The great British commute is now being named by many as a key deterrent to returning to the office. 

Susan Freeman

Susan Freeman

It’s therefore interesting to note IWG/Regus founder Mark Dixon first told us over 25 years ago that we didn’t need to commute to an office to work and could simply plug in at a local business centre. This was particularly forward thinking as it was in the days before the mobile phone as we know it had taken off. Are we finally catching up with his way of thinking?

The post lockdown return to the office has brought into sharp focus the need for apps that can both provide office workers with guidance to help them ensure a safe return to the workplace, link in remote workers and provide tailored content and services. King’s Cross has chosen Equiem to deliver their occupier and customer engagement platform which will be available to residents, workers and visitors.

The platform will be accessed via a desktop or as a smartphone app and will bring together the estate’s services and amenities with personalised services for each customer group. The app will include promotional offers and access to certain events.

With hybrid working likely to become the norm, and with many office workers electing to continue to work in part from home or a third space, the question is how will hybrid meetings work and how can a level playing field be created for those in the room and those dialling in.

Google’s new Project Starline 3D Video chat uses AI and 3D to make a video call ‘feel like someone is sitting right in front of you’. This does seem to be a step up from the 2D zoom calls we have become accustomed to. Project Starline uses advanced technology to bring video calls to this next level. You sit in front of what looks like a window, and on the other side, see another person, life-size and in three dimensions.

You can talk naturally, and make gestures and eye contact as you would sitting across from each other at a table. It does however requires specialised, custom-built equipment, and is currently only available in a few Google offices.

And Microsoft has just released a video showing what it thinks the future of its Teams meetings will look like in a hybrid office setting. The new meeting rooms shown are designed ‘to connect in-person and remote attendees in a more unified experience.’ In-person attendees will be able to make eye contact with virtual attendees through cameras mounted at eye level in the table, and a microphone in the ceiling will pick up sound throughout the room.

It also features spatial audio so users can hear virtual participants where they would be sitting in the meeting room. It seems that the hybrid meeting experience is at last going high tech.

In a first UK letting, Berlin-based grocery delivery service Gorillas, have taken a five year lease of a unit at Segro’s Park Deptford in south east London. Gorillas, a unicorn start up backed by Fifth Wall VC Fund, is on a mission to change the way that ‘you do groceries’.

Its website states ‘It believes that in a world where we have the technology to go to the moon, grocery shopping has to be radically faster and far more convenient!’ Gorillas will use its Deptford micro fulfilment centre, to deliver orders to customers in as little as 10 minutes. The race is now on to see who can get your groceries to you the fastest!

Grocery delivery

Source: Shutterstock/ SpeedKingz

We have lost many of our retail high street stalwarts over the last year so it’s definitely heartening to see a retail reawakening with the arrival of some new concepts. As Forbes reported, designer Anya Hindmarch has launched not just one new store, but an entire village dedicated to her fashion brand. Recently opened on London’s Pont Street on the Cadogan Estate, The Village consists of five stores.

There is the Anya Café, The Village Hall, an ever-changing concept space launching initially as the ‘Anya Hair Salon – Shampoo & Therapy’ to mark the publication of Hindmarch’s first book, ‘If In Doubt, Wash Your Hair.’ The Plastic Store will showcase issues of sustainability, circularity and the reduction of plastic consumption. The Labelled Store offers Hindmarch’s Labelled collection (a system of cases and bags to keep you organised.

Finally, The Bespoke Store will continue to offer personalised pieces. It goes to show that retail failures have opened up new opportunities to enhance the London retail experience.

On the subject of sustainability, I recently came across London- based company Biohm which is making construction materials from mushrooms and food waste. It has also developed a world first insulation panel made from mycelium, the white, thread-like roots that grow from fungus. The natural mushroom fibres can apparently outperform some insulation products.

The founder, Ehab Sayed started the company after being shocked by the extent of the waste from the construction industry. By repurposing waste, and creating biodegradable products, Biohm contributes towards the ‘circular economy’, which designs out waste and pollution. Products and materials are kept in use and natural resources are able to regenerate.

The increased focus on sustainability and on green loans to finance development is evidenced by the £450million green loan secured by Qatari Diar to finance the construction of The Chancery Rosewood, its luxury retail and hotel scheme in Mayfair’s Grosvenor Square. Qatari Diar said it had secured the loan by putting sustainability at the heart of its development plans. I’m very much looking forward to The Chancery Rosewood which will be a sister hotel to the highly acclaimed Rosewood London hotel on High Holborn.

The new scheme plans to improve the area’s biodiversity by using green roofing and minimising water consumption, along with energy efficiency measures. It will of course overlook Grade 2 listed Grosvenor Square which is to be redesigned through an exciting ecological and community agenda and will feature four interlocking gardens based on the original oval shape as set out when the square was originally laid out nearly 300 years ago.

My latest podcast interview was with George Roberts, Head of UK & Ireland at Cushman & Wakefield who describes himself as a lifelong ‘challenger’. Appointed to the role in 2017, he acknowledges that ‘its not been dull’ in the last couple of years following his promotion. He provides a clear analysis of the changing relationship of landlord and tenant and what real estate customers will want going forward.

He is excited by the opportunity this creates for a more strategic role for real estate advisors. ‘An open door’ for the real estate industry as he puts it. We discuss the role of technology, the key importance of proprietary data in evidence based decision making and what a successful, or ‘Alpha’, building looks like. As chair of the Property Advisors Group (formerly known as The Windsor Group) he has commissioned research by Remit Consulting on the post lockdown return to the office in order to encourage more people to come back. Look out for the first data, which is to be released shortly.

When asked what the London mayor should do to maintain London’s preeminent place on the global stage there was no hesitation. Transport needs to be right, we need housing for young talent and to be more forward looking in respect of future uses and not be constrained by the past. Roberts makes a call for young talent to come into the real estate sector as it provides ‘a wonderful opportunity to get involved.’

Listen here:

Finally, in aviation news, Rolls-Royce has said its all-electric aircraft will take to the air ‘within weeks’ ahead of its planned wider launch of the battery technology into the flying car and air taxi market. Rolls is confident that the battery developments driving the Spirit of Innovation into the air are similar to the characteristics that air taxis will require. ‘Spirit of Innovation’ is claimed to be the fastest electric plane in the world as it targets an exhilarating speed of above 300mph.

A single charge, should fly the plane and a pilot 200 miles, or from London to Paris. Could this or the air taxi be a future alternative mode of commuting?

Susan Freeman is a partner at Mishcon de Reya