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Business News/ Industry / Still working from home? This 5-star office might just lure you back

Still working from home? This 5-star office might just lure you back

  • Embassy Manyata Business Park in Bengaluru, DLF Cyber City Chennai and K. Raheja Corp’s Altimus in Mumbai, have one thing in common. They provide a 5-star hotel experience in offices. So, will work-from-office be more fun, going ahead?

Artist's impression of Atrium Place, an under-construction office project being developed by DLF and Hines India, in Gurugram.

Bengaluru: A woman smiles and welcomes visitors entering the shiny lobby of a new office building in Bengaluru’s Embassy Manyata Business Park. Finishing touches are being given to a coffee shop opening soon at one end of the lobby. There’s a breakout area as well, where employees can gather, collaborate or plug in and work, much like in a co-working setup.

Bengaluru: A woman smiles and welcomes visitors entering the shiny lobby of a new office building in Bengaluru’s Embassy Manyata Business Park. Finishing touches are being given to a coffee shop opening soon at one end of the lobby. There’s a breakout area as well, where employees can gather, collaborate or plug in and work, much like in a co-working setup.

The refurbished, 250,000 sq. ft building, named ‘Rosewood’, looks brand new. In reality, it is a 15-year-old structure that was stripped down to its bare shell and then redone. The worn building has been transformed into a modern edifice with a double-glazed glass façade; faster, destination-controlled elevators, new flooring and walls, and lobby areas on each floor.

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The refurbished, 250,000 sq. ft building, named ‘Rosewood’, looks brand new. In reality, it is a 15-year-old structure that was stripped down to its bare shell and then redone. The worn building has been transformed into a modern edifice with a double-glazed glass façade; faster, destination-controlled elevators, new flooring and walls, and lobby areas on each floor.

Around 125,000 people work in the 121-acre office park, one of the country’s largest. Another building on the campus, which is owned and operated by Embassy Reit (real estate investment trust), has undergone a similar refurbishment, while two others have been demolished to be rebuilt into modern office spaces.

A new sprawling courtyard with premium restaurants and bars, including Sanchez, Biergarten, and Toscano, has been added to the park. Another high-end eatery, Bombay Brasserie, is opening shop soon. Until now, the park, which counts IBM, Cognizant, Target, and Commonwealth Bank of Australia as some of its large occupiers, only had a food court for employees.

The refurbished Rosewood building at Embassy Manyata Business Park.

With a return to office and employee experience at the forefront of corporate agendas, the workspace is now more important than ever. The transformation described above has been prompted by the need for companies to engage with a young workforce and retain them. Attrition is a big cost and they are looking to minimize that.

Commercial office owners meanwhile want to attract good-quality tenants, and the latter want offices that will make employees keen to come back. As a result, new-age office spaces, including upcoming projects and refurbished and retrofitted properties, aim to offer a more premium, hotel-like feel that is experiential, collaborative and flexible, with more events, fun and convenience. And that is why refurbished office buildings like ‘Rosewood’ command a higher rental premium of 10-12%.

As per the 2024 India Office Occupier Survey conducted by property consultancy CBRE India, occupiers want to move to high-quality office buildings to attract and retain top talent and enhance employee experience. In 2023, 46% of office leasing took place in buildings less than three years old; 57% relocated to buildings constructed post 2020; and 30% of occupiers wanted to expand flexible office usage, as per the survey.

“There is a change in mindset. Tenants want better amenities, centrally located offices, more natural light, social infrastructure. They don’t mind paying more rent, but they want to create employee stickiness," said Ram Chandnani, managing director, advisory and transactions services, at property consultancy CBRE India.

Improved amenities, social infrastructure and the overall workspace experience have a direct link to office occupancy. For instance, after real estate developer DLF Ltd opened ‘The Hub’, a 200,000 sq. ft space that offers entertainment, eateries and a wellness centre in Cyber City, Chennai, employee occupancy levels went up to 90%.

The Grade A++ Offices

While commercial office leasing has picked up, uncertainty still looms over actual occupancy in workspaces. Tech companies in cities such as Bengaluru and Hyderabad are still struggling to make employees report to the office. In this scenario, top developers said tenants—both multinational and domestic—want to offer better and smart offices for the workforce so they come to work a few times a week.

‘Return to work: Make your workplace more than just a place where you work,’ says real estate developer DLF Ltd on the website of its Cyber City business park in Chennai. ‘We empower you to make your workplace more than just a cubicle and a meeting room, we make sure that you call your workplace a home away from home’, it added.

A food court inside ‘The Hub’, in DLF Cyber City, Chennai.

DLF, which has 11 million sq. ft of office development underway, recently launched its wellness brand, ‘DLF Thrive’. It has opened two wellness centres in its business parks, DLF Cyber Park in Gurugram and DLF Cyber City in Chennai. It plans to open more such centres in the coming year. The wellness centres offer personal training, workshops, nutrition counselling, sauna and shower facilities and a workout programme.

“International occupiers are now looking beyond Grade A office buildings. The days when a food court, a gym and first-aid room were provided, are over. They thoroughly evaluate aspects around employee centricity, sustainability and high-quality amenities, before they take decisions. This is now being informally addressed as Grade A++ developments," said Sriram Khattar, vice-chairman and managing director of DLF’s rental business.

With premium workspaces in high demand, developers are looking at prime locations.

Developer K. Raheja Corp. has a new office tower, ‘Altimus’ in Mumbai’s Worli area. Overlooking the Arabian Sea, the luxury office project has a clubhouse, business lounge, fine dining restaurants and an amenity floor with eateries, meeting room and conference room facilities.

The 1.4 million sq. ft project, which is in the last leg of leasing, counts banks, global private equity firms, large corporate enterprises and banks as the new occupiers.

Barclays Bank Plc recently picked up office space across the 32nd and 33rd floors, of 64,000 sq. ft, at Altimus on a 10-year lease. For the first year, it will be paying a monthly rent of around 2.08 crore.

Bengaluru-based Prestige Group, after selling a large part of its office and retail portfolio to Blackstone Group, is rebuilding version 2.0 of that portfolio. It is developing a campus-style office project in Mumbai’s premier business district, Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), that will also have a 200-key Marriott hotel. In another Mumbai project under construction, three office towers will overlook the Mahalaxmi race course. There will be rooftop dining, serviced offices, with one 70-storey tower, touted as India’s tallest office building.

“Right from design to services, we are trying to add a hotel-like experience in our new offices. Food and beverage options need to be abundant—we should be able to offer a 100 coffee as well as a 1,000 dining option for employees within our campus," said Juggy Marwaha, chief executive officer (CEO), Prestige Office Ventures.

A Softer Touch

Shuvam Basu moved to Gurugram in mid-2023 from his hometown Kolkata after resigning from his job at a large technology firm. For three years, he would go to the office just thrice a week. In his new job, at a consultancy, he is expected to be in the office on all five days. But Basu, 48, says he now looks forward to being in his office, which is at DLF Cyber City.

“There was nothing exciting about going to the Kolkata office in Salt Lake, Sector 5. It was the usual setup, where you work and come home. There’s a different energy in this office park. Everything is so convenient, from the access card used to enter, the elevators that can be called through an app, to multiple drinking and eating spots," said Basu, a human resource executive.

The lobby area of DLF’s new Downtown project in Gurugram.

A lot of the focus is being given to what is called ‘soft services’ in the new office spaces. At the office lobby, welcoming reception staff greet employees rather than security personnel. A seamless arrival experience awaits employees from the moment they enter the office building till the time they reach their desks. These office spaces also contain sporting areas and large-scale amenities.

“The average Indian employee is 28 years old. We hear elevator conversations on ‘If I am told to come to the office five days a week, I will resign’. So the focus is on convenience and entertainment, to attract them to return to the office," said Amit Diwan, senior managing director and country head, Hines India, a development management and investment firm.

At its ‘Atrium Place’ office in Gurugram, which it is developing with DLF, there is an 80-ft high atrium for community events. The outdoor landscaped area doubles up as a space for informal meetings and to relax. It has alfresco (outdoor) seating and an amphitheatre.

At ‘DNR Altitude’, Hines and DNR Group’s under-construction Bengaluru project, there will be an adjoining 40,000 sq. ft retail, and food and beverage plaza.

Brookfield Properties’ chief operating officer, Shantanu Chakraborty, says they are programming their amenities to include F&B, sports, wellness and fitness, convenience and engagement with employees.

“These would create stickiness among employees and that creates a direct connection with employee retention. We are doing these in the new buildings and retrofitting them in the old, existing buildings. Companies are looking at inclusive design to incorporate gender diversity, LGBTQI, differently abled," Chakraborty says.

Embassy Reit’s head of leasing, Amit Shetty, says new amenities and features are constantly added or upgraded to re-energize their office parks. A four-acre sporting area called ‘Central Garden’ was recently opened at Embassy Tech Village in Bengaluru.

As part of its upgrade plan, Nucleus Office Parks, a Blackstone group company, is launching a new, improved multi-cuisine food court format ‘The Colony’ in some of its parks. It is also going to open ‘The Pavilion’, a 202-seater convention centre, at its office property ‘One International Center’, in central Mumbai later this year.

“A common adage in global real estate was: ‘If you build good quality offices, tenants/occupiers will come.’ That has significantly changed to ‘If you build, operate, and maintain well, they will stay’," said Quaiser Parvez, CEO, Nucleus Office Parks.

The Flexible Way

In many ways, the new office spaces will somewhat look and feel like the flexible workspaces that have become popular in recent years. The concept of shared workspaces, distributed offices, or taking the office close to the employee is what flexible office operators have been advocating.

In the last two years, Bengaluru-based managed workspace provider IndiQube has onboarded a number of traditional Indian companies as its occupiers across cities, including TVS, Air India, Maruti and Ultratech Cement.

“Even companies with long legacies want their offices to be cool and contemporary. They want open workstations and ample breakout areas similar to what a startup expects. For the first time, company CEOs and country managers are asking: ‘How many people have come to the office?’ and ‘If not, how to solve the problem?’," said IndiQube co-founder and chairman Rishi Das.

“The interiors of offices are changing—dedicated workspaces have shrunk and collaborative spaces, which look like 5-star hotel lobbies, have expanded. The high dividers between cubicles have disappeared. Data has moved to the cloud, so those huge server rooms are also not needed," Das says.

With global capability centres (GCC) becoming major occupiers in India’s office sector, they want office spaces to replicate global office design standards. As per CBRE, around 1,700 GCCs operate in India, with 40-50 new entrants every year.

A terrace sports arena at Capitaland’s International Tech Park Pune, Kharadi.

Gauri Shankar Nagabhushanam, CEO (designate), CapitaLand India Trust, said that GCCs are looking at making their offices smart and touchless through technology, using the same place for breakouts and meetings to increase efficiency.

“We are also trying to go touchless and flexible in how we design our offices," Nagabhushanam said. For people who want to work outdoors, it has built pods in the landscape area of its business parks and provided wifi connectivity in open areas.

Bengaluru-based ANSR, an existing tenant at Embassy Manyata Business Park, has taken up more office space in the ‘Rosewood’ building. ANSR works with GCCs to help them set up offices and operations in India.

“The new office space (at Rosewood) helps ANSR craft GCC workspaces better. Our new workspace offers flexibility, allowing them to scale seamlessly. Whether an organization seeks to build a 10-member incubation team or establish a 100-seater office, our spaces provide the benefits of enterprise-grade infrastructure," Lalit Ahuja, CEO of ANSR, said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Madhurima Nandy

I am a part of the long story team at Mint, and write on real estate, infrastructure, e-commerce, urban issues among others. I have over 20 years of experience as a journalist. As a long-story writer, I tell stories behind the news to capture the larger picture through an analytical lens, with authenticity.
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