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Hong Kong Investors Look to Rebuild the Post-Coronavirus Office

With a new Covid-19 cluster in Bejing forcing the city back into a partial lockdown and fresh cases in New Zealand, two high-profile Asia Pacific property investors have emphasised the importance of business pulling together to face a second wave of the virus.

“The key thing [as a real estate company] is, what are you doing as a stakeholder, as a building owner, as a tenant, as an individual? What do you do to participate in this global rebuild?” asks Patrick Wong, founder and chief executive of Tenacity.

These are questions that will also need answers from real estate players in the UK, where Tenacity owns 55 and 70 Gracechurch Street in the Square Mile. What lessons can UK real estate take from Hong Kong to help prevent a second wave and get occupiers back into the office?

Hong Kong’s government and citizens “still have very vivid memories” of the SARS outbreak between 2002 and 2004, and so the city was swift in its actions to tackle Covid-19, Patrick says. “This time around as a city it’s been much easier to impose governance,” he adds.

Several measures are being implemented in Hong Kong and its commercial office buildings that Patrick believes UK landlords and tenants could easily apply, such as mandating the use of face masks. The apparent aversion to them in some countries concerns him: “What you’re actually doing is protecting others.”

Social etiquette

At Hong Kong’s CC Land, owner of London’s Cheesegrater, deputy chairman Dickie Wong agrees. “In Asia, we have always believed that wearing face masks is good social etiquette,” he says. Masks are required for everyone in CC Land’s buildings in Hong Kong.

Disinfecting shoes before entering buildings is practised in Hong Kong, and Patrick is keen to introduce the step in his company’s London properties too. Temperature checks of individuals ahead of entering a building is also common in Hong Kong.

Along with strict distancing measures in restaurants and leisure space, Dickie believes these measures “will be here to stay for a while, at least until we have a treatment and/or a vaccine”.

For Patrick, such measures illustrate “good social behaviour and proper governance”. He has spent time with Tenacity’s building managers in the UK looking at whether those steps can be replicated here, but acknowledges that many of the initiatives, including the mandated temperature checks, would be difficult to introduce.

“It’s a very different thing [in the UK]. You can only recommend what to do,” he says. “I hope people adopt it. These things are something everyone and every building in the UK should practise.”

Fostering creativity

Despite coronavirus enforcing working from home strategies for companies across the globe, neither Dickie nor Patrick believe Covid-19 spells the end of the office in Hong Kong or the UK. In fact, both suggest the pandemic will result in an increase in demand for space to enable employers to implement social distancing measures.

CC Land has appointed proptech firm Cureoscity to create a new app for the Cheesegrater to help staff return, including an e-building pass and information on distancing measures being used in the building.

“While there is a sense that people will want to work from home for some days of the week, the overwhelming rationale of an office environment that fosters creativity, a sense of working for a corporate team, creates dynamism for corporate development and helps mental health will stay in place,” Dickie says. “As a landlord we have always aimed to provide this canvas and have invested in occupier communities, which also helps companies to attract talent.”

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