2022: The office market in transition

Bartłomiej Zagrodnik, Managing Partner at Walter Herz
Bartłomiej Zagrodnik, Managing Partner at Walter Herz

In the upcoming time, modern workplaces, full of new technologies and creating a friendly environment for users, will gain more and more importance. Office buildings operating in accordance with ESG principles, new environmental, social and corporate governance, especially those located in the city centers will take the leading position.

Further changes on the office market will be largely determined by the pace of adaptation of the hybrid work model in companies. If we look at today’s market, we can see that hybrid work is slowly becoming the norm. Companies are open to this model, which is related to the preferences of employees, who more and more often expect employers to be more flexible in the choice of the form of work and working hours. Many young people base their interest in the job offer and the willingness to take part in the recruitment on it. Therefore, in the upcoming years, offices will evolve into spaces adapted to the rotational work model.

Clearly, it is not possible to introduce a division into remote and office work in all sectors. However, for example, in the area of IT, finance, administration and accounting, or services for business, marketing, customer service and HR, we can expect a gradual spread of the hybrid work model.

Flexible rental option

In the upcoming years, some companies will probably decide to reduce the amount of office space they occupy. Although the scale of this phenomenon so far, contrary to appearances, is not as large as it may be assumed, the tendency is visible. Certainly, tenants will also look for increasingly flexible solutions, thanks to which they will be able to use office space in many ways, adapting it on an ongoing basis to the changing needs of the company. The number of companies that will decide on the core & flex option, assuming a combination of traditional space and the use of flexible space, will increase.

This direction in the selection of space for work by entrepreneurs is noticed by the owners of office real estate, who include flexible spaces in the pool of amenities in their buildings. It is also grist to the mill to the companies offering flex space. The segment is systematically growing. This year, more coworking spaces are scheduled to be opened all over Poland. It is likely that an increasingly popular option will also be subscriptions to access coworking networks with space available in various locations.

It should be noted that buildings located in central parts of the cities are now even more popular than before. This is visible in, for example, last year’s lease structure in Warsaw, where most of the leased space was located in the city center. The offices themselves are also changing. Their space is even more adapted to interactive group work. It gains open space, which, with low office occupancy, gives employees a sense of greater comfort. At the same time, access to quiet working areas and social areas is also important.

New investors

We are glad that many entities are planning to enter the Polish market. It will result in spaces potentially reduced by some industries, gaining new occupants. One of the main sectors that has been dynamically developing in Poland for years, and is the tenant of a large part of offices is the industry that provides modern services for business. Growing employment in this segment is related to the constant influx of new investors to our country and the development of organizations already present on the Polish market. Large-scale recruitment is taking place in the sector. Most jobs are offered today by companies from Great Britain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, which have recently decided to transfer their services to our country.

Sector companies are constantly opening new recruitment processes, but there are fewer candidates than job positions. Also in this industry, the expectations of employees and employers differ. Most of the employees, who are generally flooded with job offers, expect to work in a hybrid or fully remote system, while the employers want to return to the offices.

I believe that this year we can expect more tenant activity, which will translate into a decline in the office vacancy rate in the country. Across the world, we can already observe a great return to offices. Symptoms of the reversal of the downward trend in the office sector could already be observed on our market in the last quarter of 2021. In Warsaw, in the last three months of last year, tenant activity returned to the level seen before the pandemic. Only the fourth quarter of last year was responsible for as much as 40 per cent of space leased on the Warsaw market throughout all of 2021. Last year, the demand for Warsaw offices reached almost 650 thousand sq m. of space, while almost 325 thousand sq m. of new offices were launched onto the market. Almost 80 per cent of the commissioned space is located in the center. Similarly, most of the contracted offices are located centrally.

Demand is rising, supply is dropping

Unfortunately, most office investments are still frozen. Developers are cautious about building new projects. In Warsaw, half as much office space is under construction compared to 2019. Investments are being slowed down by the rapidly growing costs of real estate development, amidst unstable market conditions. If the situation does not change and new projects are not launched in the next 2-3 years, we may have a shortage of space in the main office markets in the country.

On the other hand, the activity of investors is growing, but they have more and more requirements in terms of the quality of buildings, including ESG. There is a growing demand for modern office buildings that meet restrictive requirements related to ecological parameters, located in the largest cities in the country. The estimated value of the transaction volume on the investment market in Poland in 2021, is similar to the level achieved in 2020. However, we expect an increase in the dynamics of the investment market in the upcoming months and a greater inflow of capital to Poland. There are many transactions concerning projects from the office segment that have recently entered the market that are being negotiated nowadays, therefore this year should bring an improvement in results.

Critical ESG

ESG issues will be of key importance for investors’ decisions. It is not only about the growing general awareness of sustainable development and the impact of construction and buildings on the environment, but also about the adopted requirements and the related need to report on ESG activities. Investment strategies will be closely connected to the acquisition of assets and cooperation with companies that offer a product that meets environmental requirements.

It will have a significant impact on the real estate market in the upcoming years and the value of assets. Investors and tenants will expect low-emission office buildings, or plans to achieve that goal. Facilities offering solutions in the area of ​​climate technologies will gain a competitive advantage. Trends related to the certification of buildings in terms of user-friendly impact and guaranteeing their full safety, will also become stronger.

Bartłomiej Zagrodnik, Managing Partner/CEO of Walter Herz