Walter Herz webinars series sparked discussion on the future of the office market in Poland

Why Invest in Poland event, organized by Walter Herz as part of the Tenant Academy, attracted over 550 people from around 250 companies and organizations. The event consisted of a series of webinars. The meetings touched upon investment opportunities, potential of the office market, human assets and incentives offered to investors by the six largest cities in Poland.

– The series of webinars that we initiated at the end of last year, concerned Warsaw, Wrocław, Cracow, the Tri-City, Łódź and Poznań. The project was primarily aimed at companies interested in the changes taking place on the domestic office market. I admit that its success exceeded our expectations. The discussion panels were moderated by representatives of companies from the BPO/SSC sector, leading real estate development companies and representatives of the local governments. A strong group among the participants were companies from the BPO/SSC and IT/ITO sectors, which are one of the fastest growing segments of our market – informs Mateusz Strzelecki, Partner and Head of Regional Markets in Walter Herz.

Mateusz Strzelecki, Partner and Head of Regional Markets in Walter Herz

The series of meetings was a continuation of the topics discussed during the international webinar. Why Invest in Poland, a report developed by Walter Herz together with the Polish Investment and Trade Agency PFR Group (PITA) and People consulting company, was presented during the meeting.

The webinars sparked discussion on scenarios related to the return to offices and the direction in which the office market in Poland is headed. Representatives of the companies participating in the events shared their observations on the challenges brought by running a business during a pandemic, as well as their views on solutions implemented by companies to increase the effectiveness of remote work, which has never been widespread on such a large scale before.

Changes in offices

There is an evident similarity in the viewpoints on keeping offices. The companies are not going to give up on them, but they plan to modify the arrangement of space. However, decisions regarding the introduction of specific changes will finally be made after establishing the details related to the rotation system of work that will apply to all employees in the companies after returning to the offices.

– We anticipate that the hybrid model will become more and more common, giving more flexibility to both employees and employers. The office will continue to be a very important element in building company’s innovation. A thorough analysis and appropriate selection of functions that can be performed remotely and require work from the office will be one of the challenges for people making decisions about the work system – Krzysztof Wierzchowski, VP Securities Services Franklin Templeton Services.

Home office is not a new concept for some companies. Jolanta Gantkowska, Global Director at GCSCs, Alexander Mann Solutions says that the company had already implemented a remote rotation system several years ago – So far, such operating mode concerned about 25 per cent of our employees. We estimate that it may now increase to 50 per cent. I think that the longer we are forced to work remotely, the greater the desire to return to the office and work with the team – adds Jolanta Gantkowska.

Kinga Chelińska-Barańska, Country Manager at Digital Workorce, also believes that working from home is possible and effective, but it will not replace office work in the long run. – We treat the office and will continue to treat it as a meeting and project development place. We will return to offices, but they will become different places. We will pay more attention to hygiene, we will increase the distance between desks, we will install plexiglass walls or covers. We will create more separate rooms at the expense of open space. We will introduce a system of shared hybrid work, reducing the number of employees in one space – informs Kinga Chelińska-Barańska.

The office is also a very important element of work and building the organizational culture at Michael Page Poland. – A dominant portion of  the questionnaires we collected from our employees include preferences related to working in a hybrid mode, mixed in the ratio of 3:2 or 2:3, combining work from the office with work from home. Therefore, we expect that its functionality and solutions will change, such as smaller conference rooms adapted to video meetings. Feedback, in terms of the satisfaction of home office employees who switched to this mode of work, and who had not previously used the option of working from home, brought very positive opinions the first time. After about two months, however, it turned out that the employees wish not to work from home 100 per cent of their work time, but to be able to work both from home and from the office – informs Piotr Dziedzic, Senior Director Michael Page Poland.

EPAM Systems also plans to gradually return to offices. – We give employees the comfort of choosing the most convenient work model and time to adapt. We anticipate that some employees will want to permanently work remotely, but the vast majority will return to the office choosing the hot-desking / hotelling option. A group of those who will permanently return to work from the office will be growing gradually – says Ievgen Berezenko, FRM, PMP, SA, Director, Head of EPAM Northern Poland Delivery Organization.

Justyna Piwowarczyk, GBS Senior Director at Smith + Nephew, assumes that many people will continue to wish to work remotely on regular basis. In the next three years, the company is not planning major changes when it comes to leasing space. Instead, they are preparing to reduce the number of desks in favor of collaborative space.

Challenges

Among the greatest difficulties that had to be faced after the outbreak of the pandemic, companies most often mention the quick implementation of efficient home office communication, both with clients and employees, as well as solutions monitoring work efficiency.

Kinga Chelińska-Barańska also points to the time of delivering solutions to customers as an extremely important aspect for the company. – That is why we try to maintain the efficiency of work at a very high level, which seems to be the most difficult nowadays due to the limited interpersonal relations. Moreover, when dealing with customers, we clarify the details as much as possible and confirm the information several times, so that the lack of direct contacts does not affects the final version of the product or service in any way. We also focused on virtual meetings „over coffee”. We missed direct contacts with colleagues, those spontaneous interactions in the kitchen or in the open space. We have also re-evaluated job positions, introduced new competency models and improved control processes. We also pay much more attention to employees’ wellbeing. As requested, we organize webinars with specialists, mainly on dealing with psychological issues – informs Kinga Chelińska-Barańska.

Justyna Piwowarczyk says that the challenge was to implement covid guidelines, some of which were implemented globally in the organization, which does not always work locally. She mentions that what bothers people all the time is the lack of social interactions, such as business meetings in the office or a conversation over coffee.

Krzysztof Wierzchowski also perceives the frequently and suddenly changing regulations related to preventing the spread of the pandemic as something that complicates work. – Implementing changes in the organization of work and communicating them very quickly required a lot of effort from our management team. Regular communication with employees has become particularly important to maintain constant commitment. We tried to pay attention to various aspects of the wellbeing of our employees and maintain high spirits through, among others, virtual sessions and meetings. It was also very helpful to create working groups among our employees, that identified and shared good practices with the entire organization. Frequent contact through various types of virtual surveys, sessions and meetings allows us to monitor the level of satisfaction with the remote work mode, as well as identify potential areas that still need work – says Krzysztof Wierzchowski.

Ievgen Berezenko also mentions the need to adjust management to dynamically changing government guidelines as the greatest challenge for the company. – With advanced tools for remote work, enabling cooperation of dispersed teams, we were prepared for a number of possible crisis scenarios even before the pandemic. In the current situation, we can see that the productivity of employees and teams has remained at the current level or improved. At the same time, problems in the field of mental health and wellbeing begin to appear due to the lack of direct contact. We are developing appropriate solutions to deal with such issues – informs Ievgen Berezenko.

For Michael Page Poland recruitment company, the greatest difficulty initially turned out to be the extend of remote relations with clients and candidates. – It turned out later that everyone quickly adapted to the new form of conducting meetings and a significant part of the recruitment that we completed took place 100 per cent remotely – admits Piotr Dziedzic.

Jolanta Gantkowska, informs that it was necessary for the company to create a safe working environment from the IT infrastructure standpoint of and to invest in the skills of the management in order to supervise a dispersed team. – We have implemented a global system for monitoring the operational aspects of our business. From the beginning of the pandemic, we monitored, among others, employee involvement and wellbeing, main productivity metrics and their trends, technology efficiency and the amount of work. After two months, confirming that all indicators are stable, we were able to return to the usual management and performance monitoring methods – adds Jolanta Gantkowska.

– All market participants are watching the situation closely, waiting for the economy to thaw out. I believe that at the turn of March and April 2021, the adaptation of new forms of work and the direction in which the office sector will go under the influence of these changes will be clearly visible – says Mateusz Strzelecki. – In the spring, we plan to return with a nationwide event, during which we will talk about the transformation of the office sector and forecasts for its further evolution in the context of dissemination of the rotating work system. We will also touch upon the most frequent decisions made by companies regarding the optimization of lease space, as well as the activities of real estate developers and the influx of new investors to Poland, which will be shaped by supply and demand – adds Mateusz Strzelecki.

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About Walter Herz

Walter Herz company is a leading Polish entity which has been operating in the commercial real estate sector across the country. For eight years, the company has been providing comprehensive and strategic investment consulting services for tenants, investors and real estate owners. It provides extensive support for both public and private sector. Walter Herz experts assist clients in finding and leasing space, and give advice when it comes to investment and hotel projects.

In addition to its headquarters in Warsaw, the company operates in Cracow, Wrocław, the Tri-City and Łódź. Walter Herz has created Tenant Academy, first project in the country, supporting and educating commercial real estate tenants across Poland, with on-site courses held in the largest cities in the country. In order to ensure the highest ethical level of services provided, the agency introduced the Code of Good Practice.