By Hubert Sójka, executive vice president, Skanska Central Europe


Hubert Sójka, executive vice president, Skanska Central Europe, talks to the BPCC’s Michael Dembinski about prospects for Poland’s construction market in 2024 and beyond.

As one of the world’s largest construction and development companies, Skanska is actively building in Poland across a wide range of sectors, from infrastructure to offices and apartments, from healthcare to sports and leisure. I’d like to ask you about how you see Poland developing in the near future in terms of the built environment, and how Skanska fits into that vision. Let’s start with the big EU-financed projects and the unblocking of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (better known here by the Polish initials, KPO) funds for Poland. How important are these projects to Skanska’s growth in Poland and which particular ones are of greatest interest to you?

Changes are occurring rapidly both domestically and globally, particularly within the Polish construction market, which is encountering new opportunities and challenges. Our industry has consistently demonstrated resilience in response to various crises, from the pandemic to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, changes in interest rates, inflation, spikes in building-material prices. These events shape investor attitudes and market dynamics, prompting us to stay proactive in anticipating and adapting to trends while maintaining our commitment to quality, environment and safety, transparency and integrity.

Looking ahead to 2024, the release of funds from the Recovery and Resilience Facility (KPO) is promising, enabling numerous projects that will boost energy efficiency, healthcare quality, and infrastructure. This development is vital for the construction sector and investors. However, the short timeframe for utilising these funds could pressure resource availability and inflate costs. Skanska is engaged in major industrial projects and selectively participates in public or commercial projects. We are prepared for these challenges, leveraging our experience and diversified project portfolio to minimise risks and remain optimistic about the future.

Skanska has developed and built some iconic office buildings across Poland in recent years, but uncertainty currently surrounds the Polish office market as corporate tenants settle into hybrid work, and new levels of demand take shape. How do you see this market unfolding?

Indeed, the pandemic has reshaped the work habits and standards of many companies. A significant number have embraced the benefits of hybrid work, which has influenced the timing and number of new office projects. This trend is evident not only domestically but also globally. Despite a shift from traditional office work, many companies still recognise the need for physical office spaces, even in a hybrid setup. This has changed needs and perceptions of office space, where flexibility has become crucial. Clients now expect the ability to customise their spaces to suit various needs, including hybrid setups, permanent offices, and co-working spaces.

Skanska has been a leader in office projects for years, supported by our extensive experience in the market. This expertise allows us to adapt to evolving market needs and dynamic changes. I am confident that office projects will continue to hold significant place in the construction market. Although the number of projects has decreased, our high-quality, environmental friendly and flexible approach to office space will always generate interest. We are observing a growing interest in green and sustainable projects. Accordingly, we are adjusting our strategies to align with these trends, based on our well-established reputation for delivering premium locations and products. Our commitment to maintaining this level of excellence remains firm.

To ensure the stable growth of our business in Poland, particularly given the reduced demand for office spaces, it is crucial to maintain a balanced and healthy portfolio. Therefore, we are active in various sectors of the construction market, not limited to office or residential projects.

Older office buildings that fail to meet high standards of energy efficiency and wellness are in danger of falling empty as corporate tenants face ESG compliance challenges. Do you see a future in readapting older offices for new purposes (residential, hospitality) rather than demolition (a huge source of greenhouse-gas emission)?

Yes. Adaptive reuse not only extends the lifespan of existing buildings, but also offers multiple advantages. The undeniable benefits include reduced consumption of natural resources and raw materials, lower demand for new materials, energy savings and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. By avoiding demolition, we generate less waste and reduce the amount of dust that affects air quality. Additionally, we prevent uncontrolled urban sprawl through better use of existing land. From an economic point of view, construction costs can be often lower (provided the parameters, such as the number of levels, remain the same) and both the property and its surroundings increase in value.

Are you observing a trend towards near-shoring and friend-shoring manufacturing and logistics operations to Poland? Do you think Poland will benefit generally, or is the country no longer considered cost-competitive by manufacturers?

Geopolitical events have rapidly evolved recently, bringing about unexpected changes. The pandemic revealed weaknesses in the global economy and supply chains, while current international tensions are influencing the mood and actions of industrial investors in Europe and globally. Poland, with its growing economic potential and central geographic location, stands out as an attractive investment destination. Despite being less expensive than Western Europe, Poland boasts a highly educated and skilled workforce and sufficient investment land, painting a positive picture for the country.

However, we also witness shifts in the global economy, particularly the rising influence of Asian countries in sectors like the automotive industry, which significantly impacts European economies. This is evident in the fluctuating number of industrial projects. Now is a critical time for Poland’s political and economic leaders to attract international corporations. Companies like Intel, Mercedes Benz, and Bosch have already chosen to establish production facilities in Lower Silesia, proving Poland’s potential. A focus on affordable and sustainable energy, supported by initiatives like the KPO, is essential. Achieving this could propel Poland towards further success in an era of deglobalisation and nearshoring.

Given that construction and use in the built environment contributes around 38% of all man-made greenhouse-gas emissions, what steps is Skanska taking to reach net zero? What technological breakthroughs can we expect in the construction sector?

We know that the construction industry has a major impact on the climate. Our overarching goal is to reach net zero emissions by 2045, in our own operations and the value chain. Since 2015, we have more than halved our own emissions across all of Skanska and we are constantly progressing and introducing new ideas and methods to reduce our impact and that of our customers and suppliers.

The main areas we focus on are: design for efficiency, materials, transportation and energy.

Through early involvement in projects, we utilise our vast experience and good practices.  By adopting an environmental and safety-oriented approach at very early stage, when our impact on the final product in the greatest, we minimise the impact of the building process and building’s lifecycle on the climate.

In these early stages, we are achieving significant progress with materials we use and the way we use them. We are using low-carbon materials and embracing circularity wherever possible. In our own and our suppliers’ transports, we precisely measure the amount of CO2 equivalent emitted. We continuously monitor the market and we are implementing alternative solutions to optimise logistics processes. By focusing on energy efficiency, we can reduce emissions throughout the object lifecycle. By adopting innovative solutions, we lower emissions during both the construction and operation phases.

Skanska has been an early adopter of building information modelling (BIM); how does the take-up of BIM look in Poland, and how is BIM being integrated into PropTech, helping facilities managers in their work?

We have over 10 years of experience in adopting BIM technology and processes. The collaboration between construction and commercial development streams within Skanska Group has enabled us to implement the most valuable BIM processes in our internal development projects early on. In recent years, we have also observed a growing interest from our external clients (both private and public) with focus on data to be utilised in operational stage. The most common requirements include as-built BIM models, as-build laser scans and data bank of equipment and asset information.

Utilising modern digital tools for development and improvement of facility management, requires an increase in the complexity and quality of data supplied to advanced facility management systems. Early roll out of complex FM solutions based on BIM data allows the development of preventive maintenance plans without the risk of information loss. Additionally, setting up QR code systems for all assets simplifies access to information and the required periodic checks of all facilities for any technical service. Due to our early adoption, we have a proven record and long experience in various FM-targeted implementations and, along with construction services, we can support our clients on their journey toward digitalisation.

Skanska has long been an industry leader in terms of health and safety on construction sites in Poland. In general, has there been a reduction in the number of accidents? Has the health-and-safety message permeated across the construction sector, or does Poland still lag significantly behind Scandinavia in this respect?

Yes, our statistics show that the efforts made in this area are paying off. This is visible not only in overall number of accidents but also in the statistics for the worst ones – serious and fatal. As far as the construction sector as a whole is concerned, it is still possible to find companies for which the safety of employees is not the highest priority. Fortunately, this is changing for the better. The Agreement for Safety in the Construction Industry, of which we have been a member since its foundation, plays a significant role in influencing the market. The Agreement for Safety brings together 17 of the biggest players in the Polish construction market, which have a huge impact not only on their own employees, but also on subcontractors. In the agreement, we do not compete in the area of safety, but we share good practices and adopt them into actions. The tenth-anniversary report of the Covenant for Safety shows that the Scandinavian countries are indeed better than us, but that we are also better than countries such as France, Austria, Spain, or Belgium.  We must remember that building safety culture is a long-term investment and a process that can never stop. ‘Care for Life’ is our highest value, thus we shall never stop on this journey for improvement. Gladly, there are more and more clients and partners in Central European geography who share our vision and contribute to improving the awareness and importance of caring for life and safety culture.  By consistently raising the bar, even ahead of our own previous standards, we make no compromises in setting the right trends. Ensuring the safety of our employees and partners remains our top priority, achieved through industry-leading standards, innovative safety solutions, an inclusive culture, and leadership that focuses on systematic performance monitoring and targeted actions.