I ventured into London last week for only the second time since March. There was an eerie silence in the heart of the City of London. Working from home has sapped the lifeblood out of the financial district. My gut feeling is that we are witnessing a once in a lifetime step change in the way we work. I also think that it’s as futile for office investors to see this is a temporary blip as it was for retail property investors to believe that online shopping would have only a minimal effect on our high streets and shopping centres.
For those whose careers have been built on building offices in the City, it’s only natural to have self-belief in their products. Like me, you’ll have read the interviews which put forward the line that 1. We are social creatures 2. Teams can’t work well when separated 3. Young people need to learn by listening 4. Sandwich bars deserve our support. ….so it’s only a matter of time before the problem goes away and we return to the way things were.
I liken this self-belief to that shown by shopping centre owners who confidently told consumers that there’s no substitute for being able to try on a dress or shoes in store. Meanwhile the percentage of online sales has grown year on year. Retailers saw that the future was multi-channel long before shopping centre owners. For shopping centre owners, being invested in just one channel has proven a scary place to be.
Flexible (or blended) working is the workplace equivalent of multi-channel retailing. It recognizes that one solution doesn’t fit all and that each business needs to think through what’s the best blend of workplace solutions for its customers, suppliers and employees. For some businesses that answer could still be the 9 – 5 traditional office but for the majority it will be a blend of office/hotel/cafe/business centre and home working.
Technology is enabling the change in workstyle with high-speed broadband and low-cost software tools like Zoom and Teams making it possible to work from anywhere. Covid-19 has added another reason not to commute to the heart of our cities, but the underlying trend towards flexible working is not new.
If we accept that office real estate’s biggest competitor is now the ability to work from anywhere, then the question for owners is “what can we do to compete?”. At RealService we’re excited by the opportunity to work with our clients to better understand the desired workstyle of employees. We are already seeing a move away for the formulaic and to the creation of a new and exciting range of products and services which give companies and their employees the workstyle they want.
For those financially and emotionally invested in the old model, this will require a transformational change in thinking.
So how ready is your business to change its thinking?
Real estate has a fundamental health problem but how ready are we to face up to this?
We can learn a lot from the Stages of Change model used by the medical professions.
The Stages of Change model describes the different stages we go through when we want to change something in our lives. This readily translates into the world of business
- Pre-contemplation: This is where we’re not thinking seriously about making a change or we don’t really see it as a problem.
- Contemplation: We’re now beginning to think about our business models and we’re beginning to see that maybe there is a problem that’s affecting our long-term business health.
- Preparation/determination: By now, we’ve realised that something needs to change, and we’re ready to make changes – but maybe we don’t know exactly how, so we look for help.
- Action: We now know what we want to change, we’ve researched how we can change it, and we’ve got a plan to put into action.
- Maintenance: We’ve got to a position where we can sustain our new approach
- Relapse: we may revert to our old ways when the market begins to strengthen or it just gets too difficult
Where is your business at today?
The starting point for real estate business leaders is to ask where are we today in terms of our readiness for change? It’s time to be honest. Do we have the energy and resolve to change? Do we have the clarity of customer insight and vision to take action?
In this new series of blogs, we’ll look at ten strategies to accelerate your business through the change model.
Howard Morgan is Founder & MD RealService, customer experience consultancy
To discuss any of these themes contact Howard at email@example.com