A major interview with Alex Tomášková, the new director of Skanska Property Czech Republic. On how she strives to bring individual projects to perfection. On how she gets along in the mainly male world of construction and big business. And on how Skanska’s office buildings utilize today’s technologies.
In June, Alexandra Tomášková will become the director of the Czech branch of Skanska Property. She has been working for this real estate development firm for eight years, and she knows the Prague office market like the back of her hand. And she’s been working the area of renting modern office spaces for seventeen years.
What do you see as the biggest trends in the contemporary office market? Which of them has the greatest potential to change our work environments over the next five years?
For a building to be called “modern,” it has reflect changes in its occupants’ work habits.
I consider coworking to be a major trend, one that arose among startups and today is a well-established style of work for freelancers, and is also being picked up by multinationals. We’ve taken coworking spaces into account both at Visionary — that’s the project we just finished in Prague’s Holešovice district — and at Praga Studios, where spaces will be rented out by none other than a coworking company, Scott & Weber, and I’m confident this will continue with our other buildings.
Many coworking centers have been trend-setters for how a “cool” modern office should look, design-wise, and are luring in new tenants to great success.
I’m glad that more and more companies are paying attention to the quality of their interiors and learning that a company’s office is a part of its identity. The market leaders know it and invest no small sums into their workplaces, because they know their employees will appreciate it. A company’s work environment is its calling card today, and tomorrow that will be as true as — or truer than — ever. Although modern technologies theoretically let us all work from anywhere, social bonds are easier to form in person and in a company’s “home” environment.
Besides coworking and the use of the office as a company’s space for self-presentation, do you see anything else that will strongly influence tomorrow’s work environments?
A third noticeable trend is a healthy lifestyle. Most new office buildings today boast environmental certificates, but these mostly concern the buildings themselves. And the new WELL certificate looks into whether or not a building’s design supports a healthy lifestyle for its occupants. We’re striving for one of these for the just-completed Visionary project, as well as Praga Studios (under construction). It looks at soft factors in a building’s operations, like fresh air, natural lighting, sufficient water, and good food. I think that people will naturally be taking an ever stronger interest in this aspect, and so it will see growth on the market.
At present you’re developing over 100,000 m2 of new offices. What makes your buildings stand out?
Our sites lie in the greater downtown area, with good transport accessibility, and we provide our future tenants with work environments of the very highest quality. Our buildings are technologically advanced. We’re among the first to prepare special apps for our properties that provide information on the building and its services. We take care to provide attractive and elegant architectural solutions for both our properties themselves and their surroundings. We see each of our buildings in the context of its location, and we want them to benefit both their tenants and their neighbors.
Can you be more specific here?
The Visionary project is a good example for illustrating our philosophy. We chose a plot in a location that everyone told us not to use. The architect Jakub Cigler provided us with a design, we discussed it with the leadership of the Prague 7 city district, and we adjusted it based on their wishes to reach a compromise that satisfied both sides. Besides offices, you’ll find a doctor’s office here, the Fresh & Tasty restaurant, and a nursery school that Prague 7 will be running starting in September. Visionary’s rear section will be home to park-style greenery and a sports center, along with a publicly accessible outdoor cinema. For the tenants themselves, we’ve got a rooftop running track. Visionary has been fully rented out except for part of one floor, and in April its first anchor tenant moved in: the consulting firm Accenture. The retail spaces will open up after the summer holidays. This site, which didn’t seem attractive at first glance, now has a whole new inspiration, and we’ve breathed life into it.
We’re taking a similar approach for Praga Studios (under construction in Prague 8) and Parkview (under construction in Prague 4), and we’ll be taking it for two major upcoming projects as well, Key (Prague 4) and Port7 (Prague 7). It’s always a mix of utility functions for commercial and non-commercial purposes.
In June, you’ll be taking over the reins at Skanska Property. What do you enjoy the most about your work, and what are you looking forward to?
I enjoy the fact that we’re creating something. I always like to say that we bring our projects to perfection. We try to make each project even better than the last. And each one has a certain theme intertwined with its design, marketing, and surroundings. When we then walk through the finished building and see the smiles of the tenants with whom we were standing over visualizations and blueprints on an empty lot not long before, it’s a very pleasant feeling.
For every project, we aim for a certain timelessness, and we take inspiration from our colleagues in Scandinavia. Functionality and sustainability are melded with elegance. That’s the kind of design that still looks new even years afterwards and never loses its charm.
And besides my fortunate choice of career, I’ve been lucky with workmates. There are 22 of us here, and we’re a great all-for-one, one-for-all gang. I value that, and I firmly believe that our enthusiasm will hold.
Women real-estate developers are rare overall. Is this an advantage, or a disadvantage? Have business partners ever treated you differently because you’re a woman?
There are still people out there who are a bit “old school,” and their respect doesn’t come automatically. Thankfully these are exceptions. Personally I see more advantages than disadvantages; our partners generally treat me gallantly, and so our business meetings have a pleasant atmosphere.
Skanska’s an employer that works with diversity and promotes equal opportunities. Sometimes when I’m leading a meeting, the client, an architect, a teammate, an agent, a lawyer, and so on are all sitting with me. And it may not be until later that I realize they were all men, and I was the only woman. But when I’m in action, I perceive their roles or maybe what firm they’re representing, and not whether they’re men or women. That should be the goal for all of us — not having to think about it. And our company is gender-balanced too; it seems natural to me.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I split my free time between my family (my son and my husband) and sports. I like to run, swim, ski, and “spa.” Sometimes it goes well, sometimes poorly. I have the bad luck, or maybe good luck, to enjoy my work so much that I have to plan out even my relaxation on my calendar. On the weekends, I have to be careful not to start up my computer. So around here, we’re active and sporting or traveling. And sometimes we’re doing nothing. I finally know how to do that! :-).