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The New Normal in Commercial Real Estate: Crafting A Culture Of Workplace Wellness

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Colliers International Philippines is one with the nation and the world in Doing What is Right for the people, clients and communities in combating the spread of COVID-19.

When this is over, it will not be business as usual. This pandemic will change the way of life across the board. In commercial real estate, we see significant changes in how this sector will rebound and evolve when this pandemic is over. While we are all busy coping and surviving this challenge, we intend to share our knowledge to accelerate the success of our partners by writing a series of papers about The New Normal in Commercial Real Estate. We need to be ready and preparation starts now.

CRAFTING A CULTURE OF WORKPLACE WELLNESS

The effects of COVID-19 have highlighted the importance of fostering a culture of wellness practices that can support and improve employee health, productivity, and retention as businesses navigate through` this unprecedented crisis. To this end, Colliers has crafted suggestions on how to prioritize workplace wellness in everyone’s own current working conditions and once this crisis concludes.

Wellness in the Workplace

In the article Workplace Wellness – What Effects is COVID-19 Having in the Workplace? by sustainability and wellness consultant at Colliers International Asia Pacific Victoria Gilbert, she recommends that workplace wellness should be prioritized and integrated in organizations as early as now and even after the crisis subsides. As companies realize the importance of having a proper wellness policy in the workplace, the focus from here on will primarily be on these two elements:

  1. Business continuity and preparedness: How do businesses operate effectively, working remotely or in split operations, and preparation to negate future disruptions?
  2. Well-being of employees: How do businesses take measures to keep employees safe, healthy and productive?

Business Continuity & Preparedness

Gilbert writes about how wellness is no longer just a corporate social responsibility consideration but a strategic priority for companies as well. For instance, companies which invest in a healthier business environment for their people often have employees who are physically and mentally healthy. A healthy employee is more likely to be productive and happy at work which ultimately helps to ensure business continuity and protects the company’s bottom line both in the immediate term and in the long run.

Here are the realizable wellness benefits of securing a strategic BCP location:

  1. Convenience for employees: Employees who take a long commute daily now have the option to work in an office more accessible from their homes. Shaving off travel time greatly contributes to employees’ well-being as they are less drained from the usual 2-3-hours long commute and happier as they can spend more time at home with their families. For instance, one of the companies in Makati city that Colliers has been engaging with expressed their interest in diversifying their location base and is now considering places like Quezon City for business continuity preparedness. The client also explained that this setup also gives flexibility to their employees, who are mostly out on fieldwork, in terms of choosing the more accessible office premises to report to.
  2. Business (and wellness) resilience against disasters: Should there be a calamity that disrupts or halts operations in one site, having a separate office location allows a company to keep the business running and recover more quickly. The BCP also ensures that wellness initiatives the company have already set in place will be protected and retained on an organizational wide basis.

Well-being of employees

Businesses should take measures to ensure that employees are healthy, motivated, and productive. Gilbert identifies five key areas which occupiers and landlords can consider as they cope and manage the threats of the virus in the workplace.

  • Space in the fight against the virus – Proper hygiene, physical distancing and socially responsible behavior must be promoted in the workplace every time. Apart from precautionary steps individuals may take, it is also important for employees to feel that their company is taking measures to protect its people. For example, once the Luzon-wide “enhanced community quarantine” is lifted, some local companies plan to mandate a ratio of one (1) employee for every three (3) seats in the office while the rest continue to work from home. This complies with social distancing directives and lessens the risk of workers contracting the virus, which creates a sense of safety among the people.
  • Boost Immunity – A healthy lifestyle should be encouraged in the workplace. Physical exercise and healthy meals should be promoted by companies to their employees. Here are some tips they can do:
    1. Companies may give subsidies to employees such as fitness incentives to motivate them such as offering them onsite fitness activities in the office.
    2. Offer nutritious meals and snacks (more on fruits and vegetables)
    3. Bring in a wellness expert to give workshops focusing in nutrition and physical fitness 
  • Managing air quality – Occupiers should communicate and work effectively with the landlords. Landlords should provide proper ventilation systems and technical provisions for indoor air quality, supply, and circulation should be enacted. On the occupier/tenant side, companies can use new technologies to monitor air quality inside the office. Companies can invest on their equipment like air purifiers and humidifiers.
  • Preparing for disruption - In the Philippines, there are predictions of a “modified” community quarantine once the ECQ is lifted after April 30. As such, local companies are planning for a staggered return of their employees to their workplace to minimize risk of contracting the virus. Colliers believes that employers should give their employee flexibility on their work arrangements while the virus is still prevalent. A report by McKinsey recommends the following changes in shift patterns as options for companies to limit exposure to disruptions:

    Option 1: Reduction in shifts – Lessen the work hours of employees in the office to avoid peak commute hours and minimize the risk of contracting diseases.

    Option 2: Reduction in pace – Limit the number of employees per department reporting to the workplace. This will decrease the risk of employees getting infected while enabling each business line to have face-to-face collaboration with other departments in the workplace as needed.

    Option 3: Dedication to a line – Assign a specific day for only one or two departments to be in the office. Use this face time to work and collaborate with each other and maximize the use of the entire work area.  

  • Managing stress – Stress can affect one’s performance and it can also lower immune system thus making you more susceptible to virus and diseases. Companies could give their employees simple incentives and short breaks between work. According to a clinical psychologist, these are some tips you can do on how to manage stress:
    1. Stick with a routine – this will enable you to focus on your daily task
    2. Try something new – Use this time to improve yourself. Learn a new skill by signing up an online class such as baking, online certificate courses etc.
    3. Connect with your family, friends and colleagues online – there are a lot of new online platforms such as Zoom, MS Teams etc. You can use these platforms to connect with your loved ones.
    4. Meditate – Learn to relax and have a quiet time. Do yoga at home and practice mindfulness, get a quick massage etc. are simple ways to reduce stress especially during this uncertain time.

The principles above are applicable to any workplace across the globe and Colliers is seeing the shift towards these principles in the Philippines as more and more companies realize the benefit of adopting these.

Colliers View

At a time where individuals and organizations are striving to preserve cash and reduce expenses, several of the recommendations above will likely translate to additional costs for a company. Kevin Jara, Senior Manager for Tenant Representation at Colliers International, states, “These measures are ultimately investments for companies that will lead to long-term benefits including improved employee morale, wellbeing and productivity.” As the world adapts to a crisis that will forever change how we conduct business, Colliers expects wellness to be at the forefront of organizations’ strategies moving forward.

Several developers in the Philippines have already recognized the significance of having a healthy work environment prior to the advance of COVID-19 and have invested in putting health and wellness certification systems in place such as the LEED Certification, and the WELL Building Standard. With the growing consciousness towards health and well-being increasing demand for “greener” buildings, several upcoming office developments are now geared with sustainable and lifestyle-focused amenities. Just the same, Colliers foresees that occupiers will be inclined to integrate a wellness-focused environment moving forward not only during but eventually after the threats of the virus subside. More and more organizations are emphasizing the well-being of their employees in their company cultures and investing to create a healthier work experience for their people. Moreover, developers and landlords are encouraged to look into the possibilities of having healthy workplaces as the new normal in office requirements after the ECQ period. While adapting to the changing office requirements will be easier for new and upcoming developments, existing buildings may also engage in.

By crafting a culture of wellness in the workplace and investing in key technologies, along with the right mitigation and responses to the virus, businesses will be able to weather the storm and cope with the changing office culture.

To view the article by Victoria Gilbert, click here.

This is the third part in a series of insights from our Office Services team. Click to read Part 1 and Part 2.


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Kevin Jara

Associate Director

Office Services

Manila

Kevin joined Colliers Philippines in May 2014, bringing with him over 6 years of experience in the real estate industry. As part of the Research and Advisory Services team, he is responsible for providing the best real estate market knowledge and property solutions for any client requirement.

Prior to joining Colliers, Kevin has been involved in project planning and development roles for major residential developers in the Philippines such as Alveo Land, Robinsons Land and DMCI Homes.

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