I’m delighted to see that Boris Johnson took note of last week’s Propertyshe perspectives blog and has announced that as from August 1 employers will have discretion over whether staff come back to work.

Susan Freeman

It will now be incumbent on employers to make decisions about whether people should come back to work in Covid-secure environments, in consultation with their employees. Also, public transport will now be available to everyone in England with the caveat that alternative modes of transport are still encouraged. That is going to mean a lot more cars coming into London. It also raises questions as to whether it is the end of the 9 to 5, Monday to Friday work week as we certainly aren’t going to be able to pile onto the tube in the rush hours as we used to.

The wearing of face coverings is about to become mandatory which at least gives us some clarity and will be good news for the enterprising London business Maskey whose ‘fashionable face mask’ vending machines have started to pop up around London and further afield.

Over the last few months I have been asked to appear on a range of panels and webinars. But this week presented a first. I was delighted to be invited to join a panel hosted by The Real Deal, the New York based real estate news platform to discuss the future of offices. My co-panellist was to be Nelson Mills, President and CEO of US REIT Columbia Property Trust with real estate assets in New York, San Francisco, Washington and Boston. It then dawned on me that the slot at 5pm New York time was at the somewhat uncivilised hour of 10pm UK time.

I’m pleased that I decided to go ahead regardless as the panel hosted by Hiten Samtani was a fascinating insight into the parallels and differences and also the challenges facing London and New York. The conversation ranged from the pros and cons of working remotely, the move towards the ‘hotelisation’ of the office sector, the future of flex and the vital importance of monitoring air quality. Regus founder Mark Dixon had a mention in dispatches as Hiten had heard him on a recent ULI panel saying that corporates currently have 2% flex space, but, that will jump to 70% flex. That’s a little higher than the 30% others are predicting but as I said on the panel, I have known Mark for 25 years and he is usually right. In fact he predicted the concept of working from a third space when he started Regus 30 years ago, but it has just taken a while and a pandemic for the rest of us to reach the same conclusion.

coronavirus working

Back to work: social distancing will be crucial in office environments

We talked about how the office of the future will look and the things you just can’t replicate working remotely. I suggested that the office will continue to be important as the showcase for a company’s brand and culture, a recruitment tool and the social epicentre. For me, a good example of this is our client lounge at Mishcon HQ in Holborn. When we designed the building we decided to allocate the whole of the ground floor to create as fab a client lounge as you will find in a top class hotel. It’s ideal for informal meetings accompanied by coffee and cakes served from the imposing statement bar. It has proved to be an amazingly successful interactive hub. Often you will have the opportunity to introduce colleagues or get clients together in this informal setting just because you spot them across the room. We are a pretty proactive bunch so, although it won’t be quite the same, we are now trialling virtual lounge sessions.

During the session Mills talked candidly about what he is hearing from the market and admitted that ‘the long lease is out of favour’. I was able to point out that our UK REITs are innovating and rolling out their own flexible space solutions such as British Land with Storey, and LandSec with Myo. You can view the panel session here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=v2i89HU6-iw

I was also able to ask Mills for his thoughts on the recent Bloomberg News interview with Starwood Capital CEO Barry Sternlicht who projected a somewhat cataclysmic view of New York real estate. He suggested that New York office rents could drop 25% and that a third of New York City hotels could go bankrupt. The interview can be viewed here: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2020-06-25/sternlicht-sees-nyc-worst-off-as-pandemic-takes-toll-on-real-estate-video

I really enjoyed my latest Propertyshe podcast interview with new Quintain CEO James Saunders. It is a little known fact that James and I were on the Sloan programme at London Business School together. The Sloan is intended to be transformational and often prompts a change of career direction. I tried very hard at the time to persuade James that he should make a move from a successful career in marketing and brand to real estate. I failed to make any headway but fortunately, just a few years later Nick Shattock, then CEO of Quintain, did manage to persuade him.

James also reminded me that he had in turn advised me at the time that I would make a good TV chat show host, so perhaps the podcast is first step in that direction! Listen out for the podcast for the inside story of how a marketing and brand background helped create and develop the vision for the vibrant new Wembley Park community which has risen phoenix-like from the 85 acres of disused industrial land surrounding the iconic Wembley Stadium and The Arena in north west London.

And Boris Johnson has just announced that fans will be allowed back in stadiums from October. That will be welcome news for football fans everywhere and I imagine for Quintain, as it will bring match day footfall back to Wembley.

Susan Freeman is a partner at Mishcon de Reya

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