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Top commercial real estate developers in India are getting global certifications of their offices being covid-safe and hygienic, even as physical occupancy in workplaces remains very low.

Nine months after the outbreak, occupancy levels in office parks are at an average 10-15% in cities such as Delhi-National Capital Region and Mumbai, and slightly higher in Bengaluru and Chennai. However, developers want to ensure that they meet international safety standards when people eventually return to work.

Global certifications will also help woo potential global tenants who aim to take up new space in India. “DLF has got various certifications in recent months keeping the safety and hygiene metrics in place. When global HR heads are deciding on taking up space, these gain importance," said Sriram Khattar, managing director, rental business, DLF Ltd.

DLF, which was recently included in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, procured the International WELL Building Institute certification and ‘covid assurance’ and ‘16 Sword of Honour’ from the British Safety Council.

Grade A developers and co-working firms such as WeWork India have upgraded air-filtration technology and launched apps for a touchless experience in large office parks. They also monitor indoor air quality and have set up emergency or quarantine rooms, among other things.

Progressive, next-generation tenants with a global perspective will look at higher quality offices, where aspects such as hygiene and safety, environment friendly factors, and amenities will become very important, Embassy Reit chief executive officer (CEO) Mike Holland said. “They would want higher standards for their employees," Holland said.

The shared working firm has got the British Safety Council certificate for covid-ready space, said WeWork India CEO Karan Virwani. “By implementing processes and procedures, we aim to ensure our community returns stronger, healthier than before. We will focus on professional distancing, cleanliness and proactive risk mitigation measures in the months to come," Virwani said.

The focus on safety, health, sustainability and cost reduction will shape the real estate strategy of companies, said Ramesh Nair, CEO and country head, India-JLL. “Occupiers will look at touchless features that workplaces provide, air quality, ventilation and circulation among others," he said.

The commercial office sector suffered a blip after a seven-year-long bull run, and while the work-from-home phenomenon may not last forever, companies have adopted a hybrid work model for employees.

Creating future-ready workspaces needs a lot of investment and the drive to stay ahead of the curve and many developers won’t be able to make the cut, Mindspace Business Parks Reit CEO Vinod Rohira said. The firm has spent 20 crore in upgrading safety protocols.

Blackstone Group-owned Nucleus Office Parks engaged with EY to build a program on managing safety of its business parks. It has put in place a mechanism for sharing SOPs with tenants on covid management inside the buildings, calibrating lifts to manage time for all and surprise audits to ensure that safety measures are being adhered to.

“Going forward, premium assets will not be evaluated on rents alone but on HSE (health, safety and environment) standards. Digital adaptation and sustainability will far outlive the crisis," said Quaiser Parvez, CEO, Nucleus Office Parks, which also received the British Safety Council certification. It is also spending $5-7 million in upgrading the buildings to create standards.

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