The debate about who, how and where people will continue to work over the coming months and into the future, rages on. Whether the benefits of getting back to the office outweigh the risks is currently a matter of personal opinion and in London, where 90 percent of office workers were working from home during the Covid-19 outbreak, consumer choice is having a radical impact.
One property manager in the City that Experience Makers spoke to has 150 people in a building with 50 times that capacity. Another has seen leasing fall to below 50%, despite state-of-the-art facilities, enviable views of the Thames and an employee engagement & wellbeing budget into hundreds of thousands of pounds.
These stark numbers show a couple of important insights. Firstly, that good customer experience is not just a list of premium features (it’s about responding to customer need as it changes). Secondly, the figures should also help the industry accept that customers habits have changed, and new tactics are needed.
In this series of blogs with partner RealService, that share tips on coping in a post-covid world, Experience Makers believes the question is not just ‘are property companies ready to change?’, but how radical a change is the industry prepared to make?
Here we analyse office industry response and invite you to reflect on your own business thinking and the questions you're asking.
Answer: Increase health & safety and incorporate social distance measures in buildings.
By far the most common response, this is a necessary (and legal) requirement that attends to the very basic needs of the customer. Safety is being built in with longer term measures that allow contactless operations and improve ventilation. Hopefully a boom in one-person cubicle offices will not become the norm, but the ‘immune environment’ is starting to enter into design speak.
Office workers who have to be in the workplace or choose to because it offers a better environment than working from home, can feel assured that risks of contracting Covid-19 at work are minimised. Social distancing means reduced capacity in buildings, with owners hoping to make up the shortfall in people, with more space between desks. However, already fearful or just fed up with the commute, interventions that simply create a more sanitised and eerie version of their former office, are unlikely to tempt office workers back in droves.
Answer: "Keep customers connected, informed and motivated using tech and increase flexibility."
Tenant engagement platforms were a vital lifeline when the pandemic hit, enabling owners and managers to keep in touch with their customers. Offering online engagement and helping occupiers maintain performance continues to offer customers value. The new partnership with Experience Maker Equiem and BritishLand is a great example.
‘Space as a service’ is pushed to its zenith by the pandemic. The link between real estate and technology for enhanced, service, connectivity and security will create differentiated packages. Flexible terms and flexible spaces are here to stay with multiple sites, increased tenure mixes and spaces tailored to ways of working. Expect more co-working models, increase in regional investment and the continued rise of the home office. Experience Makers also likes the new breed of ‘neighbourhood workspaces’, like our new base Arc, promoting the trend for ‘WNH’ - working near home.
Answer: "Watch this space"
In March when lockdown was announced, real estate responded with the authority and dignity fitting of an industry that plays such a big part in so many aspects of our lives. Emerging from the worst of the first wave of the pandemic , conversations from leading spokespeople called for business with ‘purpose’ and to ‘build back better’. So, why when it comes to offices, is ‘back to business as usual’ resounding around the industry echo chamber?
New consumer behaviour reports consistently describe a more socially conscious and health driven customer. Over the last few months calls for more racial and gender equality, less loneliness and ‘more community’ have also gone mainstream. Government intervention to ‘encourage’ office workers to return to the office risk leaving more women out of the picture. Hot desking, arrival regimes and the general authoritarian mood will do nothing to lift the spirits and connect people.
In March we got a glimpse of how valuable office real estate could be beyond just an efficient work place. Forward thinking owners and mangers took the lead on customer comms, fostering community, working together and making bold changes . Are there clues the industry can take from how it first reacted? - New ways to build loyalty, attract different and diverse customers, generate value and evaluate success?
Experience Makers thinks that there is. This is why we are focussed on bringing leading organisations together to find new ways to analyse and value customer experience in property and designing new training to prepare and upskill future leaders.
The outbreak has pushed consumers out of their normal routines, it’s time for the property industry to do the same.