After a tumultuous 2020, property’s leading figures share their hopes and expectations for 2021 as the year gets off to a rocky start with yet another lockdown.
Last year, the future of the office was discussed at length and Covid-19 forced the hand of businesses that had been deliberating on their office requirements for years, as they wondered if one of their biggest overheads was in fact superfluous.
Bringing all employees together in one location every day already seems antiquated. This presents a great opportunity for the immediate future and post-pandemic world. I hope the year ahead will prove change is lasting. This isn’t the death knell for the office, but it will certainly take on a different form as more businesses adopt a hybrid work model.
The nation has realised the benefits of remote working from a business productivity and employee wellness perspective, and I firmly believe this will manifest in a move away from traditional, long-term leases towards flexible contracts, and from nine-to-five-fixed desks towards quality, open-plan spaces.
In terms of wider hopes for the year ahead, I would like to see an increased focus from government on two of my biggest passions – improving women’s role in business and offering alternative routes into employment, including apprenticeships.
Co-founder, Backbone Connect
I predict a bounce back for offices in 2021 – and not just because a vaccine roll-out is under way. The great working from home experiment highlighted how much we value interacting with colleagues face to face.
That doesn’t mean we’ll return to pre-pandemic ways of working, nor that landlords should rest on their laurels. Last year showed that more agile working is possible and can be a positive influence on work-life balance. Tenants will inevitably review how much space they need and with vacancies set to rise, they will have choice and more leverage.
How can landlords make their assets stand out? We’ve consistently seen that those who invest keep voids down – this was true during the last financial crisis and is likely to be the case again.
Demand for category A space is strong, but fit outs must not overlook the importance of digital infrastructure as a fundamental component for workplace productivity.
The office is a space for creativity and teambuilding and the technical infrastructure around it, for things like brainstorms, research and group video calls, needs to be uncompromisingly good, more now than ever.
Head of Cushman & Wakefield’s Manchester office and Northern region
My predictions for 2021 and beyond are first that we will return to the office, but in a different way; the office is not dead, but our relationship with it has changed forever.
When we return it will be for meetings with colleagues and clients to brainstorm, make decisions and ensure we are developing our team’s culture and expertise.
Focused individual time will be spent at home or in a coffee shop. We will demand more from our homes. The focus will be on access to open space (gardens/balconies) and flexible space that can adapt to changing requirements (dining room or office space and garden pods).
We also need to significantly reduce our environmental impact – to travel more sustainability and create more energy-efficient buildings – as we work towards net zero carbon emissions. There also needs to be a focus on tackling energy efficiency in our homes.
Our high streets need to be more flexible. Covid-19 has accelerated existing retail trends. There is no doubt that the number of voids on high streets will increase in 2021, but the successful centres will be those that attract and support new occupiers who are responding to current demands. This year will be better 2020. It couldn’t be any worse, could it?
Co-founder & CEO, Public Practice
In all of the debate around planning reform, one of the only areas of agreement across sectors, professions and politics is the critical need for properly resourced and skilled planning departments.
In 2021, we will need proactive planning more than ever. As the full social and economic costs of Covid hit home, we need councils to lead frontline efforts to rebuild resilient local economies.
And as COP 26 focuses minds on the even greater challenge of the climate emergency, we urgently need local government to turn declarations into action on the ground. Public Practice is working with authorities to build their capacity for proactive planning, but financial uncertainties are holding them back from what they know they need to do.
Croydon Council’s Section 114 notice banning all new expenditure with the exception of statutory services to protect the vulnerable is an alarm bell that local government finance needs a more sustainable footing.
Struggling communities and town centres can’t endure another round of austerity.
Our hope for 2021 is that the government realises the value of public planning and invests in it. Turning the Planning White Paper into legislation could take years, but resourcing planning authorities properly can make a difference right now.
CEO, Net Zero Buildings
Last year was dominated by a desire to keep our workforce and contractors safe and healthy in the face of the pandemic, while still delivering high-quality, net-zero buildings, on time and within budget. We hope this will be a less dominant feature of this year, but it will still require our attention and diligence.
Brexit will bring its challenges, although we’re confident we’ve done sufficient resilience planning to enable us to withstand the supply chain pressures.
With that as backdrop, the year is set to be our most exciting to date. We’re scheduled to complete eight of the largest projects we’ve ever designed and delivered, plus numerous smaller projects.
We will grow and strengthen our team to deliver buildings that are net-zero carbon in operation and to champion the further use of offsite techniques as the most effective way to do this. We intend to make 2021 decisive in our contribution to reduced emissions and a greener economy.
Forecast for 2021: looking ahead with hope
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Forecast for 2021: looking ahead with hope (part 36)