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Intersecting Insights into the Business Districts of Paris

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In an interview published in the ESSEC Business School's Real Estate and Sustainable Development Chair, Colliers france CEO Antoine Derville, shares his views on post-covid business districts and offices in Paris.

 

Antoine Derville is the CEO of Colliers France, a business real estate consulting and services group that assists developers, investors, and private and public users of property. Antoine Derville’s career prior to joining Colliers started in 1987 at Ernst & Young, then BNP Paribas Real Estate. Subsequently, he spent 11 years in various management positions at CBRE France, before being appointed Head of France for the Cushman & Wakefield group. In this interview, he draws on his long experience in office property to discuss the changes observed since the beginning of the Covid19 pandemic, and the way businesses are adapting to the modifications gradually taking shape in the sector.

 

Are there any differences in the changes taking place in the Paris business districts, mainly La Défense, the CBD, Saint Denis, Boulogne and Issy?

The business districts you’ve just named have still been attracting companies in recent years. La Défense on the west edge of Paris, traditionally a place of large-scale office property deals, has diversified: it now has more medium-sized businesses while retaining a base of large groups, especially from the financial, consulting, IT, energy and process industry sectors. Saint-Denis on the city’s north edge has seen the arrival of several public-sector organizations and companies, including the SNCF’s new general headquarters. IssyBoulogne, immediately south-west of Paris, is home to a diverse fabric of organizations of varied sizes and sectors, although some are strongly represented such as media/ communication, IT, consulting and health. 

Over 2 million square metres are leased each year on average in the Paris region office market

And Paris’ CBD also has quite a range of company sizes. Its boundary has extended eastwards over the last decade, shifting its core towards the Saint Lazare district where a large number of net-economy firms have set up. Meanwhile the “traditional” CBD has continued to attract finance, luxury goods and law firms. In the last few years a number of leases in Paris’ CBD have also been taken up by coworking centre operators. This diversity of business sectors is what sustains the Paris region’s market; over the last ten years, more than two million square metres of office space have been leased each year on average.

Which areas will be the most sought-after in the Paris region tomorrow? Will we see a spatial reorganization?

The idea of centrality will be dominant in firms’ choice of location. The forthcoming Grand Paris Express (GPE) rapid-transit public transport lines will increase the appeal of certain existing office locations like Boulogne-Issy, La Défense, and Saint-Denis. New areas like Villejuif will also come to the fore as a result of the new lines, which will have a decisive structuring effect for the greater Paris area. Companies want to be very close to transport links, to improve their environmental footprint but also to attract and retain talent. It’s likely that the next few years will see relocations by businesses that are currently outside the areas covered by the GPE and want to increase their centrality by making use of the new lines, especially the links between peripheral office areas that previously had no direct transport connections. So we should expect a significant concentration of businesses around the future GPE stations and along the major automated lines, with a central district in the city of Paris that will still have significant prestige value. The Grand Paris Express will consist of fullyautomated trains and connect a large number of stations that are already on existing lines. So far only the Châtelet station has full automaton (on metro lines 1 and 14, planned for line 4 and under consideration for line 13). But La Défense, Saint-Denis Pleyel, Bagneux, Villejuif and Val-de-Fontenay are also going to be automated in the relatively near future. 

We can thus expect to see new forms of corporate real estate organization in the decade to come, opting for a single location, or an “archipelago” of several sites distributed along and connected by the new GPE transport lines. Orange, for example, has chosen this second option, with offices located along the southern part of the future metro line 15 (Villejuif/ Arcueil/Bagneux/Châtillon/Issy-lesMoulineaux). And the Covid crisis will reinforce and accelerate more hybrid forms of organization which have been emerging for a few years but now look like a long-term prospect, following the general spread of teleworking and a rising concern with office occupants’ wellbeing. We won’t be going back to work in the same place every day, doing the same things. The office universe will be made up of more hybrid spaces, with a combination of head office buildings and teleworking formats covering coworking centres, third places, and working from home. Inside office buildings, the layout will increasingly evolve towards new formats, with fewer dedicated spaces for individual work and more spaces for interaction and socializing. The role of the head office will be a key factor in corporate real estate arrangements: the ambition of stimulating meaningful interaction between employees and the company’s own ecosystem will be complemented by satellite locations that further reinforce the need for a centrally-located head office.

Have you actually observed reallife examples of companies leaving business districts because of the generalization of teleworking due to the Covid crisis?

So far the pandemic has had the concrete impact of drastically reducing corporate relocations. In the Paris region, take-up for offices dropped by 45% in 2020, and the first quarter of 2021 registered a year-onyear decrease of 30%. Most companies are taking a cautious approach to relocation plans as the crisis continues, and are wondering how teleworking and new ways of working will affect their real estate requirements. Given this “wait-and-see” attitude, we aren’t seeing any departures from the business districts. What we’re seeing instead is slightly lower footfall in those districts, and also in offices in general, as a result of lockdown measures to contain the epidemic. Remember, businesses often have long-term commitments that can’t easily be broken. So in the current context, renegotiations of lease terms and rents are more common than actual departures. In the longer term, some companies will probably decide to leave some of their locations due to reorganizations and issues of attractiveness, but that certainly doesn’t mean that the peripheral business districts will end up empty. If those districts have good public transport links (which will be enhanced by the GPE) and energyefficient buildings, and if the landlords position rents at attractive rates for companies, many of which will be looking to make savings, then they will hold their appeal.

Are you observing any change, as a result of the Covid crisis, in the type of leases signed by office property landlords and their corporate tenants, particularly in the CBDs?

The more flexible the lease, the better it meets companies’ demand for adaptability and agility. In France, the traditional 3/6/9-year lease remains dominant; even in the current crisis situation, businesses are committing to long leases with unbreakable durations of 6 years and more. They have incentives to do so, in the form of benefits such as rent-free periods and free fitting work, and those factors are driving a general trend for longer leases. To attract and retain tenants and satisfy their need for flexibility, landlords are increasingly willing to relax certain clauses such as subletting conditions, early termination rights for certain surfaces, and so on. But the main vector for a flexible business property offering consists of a combination of standard office leases, and more flexible rental contracts for coworking spaces or third places. In fact, it’s highly likely that in future, firms will occupy less of their head office building under standard 3/6/9- year leases and will have “buffer” coworking spaces (with workstations and meeting rooms) in the same building, rented from the same landlords under service agreements. Current marketing practices for office buildings show that major landlords are increasingly thinking about including coworking spaces in their properties, to be offered to their tenants and external users either under their own brand of flexible workspaces, or under outsourced management by other operators. With the rise of third places and the development of coworking offers by “pure player” operators, offices have entered a service dimension that is spreading throughout the office property world, as landlords move into the field in order to offer their tenants more than just floorspace for work.

Do you think the growth of third places can challenge the CBD model today?

Basically, no. First, there was a significant rise in coworking spaces in recent years before the Covid crisis, with substantial development in Paris city and its surrounding business districts. In other words, they were set up in places where businesses already had offices. I’d say the question is really “are third places going to challenge ‘traditional’ offices?” rather than the business district model. The answer will depend on the size of the company. For startups, very small companies, small and mediumsized companies, it might lead to a choice between taking and managing a traditional lease in an office building, or signing an “all-inclusive” service contract for a coworking space. For that type of company, coworking sites arguably have definite advantages and will increasingly be the chosen solution, because there are several ranges of third places to suit every budget. For medium-sized companies and large groups, third places look more like an add-on solution to 3/6/9- year leases. As we’ve seen in recent years, coworking centres are capturing a clientele of medium-sized and large companies which use them for certain teams working on projects of varying timescales. With the Covid crisis and the enduring use of teleworking - the consensus is that it will probably concern around two days a week once we’re back to “normal” - as I said earlier, the office world will be hybridized, with companies using a combination of a head office and third places. This means they’ll need a network of third places where their employees can work remotely on the days they aren’t at the head office. 

The future of third places will doubtless involve development of a network of sites close to transport hubs and well-populated areas, so that local inhabitants can move around easily. In the Paris region, the forthcoming Grand Paris Express stations could thus make excellent locations for future third places to complement the supply of traditional offices. The hotel network, which is very dense in the Paris region, could also provide a supply of third places for employees who can’t work from home. Finally, to serve workers who live in the more distant suburbs, third places could be an auxiliary solution when head offices are located in the central zone.

 


This interview is from the eighth issue of the Cahiers de la Chaire Immobilier et Développement Durable of ESSEC Business School, which is dedicated to business districts and post-covid offices co-edited by Ingrid NAPPI, ESSEC Professor and holder of the Real Estate and Sustainable Development Chair and of the Workplace Management Research Chair dedicated to corporate workspaces, and Margot Beauchamps, Trainer at FORMATIONS CAE29.