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There’s a joke about outrunning a bear that Benedict Cumberbatch (as Alan Turing) tells in “The Imitation Game”:

There are two people in a wood, and they run into a bear. The first person gets down on his knees to pray; the second person starts lacing up his boots. The first person asks the second person, “My dear friend, what are you doing? You can’t outrun a bear.” To which the second person responds, “I don’t have to. I only have to outrun you.”

In the first blog in this series I looked at the ‘Stages of Change’ model and our reaction to change, which our body perceives as a threat.

This blog looks at whether, faced with the Covid-19 crisis, it’s better for the property industry to pray or lace up its boots!

From bricks and mortar to hospitality

It’s more than 25 years since I returned from the USA with a vision for our industry founded on the principle that we are “no longer in bricks and mortar business but part of the hospitality industry”. An industry inspired by the best hotels, seeing our tenants as guests rather than an anonymous income stream. It’s seems common sense now but it was close to heresy back then!

Some in our industry saw this idea as a ‘scary bear’, and prayed it would go away. Fortunately, others ‘laced up their boots’ and they’ve become our clients and friends.

Last week Property Week launched a campaign to “Save the Office!” encouraging the industry to lead from the front on the return to the office. Of course, it’s sensible to ‘underline why workplaces are so important and showcase best practice so employers can help their people return to the office confident that the appropriate Covid-19 safeguards are in place’. But I can’t help feeling that if this campaign is to be successful it needs to look beyond saving “bricks and mortar” and at “saving our customers”. Let me explain.

Offices will be saved not because developers like to build them, investors to own them and corporate leaders to enjoy their corner offices, but because people choose to work in them. Employees of the past had no choice where they worked but that’s different now. Covid-19 has broken the dam and given employees the taste for a different workstyle. The rows of empty desks in our cities and business parks are the strongest reminder that it’s employees who are our ultimate customer.

The latest data from Leesman doesn’t give much comfort to the “pray’ers”. 82% of 127,000 employees surveyed agreed with the statement that “my home environment enables me to work productively”. That is 19% points higher than the 63% of employees who say they have a productive workplace.

Insight

At RealService, we believe that the future of the office industry lies in getting in-depth insights into what motivates both the 82% “productive at home’rs”, and the 18% who looking for a different solution.

But if only it were that simple! There are a lot more than two types of customer, and the task of creating a new vision for the future workplace requires a granular understanding of the needs of the close to the 30 million people who form the UK working population. You can then scale that up to include the 1.25 billion knowledge workers across the world (source: Forrester).

We can learn lessons from the hospitality industry (itself decimated by Covid-19) where the focus is on asking “what is the experience that our customers want?”. For the property industry, this means applying the tools and techniques of service design to our existing assets and future developments. The starting point for our asset management or development plans should be “who is our customer and what are there practical and emotional needs?” and not “how much space can we get on the site”.

Likewise, our customer retention strategies need to step out of the world of spreadsheets and into the world of loyalty and brand building.

At RealService we believe that the successful development, asset and property management strategies of the future will be shaped by standing in the customer’s shoes. It’s only by truly aligning ourselves with the ultimate customer, that we’ll be able to outrun the Covid-19 bear.

So, we’re campaigning to “Save our Customers” and their businesses, and hope you’ll join us!

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Howard Morgan is the founder and MD of RealService

If you’d like to understand ways that RealService customer research, consulting and training is helping our clients to get ahead in the Covid-19 era please contact

Howard Morgan howard.morgan@real-service.co.uk

 

www.real-service.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eerie silence

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.

Blended working

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.

https://rcni.com/hosted-content/rcn/first-steps/stages-of-change-model

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

  1. Pre-contemplation: This is where we’re not thinking seriously about making a change or we don’t really see it as a problem.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. Maintenance: We’ve got to a position where we can sustain our new approach
  1. 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

 

www.real-service.co.uk

 

To discuss any of these themes contact Howard at howard.morgan@real-service.co.uk