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Offices are a vital space for innovation and human connection – Elena Tecuta, Forte Partners

Elena Tecuta has been Office Leasing Manager at Forte Partners for over 6 years. She has a demonstrated history of working in the commercial real estate industry and is currently supporting the growth efforts of one of the most important local developers. Forte Partners was established in 2014 by a group of investors with impressive expertise in the local business environment. The company has developed in Bucharest a portfolio worth over EUR 250 Million with another EUR 200 Million in the pipeline for this year (Millo, Tandem, U•Center 1). Other projects with a total value of 150 Million will be developed in 2022.

The company has an extended portfolio of awards and Green certifications received over the years.

Main takeaways:

  • Romania’s economy is strongly recovering, and real estate investors and office tenants look to expand
  • The office market continues to grow in Romania’s biggest cities
  • The leasing process has changed due to the common motivation of developers and tenants to optimize and streamline the use of resources in office buildings in the current context
  • Digitization leads to the simplification of real estate processes by automating time-consuming activities
  • In this new context, it has become even more obvious that flexibility, adaptability, and dynamism are essential for the development of a business, in the office industry and beyond

Evolution of the office market in Romania

Forte Partners is one of the most active local developers, so we wanted to learn more about their perspective on the market’s development. According to Elena Tecuta, the market is recovering well, with new developments in big cities and a gradual return to the office.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were felt in 2020 by the office market as well. But the occupancy rate in office buildings wasn’t dramatically impacted, in spite of the context. Romania’s economy is strongly recovering, and real estate investors and office tenants look to expand. All of these lead to a development of the Romanian market, despite the pandemic, especially in hubs such as Bucharest, Timisoara, Iasi, Cluj-Napoca or Brasov.

The office market in big cities continues to grow, and local and international investors are building or will soon deliver projects totaling almost 500.000 sqm. These buildings will be ready to use in the next 1 year and a half, and this proves that offices remain optimal working spaces.

We believe that in the second half of the year, we’ll see a gradual return to the office, even though partially. The population gets immunized and companies grow more as a consequence of the increased demand for products and services. But there are some design changes needed in order to adapt to the pandemic: reduced office densities, big shared spaces, open halls, facilitated access – in order to avoid crowding in hot-points such as elevators. The pandemic also emphasized the need for digitization and a more efficient way of using resources, given the hybrid way of working.”

Are offices still important?

The pandemic has shown us that we can work remotely, but at the same time, many employees have started mixing work from home and work from the office. Elena thinks that offices will continue to play an important role in the future, with technology being a central focus point.

Until the beginning of 2020, we were used almost exclusively to office work, so the implementation of the work from home system was abrupt. The obvious conclusions, after a year and a half, are that working from home is possible for activities that require individual work, while office work is the better choice for activities that require collaboration.

In the beginning, the Covid-19 pandemic seemed to affect the degree to which office spaces were used, with many companies adopting the work from home system to protect their employees. The vacancy rate in office buildings, however, remained at a good level. In addition, as the vaccination campaign of the population progresses and the shortcomings of the work from home system compared to office work become more and more apparent, we are witnessing an increasing return of employees to offices. Many employees have returned to the office since last year, even if not full time.

 Forte Partners have launched an app, SpotUs, to meet this need for digitization:

The main features that Forte Partners focuses on are digitalization, the integration of technologies in the real estate ecosystem, as well as the adaptation to the new hybrid way of working. So we sought to integrate all these elements in the SpotUs application, launched by Forte Partners together with the Cluj-based company Parking Spotter to ensure an optimized and efficient way of using resources in the context of the hybrid work model, which is implemented for the long-term in more and more office spaces.

The platform allows digitized interaction with all the resources of an office building. In addition, the application facilitates constant monitoring of the optimal number of people allowed in the context of the current pandemic.

Is commercial real estate leasing changing?

Given the pandemic, tenants’ requests are changing and agile developers or landlords must adapt fastly in order to survive and grow. According to Elena, we are witnessing changes in design, but also in the leasing process.

Changes in workspace design are closely related to changes in tenant requirements. As I said, these changes are, in fact, an adaptation to the pandemic, whether we are talking about reducing office density, larger common areas, facilitating access to avoid congestion or streamlining resources.

The leasing process has changed due to the common motivation of developers and tenants to optimize and streamline the use of resources in office buildings in the current context. The need to revolutionize the office market through technology and the desire to meet the dynamic requirements of the market will lead to obvious changes in the leasing process.

The app we mentioned before, SpotUs, which is the first dedicated to managing office building resources in a more efficient and sustainable way, also influences the leasing process, emphasizing the importance of digitization:

Using the application helps to provide an efficient digital experience, and the principles of “sharing economy – sharing resources” translate into low costs for office building tenants that integrate the SpotUs solution.

Although in the first phase the application is available exclusively to companies that occupy offices in the buildings developed by Forte Partners, it will be, in the future, available for implementation in other office buildings throughout the country. This will create a new standard and influence the requirements of tenants at a national level.

On being an early adopter of new technologies

For Forte Partners, the capacity to adapt is vital. They combine this agility with an orientation towards innovation, either through their own technologies or external ones.

Last year taught us an important lesson: it is not necessarily the strongest that survives, but the one that adapts best. This lesson made us adapt and adopt new technologies in the real estate industry. What used to be normal in the office market is no longer possible, and Forte Partners has chosen to understand future needs, respond to current challenges and develop new opportunities.

The real estate market has changed considerably in the last year, and the best approach is to understand what the new opportunities are and give up the desire to do business as before. The adoption of new technologies has led to the development of the solution for optimizing and streamlining the use of resources in the context of the new hybrid way of working.

The SpotUs solution, developed together with the Cluj company Parking Spotter, is based on the Smart Digital Office concept and is a complex approach to office space. Indeed, this is not the only technology project we are targeting, given that new technologies best meet the needs of companies and their strategic plans.

Which real estate processes move online?

Will the real estate industry continue to digitize its processes? Elena says yes and emphasizes that the transition to online is needed and inevitable for some processes.

The effects of technology in real estate are already visible and we expect the real estate industry to continue the process of digitization. The parties involved, whether we are talking about developers, brokers, appraisers or tenants in the office market, are moving online. The transition to the online environment of showcasing, leasing, employment and marketing processes has become inevitable, and this evolution is increasingly evident.

Digitization leads to the simplification of real estate processes by automating time-consuming activities, but also by offering access to digital tools that facilitate transactions: digitizing presentations through real-time videos, virtual reality or 360 photos, virtual tours easily accessible on any device, automatic viewing scheduling tools.

Technologies for the future

Many industries are highly digitized and transformed by technology, Elena explains, and the global trend is that of growth in the digital area. When it comes to real estate, she emphasizes the needs we can now address through technology and makes a case for blockchain:

In real estate, technology finds its uses and already produces results, and the impact can be even greater as developers use 3D modeling programs of resistance structures, design software or technology based on sensor systems, when adopting virtual tour services, virtual reality project presentations, Wi-Fi monitoring or simply mobile applications for employees.

Blockchain technology, known as distributed registry technology, could have a major impact on real estate in the coming years. It is already implemented in real estate due to its basic properties: transparency and decentralization. The speed of transaction processing and the elimination of intermediaries determine the use of this technology in real estate to make transparency and increase credibility of transactions.

Both developers and customers are increasingly interested in the impact of technology and are looking for the highest possible degree of optimization, both operationally and financially. The developers in the office market have embraced these new technologies that have the potential to streamline the way they work, ensure user comfort and increase profitability, and more and more developers will adapt to market requirements.

One lesson learned after the pandemic

If there are 3 essential elements to keep in mind after last year, those are: adaptability, team and culture, Elena says.

The pandemic has taught us lessons and triggered fundamental changes in all segments of life, but the impact on the office industry has been among the most visible. As an active developer in the office market, the most important lesson I learned is about adaptability. Many companies have been affected by uncertainties regarding the efficiency of their work style, evolution and development. While some companies went into standby, others looked for ways to adapt. In this new context, it has become even more obvious that flexibility, adaptability and dynamism are essential for the development of a business, in the office industry and beyond.

The importance of the team and a strong organizational culture is another important lesson. A capable, strong and loyal team can decisively influence the future of a company and can be the element that can help it overcome a potential crisis. We have applied this principle in all our projects, in the real estate ecosystem, putting employees and their needs first.

Future plans for Forte Partners

To conclude, we wanted to learn more about Forte Partners’ plans for the future and what they will be focused on in the upcoming months:

Offices are a vital space for innovation and human connection and this is the principle from which we start when developing state-of-the-art office buildings. Reducing traffic by making parking spaces available in our office buildings after closing times is also one of Forte Partners’ future plans.

We constantly aim to have a positive impact on the environment and to offer solutions for managing the resources of office buildings in an efficient and sustainable way. This is why we want the SpotUs application to be available in the future for implementation and use not only in Forte Partners buildings, but also in office buildings across the country. In addition, we will not neglect mixed-use projects, as they are an important part of our portfolio.

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