument from the other side. However, this is absolutely not the case in this forecast – and 25% less CO2emissions are really remarkable. I can also see this crisis as an opportunity for companies and employees themselves. The work-life balance could, for example, be improved a lot, and office spaces could become more individual and more emotional in their design. But these are only a few arguments. Exciting times ahead!
Prof. Hermann Schnell is Managing Director and Head of Architecture & Workplace Consulting at Colliers Germany. He also teaches as a professor in Germany, Austria and Jordan.