ULI UK has launched a new webinar series Looking Ahead to Our New ‘Normal’ in a Post COVID-19 World, informed by our recent survey into the real estate industry’s response to the pandemic.
The first webinar addressed built environment leadership and resilience, examining how organisations are doing their best to implement lessons learned from the past to help tackle today’s challenges.
According to our survey, the largest impact on the built environment has been the closure of construction sites and delays to future development. Meanwhile, 30 percent of survey respondents expected remote working to increase and just under 30 percent expected some form of adaptation to the workplace to promote good health and prevent future outbreaks.
However, 70 percent of respondents believed it was uncertain or highly unlikely that there will be a return to normal before October, highlighting widespread uncertainty across the industry.
Vanessa Hale, Chair of ULI UK, spoke to experts from across the industry, who offered their insight as to how we could bounce back into a new world of work.
Despite the increased use of technology due to the current working from home conditions– with apps like Zoom, Slack, and Skype replacing in-person communication – the panellists were adamant that this would not herald the end of the office.
Chris Choa, Vice President of AECOM, argued that less attention will be paid to rethinking digital infrastructure in terms of office management, and instead there will be a higher focus on the relationships and community between employees, and how businesses can encourage that communication.
Sir Stuart Lipton of Lipton Rogers Developments wholeheartedly agreed, saying that the important aspects of working space are the same as those in 1st century Rome: ultimately, we are social animals that crave in-person interaction, regardless of digital infrastructure. Instead a rethinking of space will bring humanity and sustainability to the forethat questions if we want free range or battery farmed style our urban environment.
Panellists considered whether this could cause a move away from urban centres for office workers. Kari Pitkin, Head of Business Development – Europe at Allianz Real Estate GmbH, thought not. She argued that despite the current challenges that face dense areas, this would not detract from the value and opportunity than remains for investment in London.
Bill Hughes, Head of Real Assets at Legal & General Investment Management and Gavin Winbanks, from the Department for International Trade, responded that this period was a unique opportunity for local authorities to work with private enterprise to reinvent areas that have seen decades of under investment.
The key will be creating multi-use, multi-tenure schemes in cities outside of London to help build those relationships between public and private bodies while streamlining the relationships between lenders, borrowers, and the businesses that occupy that space. Planning will form a crucial part of that mix, and there is a desperate need for the system to become more fluid, engaged and better resourced.
This is an unusual and uncertain time, as the survey has shown, but the speakers had an optimistic outlook, saying that this is the perfect opportunity to reinvent the built environment – one that is geared towards community, ESG, and industry relationships.