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Leaders' Forum 9th October 2023

As Workman approaches its 40th anniversary, leaders of the firm share their plans and vision for the future, within the UK’s rapidly evolving property industry.

Here, Richard Hart, Partner, and the firm’s Head of Property Management, outlines the challenges and opportunities presented by today’s commercial real estate market.

What are your plans in your new role as Head of Property Management?

This might not align with the current zeitgeist of property management trends, but I am all about getting the basics absolutely on point. The importance of issues such as timely rent collection, accurate service charge reconciliations, delivering quality site services and knowing your occupiers, cannot be overstated.

Even as our property managers help clients reach Net Zero goals or to create the best occupier engagement strategy on our client’s behalf, the need for a bedrock of brilliant basics must remain paramount.

So, my biggest priority is to support clients maximise asset performance and value through a robust property management service, with both ESG and customer experience at its core.

What do Workman clients want from property managers today?

There is a huge focus on the three areas of occupier experience, occupier satisfaction, and sustainability. The role of the property manager has evolved over the past decade, and today requires a different skillset, with increased emphasis on customer service. It’s about so much more than simply managing a building.

Increasingly, our property managers come from a diverse range of backgrounds, often with experience of management in hospitality environments, so that they have a greater understanding of the customer service ethos and environment.

What does the ideal property management team look like today, and into the future?

Property management teams are increasingly made up of a range of different types of people, not just property managers. For example, for many of our leading clients we are now supplementing our management teams with dedicated ESG account managers to co-ordinate the consistent implementation of ESG initiatives and client reporting across their portfolio.

I think as this evolves further, we will also look for property management candidates with expertise in data management and analysis, because those skills are going to become invaluable as technology plays a greater role in the future planning and strategy for how buildings should be used.

How is building technology changing the role of the property manager?

As the institutional investment market begins to move again, there’s a huge focus on cost efficiency, generating value within assets, and making buildings fit for the future, which often means deploying building technology. This is an area where we’ve been able to help our clients with measurable results, thanks to our Intelligent Building Operating System (IBOS), which has delivered astounding results.

Clients adopting the system include Blackrock, Columbia Threadneedle and Federated Hermes. Across the 4 million sq. ft of commercial property where IBOS has been installed so far, average reductions in energy consumption of 20-40% have been recorded within the first 12 months. It’s particularly pertinent in the context of the race to Net Zero, as well as hybrid working patterns that have made traditional operating practices deeply inefficient.

Of course, the implementation of building technology also extends to property management and occupier engagement apps. Although apps alone cannot build occupier relationships, which take time and should be nurtured on a face-to-face basis, they can be a useful tool to support teams build communities that put the occupier at the heart of the property.

How can occupier engagement be developed through property management strategies, and what advantages does this deliver for the asset?

At Workman, we continually challenge ourselves to evolve the customer experience, bridging the gap between traditional offices, flexible workspaces and the home experience. We strive to meet the needs of modern occupiers by creating healthy environments that support occupiers’ physical, mental, and social wellbeing in an environmentally responsible way, while creating a sense of place and community.

With heightening competition between office landlords, the occupier experience in workspaces often becomes a deciding factor. Exceeding the expectations of occupiers directly contributes to our clients’ investment performance through improved occupier retention.

Therefore, delivering a superior occupier experience is a priority for many of our clients and an area where our teams have developed a wealth of expertise. For example, our community managers work to devise occupier experience and engagement strategies for Workman’s Welcome portfolio. Working closely with the Welcome team and all front-of-house personnel, our community managers lead communication and feedback programmes for individual assets and their occupiers, while delivering services tailored to their needs.

What are your plans for the future in terms of talent recruitment and retention?

Having joined the firm through its renowned Graduate Scheme in 2007, I became a Partner in 2014, so I am among the 60% to 70% of the people in senior roles who started at Workman as graduates or apprentices.

This statistic says a lot about the firm. It speaks to our dedication to cultivating talent, our willingness to share skills and knowledge across the industry, and our commitment to promoting from within.

For 2023, our graduate and apprentice intake stands at 46. And we aren’t always looking for the traditional property management graduate. Those coming into the firm bring a variety of skillsets and backgrounds, which in time will serve to diversify our talent base and improve our output.

The firm has always operated a strong graduate and apprentice development programme. The benefit of welcoming people at this level is that we can train them and develop them according to our clients’ needs.

We run our programmes in a culture of high-challenge; high-support, meaning that we offer a greater level of early responsibility than many programmes, uniquely offering exposure to properties and clients well in advance of passing the APC.

Our graduate programme says a lot about our values and our ethos as a business. It’s all about growing, developing, and retaining talent effectively. The hope is that at least 50% of these graduates will eventually work their way up to senior positions within Workman; they’re the future of our business.

So, we plan to continue to invest in recruiting and developing talent at this level, broaden the net from where we recruit even further, and developing the quality of training and development we offer staff beyond the Graduate programme, as our people shape their future careers in real estate.

Find out more about Workman’s Property Management service.