The Leading News & Information Service For The Facilities, Workplace & Built Environment Community

The Redundancy of Real Estate – and How to Avoid it

The Redundancy of Real Estate – and How to Avoid it
02 December 2020 | Updated 12 January 2021
 

PropTech expert Antony Slumbers tells us that even though customers don’t need an office, it’s real estate’s job to demonstrate why they should want one.

Antony Slumbers is a software development and technology strategist, working in commercial real estate since 1995. He now works as a consultant, advising real estate boards on transformation, technology and innovation. Slumbers is a well known speaker in property and a globally recognised expert on PropTech.

In March 2020, Slumbers founded the Real Innovation Academy - an online platform teaching technology to real estate professionals.

 

“...As an industry we must stop kidding ourselves that our customers need an office, that without an office they will not be able to innovate, or collaborate, or share knowledge, or grow. All of these things are possible with #NoOffice. Our job is to demonstrate why they should WANT an office. Why having an office enables them to do some things better than they could without an office. And more particularly why this office is better than that office.” 

 

No Office Required?

 

On 10 November, Apple unveiled its new M1 System on a Chip. A processor so fast, and so abstemious in its power consumption, that it has in effect blown up the laptop PC industry. The new $999 MacBook Air is as fast as a $6000 MacBook Pro of three years ago. And this is the entry level processor. Over the next two years larger, more powerful versions will be developed to power the entire Apple range of computers.

And with this the Intel-based era of computing will come to an end. For sure, Intel will still be a huge company for years to come, but its dominance has been eradicated, just like that. As John Gruber the technology commentator has written: “The M1 Macs are such better machines than their Intel-based predecessors it’s hard to believe.”

During the same month we have seen the announcement of not one, but three, new vaccines to counter COVID-19. Each developed in less than a year, a feat of extraordinary brilliance, as the norm for developing vaccines is measured in decades not years.

And these groundbreaking technological developments have taken place during a global pandemic where almost every knowledge worker is working from home. And where the process of development has spanned many countries, and continents. Extraordinary feats of intellect, #NoOfficeRequired.

Which tells us what?

 

Laptop

Picture: a photograph of a person working on a laptop

 

Well, according to many in real estate, not a lot. Repeatedly I come across comments online about how “offices are needed for creative work” or “relationships need physical proximity to build” or “you cannot innovate sitting on the sofa” or “we’re all surviving on relationships we had pre-COVID”.

Some go even further. Stephen Bird, CEO of Aberdeen Standard Life was recently quoted as saying “You cannot change the world from home, It’s an absolute falsehood. It’s lazy thinking, it lacks courage and it’s delinquent on the next generation.”. Not someone from real estate admittedly but I get the feeling many in our industry would agree with him.

It’s hard to know where to start in explaining just how dangerous and deluded such thinking is, but I think it all stems from a lack of awareness of technological progress combined with poor personal digital skills. People are talking about things they know little about. Taking advice on driving from someone who doesn’t drive makes no sense. And we shouldn’t do it.

 

It’s not Working Remotely That is the Problem, it’s not Knowing how to Work Remotely

 

Working in a distributed company is not the same as working in an office-centric one. It’s never the case, long term, that you can move to being a distributed company by simply moving people out of the office, but maintain the same policies and practises as you had before. 

Starting in March this is what most of us did, and by and large, it has been a remarkable success. Every credible survey of remote working (under pandemic conditions) has shown that for the majority of people, perhaps 70-75 per cent, it has worked, and worked well. For the balance, it very much has not. And it has become clear what it is we miss, and don’t miss, from our old, more office-based lives. For more on this please visit leesmanindex.com, where they have a wealth of detailed analysis.

We are now though at a crunch point. We’ve been working, by decree, remotely for eight months or so. Long enough to realise that the old ways of working, based on four-five days a week of physical proximity to our co-workers, are perhaps not the best way to operate, when apart from each other. Hence complaints about too many Zoom meetings, long hours, burn out and lack of connection. Adrenaline got us through the first few months, but now we need something different.

It’s not working remotely that is the problem, it’s not knowing how to work remotely. And the biggest problem of all is when management doesn’t know either. That’s when we start getting comments about “you cannot do XYZ at home”. Better stated they would be saying “I cannot do XYZ at home” because that is the real issue. When managers do not know how to manage remote teams, problems start to arise.

We need some training.

 

Inspiration from Tech Companies

 

"We need to adopt some of these tools, become familiar with how truly digital companies work, and how they think, and how they communicate, and mentor, and learn, and innovate." 

Take a look at the tech companies. Twitter has told their employees there is no need to come back to the office, Google & Facebook have said don’t bother till mid-2021. Gitlab & Automattic both employ over 1,200 people, across 60+ countries, but neither have any offices. Box says work anywhere till 2021, and then we’re going hybrid. Dropbox is going “Virtual First”, as is Shopify. And on it goes.

Each of these companies is amongst the fastest growing, most valuable companies in the world. With many of the highest-paid employees. And they’ve moved to being distributed with hardly any issues. Why? Because these are digital-first companies, where technology is used throughout every process, workflow and project. 

Where data is in the Cloud and everyone is equipped with quality hardware, software and services that enable pervasive communication and collaboration. Where work has mostly gone asynchronous, and interaction is mainly through a wide range of online SaaS (Software as a Service) tools such as Slack, Trello, Asana, Jira, Workday, Notion, Miro and Mural. In short, where all the things many real estate people say are only possible in the office, happen outside an office.

We need to learn from this. We need to adopt some of these tools, become familiar with how truly digital companies work, and how they think, and how they communicate, and mentor, and learn, and innovate. Because these types of companies (and they will increasingly not be confined to tech companies) can be super-efficient and blindingly effective. If your company comes up against such an organisation you better be prepared for some serious competition, because as digital native companies they will be, ceteris paribus, hard to beat.

 

Our Job is to Demonstrate why we Should Want an Office 

 

None of which is an argument for “the office is dead”. Tech companies are different to non-tech companies but even they will still be taking a lot of space. Less than they probably would have pre-COVID but still plenty of it. And offices are still the best places for certain activities. And most companies will take office space, subject to it being designed and managed in a manner that actually delivers value. 

But as an industry, we must stop kidding ourselves that our customers need an office, that without an office they will not be able to innovate, or collaborate, or share knowledge, or grow. All of these things are possible with #NoOffice. Our job is to demonstrate why they should WANT an office. Why having an office enables them to do some things better than they could without an office. And more particularly why this office is better than that office. 

Without real differentiation, we are just commoditised box-builders. When your customers no longer need your product your Brand, what you stand for, becomes the most important asset you have. As I have said before, real estate is no longer about satisfying needs, it is about creating desire. 

 

Upskilling the Real Estate Industry

 

So let's get moving on up-skilling our industry. Let’s stop talking like analogue dinosaurs. No more ‘you can’t do XYZ online’. You can do everything online. Let’s learn the tools our digital customers use. Let’s grasp that real estate comes in many forms, and that “the office” is going to mean something different in the future. Wherever our customers want to work, we need to be there. We need to give them what they want, not what we have to sell. We need to think like they do, act like they do, and innovate like they do. 

If we want to attract the best customers, there really is no alternative.

Picture: a photograph of three Apple computers on a desk

Article written by Antony Slumbers | Published 02 December 2020

Share



Related Articles

Five Tech Companies Embracing Their Office Space

Despite 2020’s working from home revolution, five of the biggest tech giants are still demonstrating confidence in their physical office space. Recent research...

 Read Full Article
Empty Offices Could Cost London Businesses Almost £13bn

Unused office space after coronavirus could prove costly for companies, as research predicts over 70 per cent of all office rent paid by businesses in London will be...

 Read Full Article
Over 50 Per Cent of UK Workforce Happy to Work From Home Permanently

A new survey of 1,000 UK office workers has revealed that 54 per cent are happy to continue working from home for as long as necessary.  30 per cent are happy...

 Read Full Article
50 of the Biggest UK Employers Have “No Plans” to Reopen Offices

Research from the BBC shows that fifty of the biggest UK employers have no plans to return all staff to the office full-time in the near future. The BBC questioned 50...

 Read Full Article
Vorboss and Anaplan join British Land London Campuses

British Land has leased over 30,000 sq ft of workspace at its London campuses to tech businesses Vorboss and Anaplan. Leading fibre provider Vorboss has chosen...

 Read Full Article
Rishi Sunak Calls on Home Working to End

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has told a British newspaper that workers must be allowed to return to the office or they may “vote with their feet” and...

 Read Full Article
Office Workers Value Working From Home Above a Pay Rise

Research shows that UK office workers value their new norm of working from home so much that many would forsake career progression, company benefits and even a pay rise...

 Read Full Article
Will Offices Always be Empty on Mondays and Fridays?

With most of us favouring a long weekend at home, might the office close on Mondays and Fridays permanently? With the government revealing its roadmap for the lifting...

 Read Full Article
When Will Offices Reopen in 2021?

It’s been almost a whole year of working from home for many of us, and some are predicting when offices will reopen. 54 per cent of us are apparently happy to...

 Read Full Article
22 Bishopsgate Complete

Europe’s first vertical village, 22 Bishopsgate, has reached completion. Powered 100 per cent by renewable energy, 22 Bishopsgate is designed to put people first...

 Read Full Article