Real Estate at the Heart of our Society Recovery
The world has drastically changed in the last few weeks. As we are all trying to adapt to this new imposed reality, we are realizing that we must mourn many aspects of our “old life”. This is why we’re increasingly hearing about a “new normal”. With the recovery now underway, entire industries are getting back in business, several companies will open their doors again, and employers have begun to balance the uncertainties of a possible return to work. In any case, real estate remains at the heart of our society recovery. Restarting the economy means going back to public spaces, factories, office towers and shopping malls. How will the real estate sector succeed in creating environments where people feel safe? How can we redefine the notions of employee experience or customer experience, which were so important before the crisis, in a context that will impose, at least in the short term, significant constraints on public space occupants and visitors? As well, how will the world redefine the relevance of shared spaces when teleworking and e-commerce have been massively and successfully adopted around the world? Marie-Andrée Boutin, Executive Vice President, Retail and Chief Development Officer, and Bernard Poliquin, Executive Vice President, Office and Industrial and Chief Real Estate Officer at Cominar, share their perspectives on the industry's short-term imperatives and longer-term outlook.
Confidence – the Short-Term Imperative
It must be said that the real estate sector was already undergoing a transformation before the crisis. COVID-19 has only accelerated the reflection already underway and highlights the imperatives pertaining to supply chain transformation, customer experience, sustainable development and a more humane workforce management. In the short term, the priority will be to implement all necessary measures to protect occupants and visitors. The biggest challenge, however, is to restore confidence. “Our customers and our employees must feel comfortable, welcome and safe,” explains Mrs. Boutin. For this reason, in addition to focusing on hygiene and social distancing measures, training our employees to intervene with care in this new reality will be key. Communication and signage in our shopping centres will contribute to recreate a reassuring atmosphere. Furthermore, our teams are working tirelessly to promote our retailers. "We are the largest commercial real estate owner in Quebec and we understand how shopping centres play a vital role in communities. By working with retailers, we are looking to build on the close relationships we have with the public," said Ms. Boutin.
There is also an intangible side to managing buildings in these times of COVID. On one hand, housekeeping and security services, once considered a "necessary chore," have suddenly become more valuable to the public. On the other hand, air quality will become an increasingly important factor. According to Bernard Poliquin, "the health of a building has a significant impact on the health of its occupants. The quality of a building does not only depend on its design, but also on the quality of its mechanical maintenance; I believe that we will have to double our communication efforts with our tenants to keep them informed of all measures taken behind the scenes to ensure their health and safety.”
Humanizing Spaces – the Long-term Outlook
Unsurprisingly, at Cominar we firmly believe that space is at the heart of communities and that it can make a positive difference in people's lives. "Humanizing space means thinking big," as we used to say, and this is even truer now more than ever. Our ambition is to continue to create inspiring business and living environments; and we’re seeing the current crisis underscore the limits of technology when it comes to meeting the needs for human interaction.
Employers will have to reconsider their spaces in light of the new reality. Without reverting to closed offices, it is clear that employers will be made aware of the importance of providing reasonable personal space for their employees. Flexibility, such an imperative for employees, may not be challenged to the same extent; and employers will need to provide attractive spaces to ensure that their employees are motivated to return to the office. Cominar accompanies its clients in these strategic considerations and now more than ever, offices must be seen as a place to promote and live the organization's culture and brand. "The choice of materials, space arrangements, technology use, and storage options are all variables that organizations will have to address," says Bernard Poliquin.
As for shopping centres, they are destined to become true living environments, with integrated residential densification projects that will allow people to live, work and play in a way that respects the environment and community life. According to Marie-Andrée Boutin, "the crisis is creating a major demand for local products and services. We must continue to be creative in identifying new stakeholders to respond to this growing interest. Clearly, the crisis is an opportunity for Quebec to display its strengths, leadership and solidarity.” As a major player in the Quebec economy, we invite all consumers, employers and entrepreneurs to participate in the creation of a future where living environments will enhance the power of human beings in a framework that will promote the overall health of all its occupants.
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