The Shard, London

Looking Forward: The Times They Are a-Changin’

Here in the UK, this is Week 4 of the Coronavirus Lockdown. We hope you and your families are staying safe and healthy.

Already, all our lives have changed. At the very least, either we have had it or, someone we know has – there has been tragic news also.

Now is the time for staying positive. We are in an industry that thrives on people and connections. A Zoom call is not the same as a coffee or lunch. An online meeting is not the same as actually being physically present in a legal meeting for hours on end. Ones where the decent biscuits have run out and the jokes passing between your team reach rock bottom. You become reduced to seeing how many times you can use a word like ‘giraffe’ in the discussion without anyone noticing.

One of the benefits of Zoom is that you don’t have to travel to meetings. So much time is saved. Perhaps you were industrious while travelling? Emails and calls or reading a book. Our adjustments since are thought provoking.

Once this is over, and it is going to take quite a while, how will commercial life in London – a City of some 9 million people, for me the best City in the world – have changed? Organisations have had to adapt to survive and some have thrived as a result. Many dine-in restaurants have developed a takeaway trade almost overnight. Some whose social conscience already supported the less well off, extended this to NHS and other keyworkers. Others began online grocery delivery services. The way some restaurants have responded is inspiring. May that industry get back on its feet soon.

Whilst the biggest change in our office work has been the forced nature of companies continuing to operate with staff working from home, it has never really been fully embraced by either employer or employee. To what extent will this change, after effectively being forced to work this way? Will the oft-predicted seismic shift away from offices materialise? Without a doubt the previously dominant paradigm that businesses must have offices will be challenged. I’m equally sure that commercial property sector will adapt and redefine itself.

For the sake of occupiers our offices have to change. Not just have break-out areas that are the same as every other office. How about offices that have had individual thought put in for each and every organisation. Recently, my colleague Sam Simon and myself visited our sister company in New York. They took us to see a company with the best fit out we have ever seen. It is so simple, but stylish and streamlined to suit the workflow.

For me personally, I cannot wait to get back. This shut down is a chance to reconnect and refocus – a lesson in how to be when we return. In the Bible every 7th year was a year when the world rested. Maybe this is that sort of rest?

In a previous post, I talked about how as a community, commercial property agents (LONIC apart) adopted a policy of dress down to appeal to the tech industry. A couple of days ago, a colleague in the IT industry told me he’d been in an online meeting with a large government procurement department which the CEO attended in his dressing gown! I’ve seen the screenshot. Will the present online meeting culture instigate another level of dress down? It seems likely, but definitely not for us. When we resume being trusted advisors, we’ll be ready and dressed accordingly.

The changes that are coming, the new norm, will be good, good for organisations, employees and landlords.