Creating spaces for human connection

SM Prime Commercial Properties Group continues to establish office culture amidst the pandemic. The soon-to-launch FourE-com Center is a 15-storey, pre-certified LEED Gold building that will deliver a more conducive place for tenant-partners and their employees.

The world has inarguably changed in the two years of the pandemic. Digital technology in particular — how to implement it in the company strategy, cybersecurity, the Metaverse, and virtual reality, among others —has completely taken over conversations within the global business community.

It stands to reason. Digital technology has been instrumental in keeping companies afloat during the worldwide lockdowns, so it is inevitable for many to believe that the future of business will take place in the digital world.

SM Prime Holdings, Inc. (SMPH), one of Southeast Asia’s largest integrated property developers, has witnessed this change firsthand. Alexis Ortiga, vice-president of the SM Commercial Properties Group — SM Prime’s office development and leasing arm — told BusinessWorld in an interview that the harsh realities of the pandemic have led many businesses to reevaluate and reconsider their space requirements, especially considering how they can continue operations virtually any way.

The FourE-com Center Prism Plaza is poised to become one of Mall of Asia Complex’s premier after-work destinations. It is set to carry a variety of mid to high-end establishments that will cater to diverse food cravings.

“Tenant-partners have readjusted their space requirements, whether it’s expanding or decreasing them,” he said. “During the pandemic, many businesses had to recalibrate their expense items, including manpower and rent.”

However, Mr. Ortiga does not believe that these sudden adjustments will have long-lasting impact on how office spaces are viewed culturally, but rather it only changes the market’s preferences.

“Most kept their office spaces. There is still something to be said about the office. It is here to stay, it’s been ingrained in our culture, not just Filipino culture but the world in general, the need and practicality of having an office and going to the office,” he said.

“We see that culture staying and progressing. Slowly but surely, people are coming back to the office. Companies want to reestablish that office culture, redeveloping camaraderie and teamwork by working side by side with one’s colleagues. These are things that are part of our human nature for decades already. Two years of the pandemic is not going to erase that.”

The shift was not so much in the tenants’ belief in the role of offices in the future of business, but rather a change in the values that drive their choices in the market. For instance, many companies naturally are more conscious nowadays about health and safety considerations and are demanding more flexible, open-air layouts, or amenities like air filtration systems and reliable sanitation.

Mr. Ortiga noted that even before the pandemic, SM Prime, in general, has always kept the convenience and welfare of their tenant-partners and customers in mind when developing their properties. For instance, SM Offices’ buildings are strategically located nearby transportation hubs, so employees will have an easier time commuting. Its buildings are also one-stop shops which offer areas for dining, entertainment, shopping, and relaxation.

What’s more, some of the SM Offices’ buildings are also LEED Gold-certified, which represents SM’s commitment towards reducing carbon emissions, reducing power and water consumption, and waste generation.

“The office is that one venue that contends with the home as the place where a person spends most of his or her waking hours. So that office better be a super conducive place to stay in,” he said.

This emphasis on human connection is what has always driven SM Prime’s business strategy in the past, and it is what Mr. Ortiga believes will drive it in the future.

“SM’s strategy has always been consumer-centric, wherein we put the needs and welfare of our customers first. We start with our malls, and from there the residences come in, the offices come in. We know the market and community are there. SM has always been about community and nation-building,” he said.

“We want to go beyond what is expected, whether in terms of the developments we build or government and ESG requirements. In SM Prime, our business strategies cover a wide responsibility to include the well-being of our stakeholders and the environment.”

Mr. Ortiga concludes, “At SM Offices, we believe that our design formula works well for employers, tenant-partners, and their employees and guests. Given our amenities and conveniences on any given day, I’m proud to say that SM gives real meaning to the phrase ‘work-life balance’, and how we’re able to treat each tenant and their employees as human beings, not just tenants that fill up our spaces.”

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