Andhra Pradesh government to set up 25 ‘work from home’ townships – ET RealEstate

AMARAVATI: Notwithstanding the plans of IT companies to call their workforce to office, the state government has decided to set up ‘Work from Home Townships’ to facilitate tech workers working from remote locations.

The government has decided to set up 25 townships on pilot basis and go for expansion after studying the situation. The government will provide space, work stations, high-speed internet and other infrastructure in the proposed townships. The decision has been taken at the work from home town committee meeting chaired by Industries and IT minister Mekapati Gautham Reddy on Thursday.

The government advisor Sajjala Ramakrishna Reddy asked the officials to kick-start the pilot project within three months. He directed the officials to take appropriate measures for providing security, 24×7 internet, privacy and other facilities in the proposed locations.

IT advisor Srinatha Reddy made a power-point presentation about the advantages in setting up of work from home townships.

He explained that APSSDC had already identified suitable buildings to take them on lease.

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Companies try to lure workers back to desk with treehouses, garden plots – ET RealEstate

The investment company Nuveen has spent $120 million renovating its office tower at 730 Third Ave. in midtown Manhattan, overhauling the lobby, devoting the second floor to amenities and refurbishing a 22nd-floor terrace.

And the finishing touch? Two beehives on a seventh-floor terrace.

Following the latest trend in office perks, Nuveen hired a beekeeper to teach tenants about their tiny new neighbors and harvest honey for them to take home.

“In conversations with tenants, I get more questions about that than anything else,” said Brian Wallick, Nuveen’s director of New York office and life science investments.

Office workers who were sent home during pandemic lockdowns often sought refuge in nature, tending to houseplants, setting up bird feeders and sitting outdoors with their laptops. Now, as companies try to coax skittish employees back to the office and building owners compete for tenants when vacancy rates are soaring, many have hit on the idea of making the office world feel more like the natural world.

The effort seeks to give office workers access to fresh air, sunlight and plants, in tune with the concept of biophilia, which says humans have an innate connection with nature. Designs that include nature are shown to promote health and wellness.

Some of the more unusual nature-themed offerings include “treehouse” lounges and vegetable plots that let desk workers dig in the dirt. Beekeeping programs — complete with honey tastings and name-your-queen contests — are, ahem, all the buzz. One upcoming project in Texas will include a bird blind, allowing workers to peek out at other winged creatures.

“There’s a lot more focus on amenities and how to make an office better than working from your dining room table,” said Richard Cook, a founding partner at CookFox Architects.

Some companies say nature-centered amenities have won them over. And some workers find the outdoorsy vibe reassuring.

But it is unclear whether nature will be enough to attract tenants after the success of remote work over the past year and a half. Some companies have already shrunk their office space, and many employees, having ably performed their duties from home, are questioning the need to go into an office at all. The surge in coronavirus cases from the spread of the delta variant has caused some companies to postpone their return to the office to next year.

Two weeks ago, office buildings in 10 major metropolitan areas were 32% occupied, down slightly from the week before, according to Kastle Systems, a security company.

Incorporating nature in office buildings is not entirely new. Before the pandemic, developers, owners and architects were already adding terraces and rooftop lounges and bringing plants and natural light inside — part of a drive to make offices healthier. Scientific studies show that biophilic spaces are associated with increased cognition and productivity, lower stress levels, fewer sick days and less staff turnover.

But now a connection to nature has gone from being “a nice-to-have to being a risk if you don’t do it,” said Joanna Frank, president and CEO of the Center for Active Design, which operates Fitwel, a healthy-building certification program.

Adding natural features to offices can be expensive, but the costs can often be offset with higher rents. Commercial buildings with healthy-building certifications (such as Fitwel and the Well standard, administered by the International Well Building Institute) can fetch rents up to 7.7% higher than noncertified buildings, according to a recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The most widespread change in office buildings since the pandemic is a focus on improving indoor air. Building owners and managers, responding to tenants’ demand for assurances that the office air is safe, upgraded filters and increased the air replacement rate.
Companies try to lure workers back to desk with treehouses, garden plotsBeacon Capital Partners brought more fresh air into its buildings on advice from Harvard’s School of Public Health, said Alfred Scaramelli, a managing director overseeing facilities operations. The initiative, though, uses 6% to 7% more energy.

Buildings around the country are also making it possible for occupants to inhale fresh air outdoors, where they can work, socialize or take a yoga class.

In Tampa, Florida, Thousand & One, a new office building from Strategic Property Partners that was designed by CookFox, has a lush rooftop for tenants’ use. The feature helped persuade RSM, an accounting firm, to rent space in the building, said Danny Jackson, a principal at the company.

Vegetable gardens are sprouting everywhere. When Brookfield Properties renovated the Victor Building in Washington, D.C., it added vegetable beds on the roof so office occupants can pluck parsley and basil before heading home to cook dinner. And Jamestown, another real estate company, hired the firm Copiana to add aeroponic garden systems — cone-shaped towers with openings through which leafy greens grow — at properties in Atlanta.

But it is beekeeping that has really taken off, enabling landlords to provide a crowd-pleasing amenity and flaunt their environmental credentials. Landlords are hoping the bees make office buildings attractive in the wake of the pandemic, and outfits such as Alvéole, which installed Nuveen’s hives, are making it easy to provide the perk.

Alvéole, which is based in Montreal, charges an average of $8,000 annually for its services and has seen a 666% increase in revenue since the start of the pandemic, said Shelby Schulman, the company’s beekeeping team regional manager for the United States. Goldman Sachs recently announced that it would roll out Alvéole hives on its properties nationwide.

Beacon Capital, which has hives on 35 properties, has been working with Best Bees, a Boston-based company that has also seen its business grow during the pandemic. Beacon Capital has used some of its honey to make beer, Scaramelli said, describing it as “not strong, not weird — a hint of honey but not overpowering.”

He added: “Tenants love the bees.”

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Corporate employees bid adieu to Gurugram amid prolonged WFH model – ET RealEstate

Last month, the Haryana government allowed private corporate offices in Gurgaon to operate with 100% capacity. One would assume that this would mean the hundreds of offices in the Millennium City would be abuzz with workers again. However, many offices in Gurgaon are opting to prolong their work from home (WFH) models indefinitely (or at least till later this year in several cases). As the WFH model has continued to look more permanent than ad hoc, many corporate employees, who had come to Gurgaon for work and made the city their home, have now returned to their hometowns.

‘We’re saving a huge amount on food and rent by moving home’
“I returned home during the second lockdown last April,” says IT executive Zeeshan, who has moved back to Muzaffarnagar, adding, “Work from home means all you need is a stable internet connection and roof over your head. At first, I thought I’d stay for a month or so and return but gradually, I realised it made sense to move back permanently.” Many, like Zeeshan, have made this move, citing reasons like living with family during the pandemic and saving money on rent. Neeti Sharma, who has been staying in her ancestral house in Roorkee for over a year, tells us, “I do miss my freedom at times and the social life I had but that would have been tough in Gurgaon too given the pandemic. The amount I am saving on rent and food every month makes me never want to go back.”

Corporate employees bid adieu to Gurugram amid prolonged WFH model
‘Don’t want to deal with Gurgaon’s RWAs and traffic’
Many say that this has also allowed them to not experience the restrictions many RWAs in Gurgaon have imposed during the lockdown. Adil Nargolwala, an HR executive with a BPO, shifted to his farmhouse in Delhi last year and has no plans of returning to Gurgaon. “Apart from all the other benefits of staying close to nature and not being dependent on others, staying here has meant I don’t have to deal with the RWAs and their rules. During the pandemic, the RWAs rules have been stricter than the government. And the way things are, such restrictions are likely to continue for some time. So even though the move is not 500km but just 5km for me, I am happy away from Gurgaon,” says Adil. Software developer Aditi Garg, who moved back home to a small town in Himachal Pradesh, tells us, “People talk about staycations and my life has been one big staycation for the last eight months. I am sitting in the hills, with my family and working, without having to worry about the commute or getting stuck in Gurgaon traffic.”

There are hardly any takers for PGs anymore: Gurgaon landlords
This reverse migration, however, has made life difficult for PG owners and landlords in the Millennium City. They have realised that suddenly, there are no takers for their flats and rooms, which used to be quite in demand pre-pandemic. RK Sharma, who has rented out his Gurgaon flat to corporate employees for a decade, says, “Ever since I got possession of my flat 12 years ago, I have had a succession of tenants- all techies or corporate employees working in the city. But the last 10 months are the only time when I haven’t had anyone living there. Since the last tenant moved out in August, I haven’t had any luck finding a replacement. With work from home, nobody wants to spend Rs 25,000 in rent. Lowering the rent hasn’t helped either.” After suffering losses for months, many PGs in Gurgaon have even shut shop during the pandemic. “When the MCG had said they would issue guidelines for PGs in the city, we were happy that things would get regularised. But the pandemic ruined all that. Many people I know have had to close down their PGs because they didn’t have enough guests to cover operating costs. I am fortunate that most of my guests have jobs that require them to go to the office but even then, I only have half as many guests as earlier. It’s been a massive loss,” says Manoj. (name changed), who runs a PG in Sector 54.

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Offices after covid: Wider hallways, fewer desks – ET RealEstate

Representative Image

GRAND RAPIDS: The coronavirus already changed the way we work. Now it’s changing the physical space, too.

Many companies are making adjustments to their offices to help employees feel safer as they return to in-person work, like improving air circulation systems or moving desks further apart. Others are ditching desks and building more conference rooms to accommodate employees who still work remotely but come in for meetings.

Architects and designers say this is a time of experimentation and reflection for employers. Steelcase, an office furniture company based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, says its research indicates half of global companies plan major redesigns to their office space this year.

“This year caused you to think, maybe even more fundamentally than you ever have before, ‘Hey, why do we go to an office?'” said Natalie Engels, a San Jose, California-based design principal at Gensler, an architecture firm.

Not every company is making changes, and Engels stresses that they don’t have to. She tells clients to remember what worked well – and what didn’t – before the pandemic.

But designers say many companies are looking for new ways to make employees feel safe and invigorated at the office, especially as a labor crunch makes hiring more difficult.

That’s what drove food and pharmaceutical company Ajinomoto to overhaul the design of its new North American headquarters outside Chicago last year.

Ajinomoto’s employees returned to in-person work in May to a building with wider hallways and glass panels between cubicles, to give them more space and try to make them feel more secure. To improve mental health, the company transformed a planned work area into a spa-like “relaxation room” with reclining chairs and soft music. A test kitchen is wired for virtual presentations in case clients don’t want to travel. And a cleaning crew comes through twice a day, leaving Post-it notes to show what’s been disinfected.

“Maybe it’s over the top, but maybe it provides comfort to those that have sensitivities to returning to an in-person work environment,” said Ryan Smith, the executive vice president of Ajinomoto North America. Smith estimates 40% of the new headquarters design changed due to COVID.

Shobha Surya, an associate manager of projects and sales at Ajinomoto, is energized by the space.

“The office gives you a balance of work and home life,” she said. “You are more focused here and don’t have any distractions.”

Surya said she’s also thrilled to be working alongside her co-workers again.

She’s not alone. Surveys show the thing employees miss most about office work is socializing and collaborating with colleagues, said Lise Newman, workplace practice director at architecture firm SmithGroup. Companies are trying to encourage that rapport by building more social hubs for employees. Some mimic coffee houses, with wood floors, booth seating and pendant lamps.

“Companies are trying to create the sense that this is a cool club that people want to come into,” Newman said.

Steelcase has divided one of its lobbies into cozy meeting spaces of varying sizes, separated by plant-filled partitions. Mobile video monitors can be wheeled in so that people working remotely can be included in discussions.

But after a year of working from home, some employees crave privacy, so Steelcase added more glassed-in booths for private calls and cocoon-like cubicles with small sliding doors.

Mark Bryan, a senior interior designer with Columbus, Ohio-based M+A Architects, expects a more fluid office culture in the future, with different places to work on any given day. Introverts might choose a small, private room; extroverts, a table in the office cafe.

Some office changes reflect a new commitment to hybrid work. Valiant Technologies, which provides tech support and other services to businesses, is letting its employees work primarily at home but has them reserve a desk for the days they want to come to the office. The New York company has removed rows of desks and put more space between the remaining ones. Employees leave their keyboard, mouse and headsets in lockers.

Megan Quick, a sales associate with Valiant, said she appreciated the company allowing her to ease back into office life this month.

“It will take a lot of time for us to readjust,” she said. “Valiant letting us set our pace for returning makes me feel safe.”

Not every design change will stick. Last summer, when Steelcase started bringing back some workers, they pushed tables in the cafeteria far apart from each other and only allowed one person per table. It made the space so depressing that no one wanted to sit there, Steelcase CEO Jim Keane said.

“An important lesson is that, yes, it has to be safe, but also has to be inspiring,” he said. “People are actually going to expect more from offices in the future.”

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