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Innovation and open communication are key – Anne Marie Diaconu, Skanska Property Romania

Anne Marie Diaconu has been working with Skanska Property Romania for over 4 years and is currently the Leasing and Asset Management Director. She is specialized in transaction management for offices with Retailers and Multinational Corporations, but also in workplace strategies, property management or master planning.

We wanted to find out how one of the largest developers in the world faces the new context, how Skanska Romania uses technologies in their processes and what are the current opportunities in real estate. 

Highlights:

  • Especially in this context, it all comes down to open communication and continuous innovation
  • Real-estate should work closely with tech startups and entrepreneurs and take advantage of their agility and creativity
  • Entrepreneurs should better define challenges in real estate and work together with big companies in order to solve them
Adjusting to a new reality

The pandemic affected companies in real estate very differently, as they first had to understand what this new context means. For Skanska, it was important to maintain a continuous and open dialogue with their employees, their clients. And ensure business continuity in commercial buildings and construction sites: “We talked with operational representatives of all our clients in the Equilibrium, asking them about their needs, about the measures they had implemented, about their perspective on what they should do and what our role should be. On the other hand, on the construction sites, there were many challenging moments. We couldn’t stop working, as for us, an agreed deadline is extremely important, but we had to implement all kinds of measures: disinfectants, equipment, having separate entries and exit points. All of these led to a slower working pace, but not to a full stop. And that is why I think we should thank our colleagues.”

Anne Marie thinks that the current situation can be explained through a comparison with innovation, a topic close to her heart: “When you innovate, you face disturbances, it changes the game rules. And it was the same for us, we had to understand that we can be productive while working from home and our adaptability really helped a lot. We had a can-do attitude, we felt we needed to find solutions, even though we didn’t necessarily have a company policy for working in pandemic times”.

A mix between technology and responsibility

Skanska is divided into business units, and Romania is part of a group called CDE – Commercial Development Europe, together with other 3 countries. This unit has a similar approach to technology – all of the 4 countries have implemented a Virtual Reception in their buildings. 

Of course we focus on technology. At Equilibrium, we have implemented an electronic access system that doesn’t require an identification based on ID. Regarding Virtual Reception, the system already exists, we have only accelerated its implementation. But what I think it’s important is our visitors’ behavior and they are following the distancing and health & safety measures we have implemented in Equilibrium” adds Anne-Marie Diaconu.

How long will it last?

There are some measures that will last, especially those related to disinfection and to air quality. “We now see this need and things won’t change. Everything related to HVAC (AC, air quality, filter quality) will continue to have a great impact. On the other hand, I don’t think that having distanced desks will last. 

Not having clear regulations can also be confusing, but for Anne Marie, it’s certain that we face a moment when everyone is searching for future trends and adapt strategies based on new challenges. Her conclusion is that the real-estate industry expects big changes and this can also include redefining office spaces: “This crisis taught us working from home can be done,, it can even help the employee be more focused and efficient (those with small kids might argue😊). Thus, office spaces might change their purpose, becoming more a social destination, a place dedicated to sharing ideas with co-workers, that enhances the sense of belonging to the organizational culture etc”. 

Coming back to work

Coming back to office happens gradually according to Anne Marie. People work in shifts, they form teams that don’t necessarily meet, but they help maintain business continuity. But what spaces are they coming back to? Will private desks win over coworking areas? 

I truly believe in the coworking concept. Within a project, it’s important to have this mix between people working in companies that define their identity and organizational culture through their employees, values, workspaces and those working in co-working spaces mostly  entrepreneurs and freelancers. I think this mix is fostering creativity and collaboration and could drive innovative ideas and products. We need variety, we need agility and I think it is important for landlords or developers to support coworking areas.

A period of lease renegotiation

Anne Marie thinks that we live in a market of renegotiations, especially for those situated in A class buildings that only have 1-2 years until lease expiry. A big opportunity rises for those in B class buildings, that can now relocate in newly developed buildings with the latest technologies implemented. Talking about relocations, she adds: “The expectations of those who change their offices are more demanding especially regarding the relocation budget. The fit-out plays a more important role and this translates into new priorities for developers.

Open communication is a key

Anne Marie talks about being realistic but open at the same time: “Each business has a margin, and while direct costs haven’t changed developers must find the right balance between construction costs and the commercial offers to the potential new tenants. Open communication between landlords and tenants is key. Maybe a tenant doesn’t want to leave, but they need an adjustment. They might need, after a while, to reevaluate the rented premise and maybe reducing it with 10% could be a viable option.

Digitalization of the industry

Slowly but surely, real estate is revolutionized through technology. Office spaces will integrate more and more tech solutions, but this transformation happens gradually: “In 10 years, we might still see people preferring live tours and presentations of the projects. Other people, millennials included, will probably be more comfortable making decisions based on information they get from a digital solution, experiencing virtual tours and presentation of the projects. . This crisis can help the industry accelerate all these tech processes, use virtual tours, digital market products, digital presentations or it can emphasize the importance of human contact. We want to be prepared for both scenarios.”

Also, Anne Marie thinks that technology will be more easily adopted by commercial real estate and an example she offers is related to leasing: “You can have a lease agreement negotiated online, a platform accessible to all players involved like lawyers, tenants and agents; you can sign it electronically ; once a lease agreement is signed you can even have electronic billing and cost tracking resulted from the agreement.

On the other hand, construction sites, although not lacking tech tools completely, have a slower adoption rhythm. 

We need more PropTech Hackathons

PropTech is still in an early stage of development in Romania, but steps are made. Anne Marie thinks that all should start with a holistic understanding of how this industry works. It can be done by tech companies by screening and creating a blueprint of the main processes and needs.

Hackathons in real estate can be used as an opportunity to start the screening, create the blueprint and find solutions to the challenges stated by the industry. Skanska organized the first proptech hackathon in Romania last year and they think this was a way to find quicker solutions to the challenges already identified in their processes and, later addressed in the competition. ”Each developer should consider these kinds of events. This kind of competition could be the base for startups to gain a better understanding of real estate processes. Until now, we have only seen ad-hoc initiatives and they take too much time as startups don’t have enough financial power. Startups should work with big companies and fill in this necessity of continuous improvement.

Opportunities for landlords

After the lockdown, developers face both challenges and opportunities. 

She thinks that the main focus now should be on innovation: “Now it’s the time to invest in technology, in the experience you offer to the client, to adapt concept and design to the new normality in order to ensure everyone is working in a safe environment.

 While some might favor private spaces, Anne believes that investing in coworking areas is actually beneficial and an opportunity: “I think that each building should have this coworking area, a more flexible space enhancing collaborative areas to help people socialize. This might help have a better and faster collaboration channel between well-established companies with mature corporate organizations and startups.”

To conclude, Anne Marie thinks that it all comes down to our attitude and to each developers’ capability to understand the needs of their partners, to support them and have their support as well.  Even if the times we live in might be more challenging, developers can now take advantage to operate with new frameworks that are more tech-oriented. As Anne Marie emphasized, communication and innovation can get the industry through the crisis.

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