The need for an agile business response, and lessons for a post Covid-19 world  – a message from David Workman.

Having operated as property managers and building consultants for more than 35 years, you would imagine that as a firm we had seen everything. However, as the last month has demonstrated, you never stop learning. The industry – and indeed global – impact of Covid-19 is like nothing experienced before in peace time. The speed and readiness in which this ‘new normal’ has been adopted across the industry is a tribute to all involved, and provides us with much needed encouragement as we look beyond the current crisis at other pressing issues facing our industry such as our impact on climate change.

Agility in business response and transitions
For the remainder of this quarter and next, Property Management will play a key role in aligning the interests of both landlords and occupiers while maintaining assets.
The primary focus now is helping clients navigate the myriad requests for rent deferrals and payment plans, as it is crucial to try and obtain payment wherever possible and protect exposed landlords while recognising the very difficult situation many occupiers find themselves in.

Similarly, the guidance on operating construction sites has presented its own issues for project managers having to ensure all health, safety and security considerations are addressed in site shutdowns and communicating with all project stakeholders. Meanwhile, building surveyors are carrying out reviews to identify both savings and opportunities in maintenance plans, to take advantage of reduced levels of occupancy.

Transformative ability of technology and the new normal
Technology has enabled so many businesses to change their dynamic and processes and allow them to continue operating, making it possible for working staff to swiftly transition to remote working. At Workman for instance, it has allowed us to successfully pivot from a firm with 13 offices, to one of more than 700.

In this ‘new normal’, we are working with our clients, occupiers and service providers to ensure that the services provided and service charge levels are appropriate for each property and the unique circumstances faced by each. There is clearly a desire from occupiers and landlords alike to reduce service charge where occupancy levels are reduced.
A balance needs to be struck between reducing non-essential services whilst ensuring statutory compliance, security and the safety of public, occupiers and staff. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach and not all changes will bring immediate savings, or indeed savings at all, for example where security needs to be enhanced.

Reconnecting with people and looking to the future
Looking further ahead, when we have overcome the current crisis, as an industry we cannot neglect the long-term effects of the extended lockdown period and the backlog this will create in terms of repairs, maintenance, and statutory inspections. We will have to play catch up.

When this is all over there will also be a huge onus on reconnecting people to property, making placemaking a necessity for creating authentic experiences that reflect the new needs of communities, customers and occupiers. The retail sector in particular will need stimulus to address the future of our high streets, and the acute challenges that face the sector.

In the face of these challenges there is a silver lining. We have learnt one invaluable lesson, and that is that as an industry we are capable of rapid and wholesale changes to our way of working.

This experience has shown us that we can effectively bring all parties together in a time of crisis. What we are now seeing is real action as both a national and a global community.

So, if as a community we can rally together and put aside individual and organisational priorities to tackle this pandemic, this can also potentially serve as the blueprint for coming together and tackling urgent environmental objectives over the coming decades.

by David Workman, Senior Partner