Are we going back to the office?

Empire East Redefines the Office, Reimagines the Future

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably brought unprecedented changes and challenges to our lifestyles, including the way we work. The first wave of strict lockdowns that started in March 2020 forced many companies and businesses, which were classified by the government as “non-essential,” to bring their operations to a halt.

Our company, Empire East—being in the housing business—was no exception to the constraints imposed during those uncertain times. Less than a tenth of the entire workforce was permitted to report at our corporate headquarters, while the rest of the staff worked remotely from home. Our sales teams shifted completely to digital selling since mall showrooms and project sites were not allowed to open at the time.

Empire East Highland City is a 22-hectare township development located along Felix Avenue in Pasig-Cainta.

It would have been a more difficult transition to the “new normal” had we not set up our digitalization program in time. Before the pandemic, our inter-departmental processes and communication channels had already been digitalized and buyers were provided the option to transact remotely. Client concerns and inquiries were resolved efficiently through our innovative ticketing system at Even contractors and partners benefitted—and continue to benefit—from the new online portal created for their exclusive use.

Redefining the Office

Years before the pandemic, the company started conceptualizing new designs for our office spaces. Creativity and innovation played a central role in reimagining the traditional office floor—based on an assembly-line layout—into fresh spaces to achieve a safe and productive atmosphere at work.

It would have been ironic for a property company to disregard the comfort, convenience, and wellness of its employees in its daily operations. We therefore took inspiration from office designs abroad, like the modern buildings of large tech companies which introduced non-traditional workspaces.

Empire East’s residences promote a relaxing environment conducive to health

For instance, we reserved an area complete with gym equipment where employees can work out during their breaks or after office hours. We also designated “green spaces” where anyone can read books and magazines, play mobile games, or simply brainstorm and collaborate with their colleagues. Our pantry was designed to have the ambience not of a cramped canteen but that of a cozy café.

Early on, we also enlisted the help of our Sales and Marketing Department to be our “lab rats” or experimental groups for a work-from-home arrangement as well as a shared workplace concept. In our head office and at our onsite sales branches, we created co-working spaces where staff can simply bring their laptops and gadgets.

We provided a strong Wi-Fi connection for them to accomplish tasks and coordinate with other departments and clients effectively even while working remotely. It was surprising to know that such setups resulted in outputs similar to or even better than what was regularly delivered in a traditional office environment.

Reimagining the Future

Fast forward to 2022 — after more than two years of the global health crisis, Empire East is now seeing the success and effectiveness of its comprehensive Transmutation Plan that was collaboratively designed to ensure business continuity and sustainability.

This critical period in the company’s corporate history has made us redefine how an office environment should be. As restrictions ease up, entire sales teams have gone back to our showrooms and project sites while continuously exploring the opportunities in the digital marketplace. Meanwhile, employees still operate under a hybrid setup, with some either reporting physically at our offices or working virtually, depending on the nature of their responsibilities.

The current hybrid work setup also includes alternating between onsite jobs and home-based duties for some employees, as determined by their roles in the organization. The goal is to create a safe and productive workplace for everyone and to optimize resources to deliver outstanding results.

The option to work from home will most likely be an integral part of the future of workspaces. Remote supervision in a work-from-home setup has allowed our co-workers to appreciate the importance of personal accountability and has allowed them to develop strong work ethics in order to deliver the desired results.  It has likewise given them an opportunity to enjoy a more balanced life.  Instead of spending endless hours on their commute to and from work, home-based arrangements have also provided more quality time with family, ultimately resulting in better output because of a more positive outlook in life.

On top of the usual virtual meetings and training sessions related to specific jobs, our co-workers are offered webinars related to mental health, wellness, and other interests. We also hold virtual awarding ceremonies to recognize excellent performers. In department group chats and virtual rooms, fun mini-games and online lunches are done regularly to sustain light interactions.  Officers are encouraged to have e-numan Zoom sessions with their staff to allow for interpersonal interaction very much needed during long periods of isolation.  Needless to say, the favored drinks are always Emperador, Fundador and occasionally a shot or two of the precious Dalmore, accompanied by ComboDeals from McDonald’s. These innovative strategies will remain to be adopted if the present setup continues in the near future.

But are we still going back to the office? That will certainly happen. However, our concept of the office has already been redefined. Wherever we are, as long as we accomplish our work and deliver results, we are in our office, our workspace, our desk.

We still look forward to seeing 100 percent of our co-workers coming together in one happy and energetic environment when this pandemic comes to an end.  It has been proven and tested that social interaction with colleagues enhances camaraderie, productivity, and employee retention. It is what helped develop the corporate culture of Empire East – a corporate culture that allowed us to achieve milestones and to surpass many challenging moments for close to 30 years now. While we hope and pray that this pandemic comes to an end soon, we are more than ready to embrace the evolving concept of our office that integrates technology with our distinct corporate culture. We shall not cease to reimagine the future of our workspaces as we look forward to the next 30 years and beyond.