Experience Makers recently hosted a series of Lunchtime ‘Listen-ins’. See our 8 point summary from these online discussions, that explore the impact of coronavirus in property, from a customer experience perspective.
1. Welcome shift
Panellists representing space providers, property management firms, PropTech companies, occupiers and consultancies discussed a wide range of topics from agile working to health & safety, occupier feedback to the legacy of the pandemic on ESG strategy. A recurring theme of these discussions, like many others, was the notion that Covid-19 has accelerated existing trends. There’s no denying the extreme nature of recent events but from a customer perspective, it’s a welcome shift in many areas –
2. Customer First
Especially when it comes to closer, more tailored business solutions with customers. Companies that put customers first have kept the wheels turning and are helping improve perception of the industry. Property managers and asset managers amongst our panellists described the efforts they have been making to keep in touch with occupiers. Jo Fisher and her team at TfL made over 1000 phone calls to SME owners in TfL’s Arches, as TfL came out as one of the first large owners to offer rent relief.
3. Communication, Communication, Communication
Customers are looking for guidance from their building providers. Many of our panellists were quickly learning how to adapt buildings that ensure the health and safety of occupiers. New rules on entry and egress, use of lifts and staircases and common parts such as kitchens and toilets were major areas of practical focus – none of which will have any effect unless communicated clearly. Time and time again our panellists cited the vital importance of good communication, whether in person or through tech. Landlords who already have established relationships are at an advantage.
4. Open, Honest, Trusted
Panellists emphasised that building owners and managers should be “open and honest with customers” about the costs involved in adapting buildings. The panellists are being pragmatic about aspects such as collecting rent from customers suffering hardship, and flexible in their approach to their own staff. Ethical business and demonstrating compassion will be beneficial in the long run. “Sick and unhappy staff don’t work” as one panellist pointed out, and landlords who insist on “hiding behind the lease” are likely to find the damage to their reputation outweighs the benefits of coerced rent extraction.
5. Tech Take up
Technology can play a big part in delivering the required duty of care towards occupiers. Touch-free sensors for lifts, taps and lights will be standard specifications in the future. Pre-covid, building technology automation created a frictionless experience, now the term is ‘contactless’. Building portal app, Cureosocity, is developing capability to stagger employee arrival times with real time information on lobby footfall and likely queue times. Platforms for virtual meetings and other tools that enable ‘WFH” and mitigate the risks of employee isolation are thriving. Proptech that enhance collaboration not just between own teams, but also between the people who ordinarily would be in the buildings, are now essential.
6. Look local
Another facet of the current crisis is the implication for space requirements by occupiers. Panellists discussed the implications of this, including greater need for flex space, and for satellite offices in suburban locations. Neighbourhood workspaces with short commutes that avoid public transport are a potential new phenomena. These also fulfil demand for more work/life balance with perks and services supported more by local amenities. This might also “dilute London’s hegemony” and offer wider social and economic benefits at local level.
7. Stay Smart
On the other hand, the requirement for substantially reduced occupier density will increase the space required per employee. Although secondary space might need to be re-purposed, there was some consensus that that demand for high quality, prestigious, technologically smart, environmentally friendly buildings will remain strong for company Head Offices. If the cost per occupant of buildings increases with lower density, it will be crucial that such buildings provide a productive working environment. Expect more demand for signalling of quality through building certifications such as BREEAM or WELL Building Standard for example, and building uptake based on more than just cost and location.
8. 24hour purposeful places
Buildings are likely to be used outside core hours as people seek to avoid peak travel time and have become accustomed to more flexible ways of working. Remote working will remain at a higher level than before the pandemic. Don’t forget WFH isn’t for everyone, but people will have a choice and need a great reason to travel to their place of work or retail centre.
Now more than ever, property needs to be powered by a genuine desire to optimise the customer experience. We’re going to need new skills and new thinking around investment decisions to embrace (metaphorically speaking of course) this welcome change.
(Post co-written with Professor Danielle Sanderson, Bartlett School of Architecture)