The Client

Elin Tufte Johansen, chief human officer and head of sustainability at Norwegian commercial real estate company R8 Property, discusses her company’s ambition to become climate neutral, how proptech can cater to the era of decentralized work, and why she is an advocate of activity- based interiors.

Written by Floor Kuitert, Frame

R8 Property, the real estate company behind the Snøhetta-designed, energy- positive Powerhouse Telemark building in Norway, is on a mission to set a new standard for sustainable property development that benefits both people and planet.

Through a portfolio that focuses on high-end office buildings and with subsidiaries that span co-working and proptech, the Scandinavian company shows that reducing its industry’s ecological footprint is about more than green construction and involves sector-wide knowledge sharing, systems thinking and flexibility.

But most of all: a people-centric approach – which is why chief human officer Elin Tufte Johansen is an integral part of the teams behind new projects’ design processes.
Putting people at the centre of property development

ELIN TUFTE JOHANSEN: From our in-house team to our tenants: people are the driving force behind every- thing we do. Since the start of R! about ten years ago, our human-centric organisational culture has been one of our main characteristics. We genuinely believe that our employees are our true gold. In my role, I’m responsible for the company’s human resources. I make sure that, at all times, we have the competence we need to achieve our strategic goals. In doing so, our corporate culture is key. It attracts talent and helps that talent to develop further.

You don’t build a business. You build people, and then people build the business.

Zig Ziglar

American author Zig Ziglar once said: ‘You don’t build a business. You build people, and then people build the business.’ It’s a mindset that influences both the way that we do business and informs the way we develop projects. Buildings aren’t built for their own sake. They are there to serve the people that inhabit them. Neither are buildings isolated entities, but rather part of a community. This is just as true for commercial real estate as it is for housing. That’s why we focus on the cultural aspect of a building. How can we facilitate the best possible environment for its users? There should always be a link between culture and human behaviour and interior and design.

Photo: Ivar Kvaal
Photo: Ivar Kvaal
Photo: Ivar Kvaal
Photo: Ivar Kvaal
Pioneering in the real estate industry

We have set a clear ambition: to be a climate-neutral real estate developer towards 2025. Our ambition is to be a driving force when it comes to sustainable development and, by doing so, an inspirational force in the construction industry, which is responsible for almost 40 per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions. We are accountable for what the planet of our future generations will look like. There is no Planet B and our actions leave footprints for decades to come. As property developers we shape the environments people live their lives in, and we need to think beyond brick-and-mortar. It’s extremely important for our industry to be aware – and ahead – of the changes and challenges that are to come.

We believe that technology and "exibility will be prerequisites for success in dealing with those challenges, so we’re dedicated to the development of modern and future-oriented commercial property, as well as systems that can help manage those properties more sustainably. Our mission is to leverage technology to enlighten collaborators, politicians, other property developers, tenants and society in general about the ways in which we can change how we build and manage property for the better. In doing so, sharing knowledge and competence with collaborators is important. People prefer to learn instead of to be taught. Trust and courage are other important values. Powerhouse Telemark would never have been anything other than a crazy idea without it.

Overall, we notice that there’s a bigger focus on sustainability now than there was before. Tenants want premises that have sustainable and innovative technological solutions, and their feedback is that this is important regarding recruitment as well – especially when recruiting younger people.

Responding to rental market shifts

We have won the Norwegian Tenant Index six years in
a row now, indicating that we have the most satis'ed tenants in our country. But we have to stay alert and constantly respond to customers’ needs and keep up a close dialogue with clients. The rental market is subject to major changes. Although we are happy to have many long-term leases – often transcending ten years – we are noticing an increased demand for "exibility.

There is a growing need for shorter-term leases, but also for more distributed workspace portfolios that allow companies to use different satellite offices that help limit the commute – and improve the work-life balance – for their workforce. Hence we’re focused on acquiring properties at central hubs, easily accessible by public transport, and increasingly committed to providing co-working space in those hubs. One of our subsidiaries, Evolve Business Space, consists of 25 different co-working locations in south-eastern Norway. Creating better opportunities to work from satellite offices is a new kind of sustainability think- ing, as it saves time, money and the environment.

Optimizing occupancy

As I mentioned earlier, our aim is to use technology to create better experiences for people and reduce our ecological footprint while at it. With this in mind, we founded Orbit Technology last year. It’s a proptech property technology platform for office sharing at scale, with the purpose to better utilize buildings and reduce space waste. By 2030, 500 million m2 of new officespace is projected to be built, yet half of all office space is vacant or unused at any given time because the space is measured out based on peak utilization.

Creating better opportunities to work from satellite offices is a new kind of sustainability thinking, as it saves time, money and the environment

Elin Tufte Johansen

The proptech solution and corresponding app give users access to facilities across properties and makes it possible for people and companies to rent desks or conference rooms across different locations. Enabling teams to share workspaces across buildings and cities in this way is a response to the new era of decentralized work, as well as new and more dynamic types of jobs.

In Norway's Skien, R8 Property is working with Reiulf Ramstad Arkitekter to realize a series of detached and semi-detached houses with a highly technical and material-focused design approach.
Interacting with architects

When we collaborate with architects, we appreciate them challenging us after identifying our needs. In return, our experience is that architects appreciate our engagement and desire for interaction. A good client takes the initiative for close dialogue. Powerhouse Telemark was the result of our ambition to create one of the most sustainable and spectacular buildings in the world, and to show that this was possible anywhere – even in a small town like Porsgrunn.

We did a lot of research and when we got to know the Powerhouse collaboration, all of the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Powerhouse represents a collaboration in the develop- ment of climate buildings, and consists of property company Entra, entrepreneur Skanska, environmental organization Zero, Snøhetta architecture and design of-ice, and consulting company Asplan Viak. The interaction with Snøhetta has been very inspiring and rewarding. We worked closely and achieved a great symbiosis. Together with the senior interior architect from Snøhetta, I went to a furniture fair in Stockholm where we mostly worked on the details of the concept, from materials to colour palettes. Materials are the same for every tenant in the building. As Elin Vatn, who’s a senior interior architect at Snøhetta, explained in our press conference, the materials don’t change when a new company comes in. Part of the reason behind this decision is maintenance.

Fewer materials in general mean fewer maintenance materials need to be kept in stock. It also results in a flexibility of use, as it means tenants can scale their of-ice spaces as needed. We didn’t want the interior to be cold and industrial, but to create our own touch that makes the atmosphere personal even though it’s a commercial real estate building. We chose natural materials like wool, leather and wood. These materials achieve both warmth and hygge and a high-end feel. We didn’t want to pollute the interiors with unnecessary additions, but rather let the light, weather, waterfront and sky do their work.

Implementing environmental awareness down to every detail

When developing projects, we’re focused on applying sustainable solutions. This means collaborating with sup- pliers that share our environmental focus, and employing technology for the best possible management of both new projects and existing properties. The green shift is clearly reflected in our design ethos and implemented in detail. We take into account how we can reuse materials and furniture, we want our properties to be robust for climate changes, and we want the food we serve in our sta restaurants to be healthy.

Powerhouse Telemark is the ultimate representative of our design ethos, a flagship in our portfolio. Environmental and sustainable qualities, both inside and out, were extremely important when building the property. Everything is made of durable and high-quality materials, including the kitchens and loose pieces of furniture. We used sturdy materials known for resilience and with the lowest embodied energy, like local wood, gypsum and environmental concrete that is left exposed and untreated. The carpet tiles are composed of 70 per cent recycled fishing nets, and the wooden flooring is made from industrial parquet of ash from wooden debris.

The ‘barception’ desk was made of a small residual stock from the local porcelain factory, Porsgrund Porselen. We also wanted to reuse the company’s existing furniture where possible. A fun fact, and a symbolic statement of the time we live in, is that the chairs in the barception, iconic Corona chairs designed by Erik Jorgensen in the 1980s, were originally made of black leather, but as they didn’t fit our holistic approach, we collaborated with the local handicraft team at Grenland Husflidslag, who knitted new chair covers. What’s more: We have charging stations for both bicycles and cars – and Norway’s most efficient solar park.

Encouraging activity-based interiors

As we were going to be tenants in Powerhouse Telemark ourselves, we had an opportunity to enthuse the other tenants for an activity-based office by literally walking the talk. Because all our divisions were going to move onto the same floor, it came natural to me to involve all employees – the users – in the workspace development process.

We started by mapping our work patterns. For a few weeks we plotted how often we sat at our own desks, how often we attended meetings, how many participants were represented, and so forth. We interviewed employees about their preferences. Did they all need their own designated space? We ended up with an activity-based workspace: a lot of open areas combined with smaller meeting rooms for phone calls and ad-hoc meetings. Of course we are all different and have our personal preferences and needs, so there were worries about personal storage, discretion, sound levels and the like.

Our company consists of different divisions and subcultures and our team consists of accountants, designers, directors, property managers, operation technicians and more. We therefore established a cultural group with representatives from the different groups. They got to see floor plans and discussed guidelines and the environment they desired. During the building process, all employees got to take a look in the building a couple of times. People are adaptable and flexible, as long as they’re heard and feel safe and sound.