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Interview

Offices have place in post-virus 'new normal': Mitsui Fudosan CEO

Developer sees more mixed-use buildings as centralized workplaces lose favor

Many businesses in Tokyo have switched to working from home due to the pandemic.

TOKYO -- The coronavirus will spur companies to transform their workplaces, but not abandon them altogether, President and CEO Masanobu Komoda of Japanese developer Mitsui Fudosan told Nikkei, countering the argument that telecommuting will make the office as we know it obsolete.

Demand for office space may plunge in the medium term, but companies that had been focused almost entirely on convenience are now starting to rethink their workplace arrangements with an eye toward employee safety and comfort. Mitsui Fudosan will need to use know-how from its many past redevelopments to open up demand for offices in the post-pandemic new normal.

Edited excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: How will working styles change because of the coronavirus pandemic?

A: People have been barred from going into the office during the pandemic, but after it subsides, whether workers commute in can be based on their individual preferences. I think the system will change so that people can choose to work in a way that enables them to succeed.

Conversations in the office can contain hidden wisdom or give rise to new ideas by chance. I predict that even companies that do planning meetings or sales online will go back to commuting to the office to get better results.

Q: Do you think demand for offices will decline?

A: It can't be said for certain whether office demand will fall or not. While there have been reports that companies like Hitachi and Fujitsu are taking steps to reduce their office footprint, we've had a lot of inquiries from companies that say, "We want to rethink everything from scratch. Can you advise us on that?"

But I can't imagine there will be a one-way trend toward downsizing. I don't know if the model of a single head office where everyone congregates will survive, but more companies are spreading out employees, among offices close to their homes, for example. If you add up the total space used by the centralized and decentralized models, there's probably no reduction.

We could also see examples of offices increasing floor space at their headquarters to guard against the risk of spreading the virus through crowding.

We'll decide how to use buildings together with the companies that occupy them.

Mitsui Fudosan President and CEO Masanobu Komoda believes workers will return to offices once the coronavirus outbreak is under control.

Q: Preventing infections at existing office spaces will be critical moving forward.

A: One of the most important things is ventilation. In an airplane, for example, all of the air in the cabin is replaced with clean air every three minutes. Our Nihonbashi Mitsui Tower also recirculates air quickly.

We will also use contactless amenities in our new buildings. We are considering switching to contactless doors and elevators, since people tend to touch these things a lot.

Q: It's a difficult time to plan a growth strategy for commercial properties. What do you think will be important in future projects?

A: There will be less of a distinction between different types of buildings. When you think about life under the "new normal," you would be able to spend less time commuting if there are offices and shopping facilities nearby. If all of these things can exist in one area, you can keep living your lives even under a lockdown. In addition to properties that house shops and offices, we might also see shopping centers with on-site warehouses. We will develop more mixed-use facilities based on the characteristics and needs of surrounding areas.

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