After eight weeks of lockdown, most of us have adapted to new ways of working, if not fully embraced them. Some seem to enjoy the absence of a commute, with more time to themselves or among family. Others cannot wait to get back to the office to mix with colleagues and clients again.

Sue Clayton

As we look ahead to our return, we have time to think about lessons learned from the experience and what is important for the future.

There is debate about whether policies in relation to diversity and inclusion (D&I) will be shelved as other priorities take centre stage.

Inevitably, business leaders are having to focus on revenues, debt and cost reductions, while at the same time continuing to provide the best service they can for clients. However, I believe that this experience has shown us that a more collaborative and inclusive leadership is reaping dividends in terms of our employees’ wellbeing, our community spirit and realisation that the people element of our businesses remains critical.

Employee wellbeing and welfare has risen to the top of the business agenda. This is especially true at CBRE, which has long been a driver for positive change in the industry, championing D&I initiatives across the sector. CBRE was the first real estate advisory firm to achieve the national equality standard, and reducing the gender pay gap remains a primary business priority.

Companies that have already embedded D&I as a board agenda item have adapted more quickly to the challenges of remote working. It has shown them the benefits of having a diverse workforce. Policies such as flexible working and remote work technology have paid dividends, as has a focus on wellbeing and mental health. Those that have been slower to adopt these policies will have learned the hard way.

When we do return, companies that have worked without regard to inclusive behaviours will find themselves in a more challenging place. Those leaders who have demonstrated the wellbeing of their workforce as a priority will emerge the strongest. Clients will look to those who have been consistent in collaborating with them across many different areas, including how to support their own teams.

At Real Estate Balance, we have been supporting our member firms in a variety of ways. Our toolkit helps to promote inclusive behaviours in practical ways. With a number of virtual events coming up, members are able to share best practice across the whole real estate sector.

On our return post-Covid-19, the way companies operate in their buildings will change. There will be an increased focus on staff wellbeing and safety as well as strong wellness and environmental credentials. As investors, staff and customers focus ever more on environmental, social and governance issues, companies will need to demonstrate an absolute commitment to these.

There might be challenges ahead, but I do not believe objectives such as D&I will be put on the back-burner. I think they will remain strategic priorities, having demonstrated their rightful place at the centre of our focus. I hope the momentum that was building before Covid-19 gathers going forward.

Sue Clayton is executive director at CBRE and co-founder of Real Estate Balance