Collage by Rochelle Padilla

Innovative workplace solutions in the time of COVID-19

Skidmore Owings & Merrill, Jones Lang Lasalle, and Nova Group present COVID-19 risk reduction management strategies and innovative technologies for office buildings to the Urban Land Institute

  • June 3, 2020

  • Written by Sofia Yasay of Haptic PR

With the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) implemented in several regions within the Philippines, there has been a call to action to reevaluate and redesign the office environment to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) through the use of innovative tools and technologies as well as improving risk reduction management.

 Urban Land Institute – Philippines (ULI) held a webinar entitled ‘Innovative Solutions for Risk Management and Business Continuity’ last May 7, 2020, moderated by Judith Torres, Former Editor-in-Chief of BluPrint magazine. 

 The first speaker, Managing Director of Nova Group Ricardo “Chut” Cuerva, opened his presentation on innovations and COVID-19 pandemic risk reduction for office space by stating that the office tower is a building typology predicated on density. “Premium grade developments like NEX Tower have relatively low-density ratios of one is to nine. However, many BPO and POGO buildings have a density as high as one is to five or one is to four in some cases. This presents formidable challenges for ingress, egress, and maintaining a safe distance between workers in lease space,” said Cuerva. 

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Managing Director of Nova Group Ricardo “Chut” Cuerva. Photographed by Studio Periphery.

Strategies developers should implement are elevated property management, sanitation protocols, and adoption of new tools and technologies to prevent the further spread of the virus as the workforce return to the office. Cuerva deep-dived on all the essential areas within an office building and the innovative technologies that can be used to reduce or eliminate the proliferation of the virus in those spaces. 

The Nex Tower is Nova Group’s 29-story skyscraper designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) with R. Villarosa as the architect of record. Photographed by Studio Periphery.

For the entrance and elevator areas, he emphasized on strict implementation of face masks, contactless or touch-less technologies, and self-sanitizing material on high touch surfaces. “The washroom is another space that can be made safer. High touch surfaces such as door handles can be replaced with self-disinfecting materials. Alternatively, doors can be easily automated to open with a proximity sensor,” added Cuerva. 

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Additionally, for the outdoor amenity areas, Cuerva suggested that a keycard access panel can be used to control the number of people occupying the space and ensure maximum occupancy is not exceeded. Meanwhile, in-duct HVAC air purification and germicidal LED UVC lighting inside tenant space can help reduce pathogen levels and enhance air quality. As for the rapid response to an outbreak, Cuerva expressed, “Inevitably, until a vaccine is developed, there will be outbreaks. It’s important for all buildings to have solid protocols for when it happens.” His discussion concluded by sharing that it is time to regulate better standards for every worker, especially in high-density office spaces. 

The Nex Tower has openings on the third level, allowing the light from the skylights to descend into the lobby below. Photographed by the BluPrint Team.

Following this discussion is Janlo de los Reyes, Head of Research and Consultancy at JLL Philippines, who centered on the real estate overview and forecasts post-COVID-19 landscape. He presented how the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced and weighed down the performance of the real estate sectors. Among the influences are supply slippages, caution from demand drivers, and demand pull back. “Another narrative that we are seeing is the demand slowdown. We’ve seen occupiers and investors adopt a wait and see attitude as they closely monitor the developments,” shared de los Reyes as construction activity may take an estimate of six to nine months to reach pre-COVID-19 levels. 

JLL Philippines’ Head of Research and Consultancy, Janlo de los Reyes

Despite the downward trajectory of growth in the real estate sectors, de los Reyes also highlighted bright spots to look forward to, such as the build-up in pipeline transactions, REIT as an attractive investment instrument, the rise of a digital economy, infrastructure spending and sustainability. In line with this, he stated the key areas for evaluation on the re-entry of the workforce in the office: Organizational readiness, Manpower strength readiness, and Site readiness.

As for the recovery scenario in the Philippines, de los Reyes claims that the recovery shape the country may see is a ‘W’ shape, which means volatile recovery within 12-24 months – businesses recovered fast from a sudden drop, followed by another drop prior to full recovery. “W shape recovery may be the most likely scenario, just because we may see an uptick in terms of the performance of the economy in the short-term, especially as we resume our work. Nonetheless, we do anticipate a bit of setback along the way which may again stall our progress in terms of our recovery.”

The final speaker is Ame Engelhart, Director of Skidmore, Owings & Merill (SOM) Hong Kong, her discussion focused on creating healthy buildings but she shortly highlighted the significance of healthy cities. For her introduction, she stated that urban density doesn’t directly correlate to the extensive spread of viruses but the density of travel does. “No matter what we are doing in our places and in our offices to combat this spread and protect our employees, it’s their route to work that actually puts them in the greatest danger,” said Engelhart. 

Skidmore, Owings & Merill (SOM) Director, Ame Engelhart

She shared Poly-Nodal cities comprised of compact self-sustained communities as a healthy city initiative: “It reduces transportation time, it gets more people working, living closer together and going to school closer together, it reduces air pollution, and it provides that sense of community. And in terms of track and traceability within more compact communities is more viable than when we have people crisscrossing all over town on a daily basis.” 

Post COVID-19 building interior proposal by SOM. “If you have fresh air coming in, it will minimize the time that you’re exposed to anything,” says Luke Leung, director of sustainable engineering at SOM.

In terms of built environments, Engelhart stressed that buildings should be used to combat infectious diseases. With the use of technologies to improve systems, striving for better environments that don’t foster the virus can be accomplished. She presented several solutions that can be incorporated within the office to improve risk reduction management. “It’s really not one size fits all and it’s not all or nothing. People don’t all have to go back to work at the same time, I think we’re going to be living with more flexible work strategies, partial work at home, and staggered work hours for a very long time. And that can do other things for people’s quality of life, while also improving the urban environment.”

The receptionist’s desk inside Nex Tower is situated in the middle of two 11-meter high green walls. Cuerva says that this is the largest living green wall in the country.

READ MORE: Manila ranks as 17th city investment prospect in Emerging Trends in Real Estate® Asia Pacific 2020 report

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