An interview with Befimmo Head of CSR and Innovation Emilie Delacroix.
What’s the story behind Befimmo ?
Befimmo’s story began in 1995. With the launch of Sicafi – the first Belgian fixed-capital real-estate investment trust – the idea was to ease collective, citizen investment in real estate.
Befimmo grew quite rapidly after that. Then, at the request of the shareholders, Befimmo chose to focus exclusively on offices spaces. In 2017, Befimmo concluded a strategic partnership with the Belgian leader in coworking, Silversquare. Since then we have opened 7 coworking spaces through Belgium and Luxembourg.
As we reflect on these past 25 years, we see that the office market went through a real evolution. From single-use spaces to today’s multifunctional buildings and neighborhoods – it’s all about becoming flexible, and work as a team to listen to our environment and our end users needs.
“As we reflect on these past 25 years, we see that the office market went through a real evolution.”
What determines your choice of buildings ?
At Befimmo, we design convenient and efficient buildings for all users. They must therefore fit perfectly into their environment.
We always choose the location of the building we buy with care. We are not afraid to do some landscaping work, but the location should meet what we are looking for. Because for us it is important to add not only environmental but also social value to what we do. We want to offer a people-centric experience that responds to the concerns and needs of the citizens today and tomorrow. Our buildings are built based on their feedback – so it’s important for us to hear from all stakeholders.
Because when we build, everyone is included – from architects to end users. At Befimmo, we believe in collaboration and teamwork, and this will continue to be our main focus.
Can you give us an example of one of your projects ?
Our flagship project is ZIN : a multifunctional building of about 110 000 m² with office spaces, coworking, housing, hotel accomodation, shops and leisure areas.
It is an innovative building both in terms of architecture and respect for the environment. We have paid a lot of attention to energy neutrality and circularity – and we hope that this will set the bar high for our next projects too.
The project also illustrates collaborative work : the construction team works hand-in-hand with experts in engineering, circular economy, sustainability, wellbeing, and accessibility.
And what they all bring to the table is very important to us, because we want to make sure every Befimmo building integrates perfectly into the neighborhood where it is located.
“ZIN is a cutting-edge multifunctional project based on collaborative work.“
What are your considerations regarding corporate social responsibility (CSR) ?
Working together with every department of Befimmo, we set up our new CSR plan. We needed to rethink the system and in order to that, we really wanted to include everyone in the process. If we are to achieve a result, it’s important to hear the concerns and solutions of each department.
And at the end of the day, we came up with solutions together and it was really satisfying.
So we came up with an action plan divided into 6 strategic axes :
- the world of work: rethink workspaces according to the type of activity and user profile
- setting an example : we want to have a positive influence on our stakeholders and meet the expectations of society.
- use of resources : circular economy, water, energy, CO2 emissions, and responsible procurement,…
- dialogue : we listen to our stakeholders to implement productive and efficient solutions.
- mobility : create accessible buildings and optimised commuting.
- integration into the city : we advocate responsible urban development.
” Befimmo aims to constantly improve the dialogue with all its stakeholders.”
At Befimmo, we want our buildings to meet the expectations of both its occupants and the outside community – so before we start to build anything, we listen to all stakeholders.
How did Befimmo respond to the outbreak of the pandemic, and what solutions did it put in place?
We have developed and adapted our rental management. Our goal is to provide all of our users with reassurance around the quality and safety of our buildings and infrastructures, at every level.
We have also created our own “covid-safe” label, the full implementation (with additional measures) is foreseen in the coming weeks. Thus, tenants who choose us will have the security that these standards are met. We will also offer them a prevention consultancy service for their private office space. The label is focused on the common areas in the building
And during lockdown, we offer optimized support. Tenants can access a flex offer, which provides them with coworking spaces, various services, … in order to make their daily lives easier.
The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating our transition to the future of work. Needless to say, we have had to make significant changes in terms of workplaces and lifestyles. The use of digital innovation and technology was key for those who wanted to adapt – and it set a trend for years to come. As a major player in the Belgian real estate ecosystem, what can you tell us about these adaptations, and what is the ideal working environment for you ?
We are at a crossroads. The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped the nature of work for all of us. So we need to reimagine how workplaces can look like, and how they best serve work and value to all users. A physical hub with all workers in the same place every day as in the past is not the solution.
But we believe people will still need to be able to meet regularly in person [eg. for brainstorming, meetings, social interactions…]. So we are convinced that people will always need office spaces to meet, share, etc. However, how we use them will change – it’s already changing.
When it comes to the ideal working environment, I don’t believe there is a perfect workplace. Instead we believe the future will be a network of places, whose occupancy vary according to the employees needs.
People will work one day at the local cafe, another day at home, on Wednesdays for instance they will work in a coworking place, and on Fridays they will meet at the office … So rather than being a place where employees go to work every day, the office space would become a central hub for people to collaborate, interact, brainstorm …
So for Befimmo, it’s really just about thinking about what steps we can take that will help us meet this new reality. For instance by offering innovative coworking spaces that users feel free to use and adapt – and this is precisely what we aim to achieve with Silversquare.
You have launched various successful partnerships over the past years (with BatiTerre, Silversquare, Co-Station …). What can you tell us about these partnerships and the hopes they give for the future of Befimmo?
We believe partnerships are how Befimmo can grow and thrive. It’s really all about collaboration and sharing. Working with Silversquare – a startup providing coworking spaces – enabled us to reach a wider audience. In the past we worked for the long term and for fixed-size structures. But with Silversquare, we can offer flexibility, which is a value in high demand today. Moreover, working together with their team has been a great experience. They are very agile where we have a lot of experience, so it’s a win-win situation for both of us.
Additionally, they have a great customer relationship, and we aim to achieve that as well.
As for BatiTerre, it is a Belgian company that reuses building materials. They dismantle, transport and recondition construction materials that they will then sale on the second-hand market. And thanks to our partnership, we managed to reduce the volume of waste from two of our construction sites (the Ikaros and Blue Tower buildings in Brussels) and give a second life to more than 2 ton of material.
Our partnership with BatiTerre shows Befimmo’s growing concern for the environment, and how we can work towards energy-near neutrality.
Finally, what do you think the future holds for Befimmo ? What do you envision for the next few years ?
Befimmo is a great company, with a dynamic and promising team who wants to be an agent of change. Needless to say the coronavirus pandemic and the digital boom that followed made us question our [work] habits. We have learned valuable lessons from these past months, and more than ever, we want to move towards collaborative and horizontal work.
Looking back over the past few years, in my opinion, we were (and are) truly privileged to witness such a transformational change in corporate culture. Befimmo has come a long way since 1995. But as we look to the future, the challenges and changes are just as numerous. And yes, it’s a challenge, but it’s also exciting and stimulating.
Befimmo is a Belgian real estate operator specialising in office buildings, coworking spaces and meeting centres. For more information, visit their website : https://www.befimmo.be/en