A new and unforeseen challenge to be overcome this week was the total power outage caused by the torrential rain and, as I write, I am without power and WiFi. It makes you realise just how quickly thinks fall apart if your technology is unreliable. It could be back to the quill pen soon!

Susan Freeman

Before the technical issues kicked in, it was another busy week. As a member of the Urban land Institute (ULI) Europe Tech Product Council, I was delighted to chair a webinar for ULI on coworking during Covid-19 with perspectives from China and Europe. As we all grapple with what a return to the office will look like, we were joined by Tong Yang Head of Sales for WeWork, Greater China, talking from Shanghai. He told us about the public health and safety measures the Chinese government had put in place and measures that WeWork are adopting to protect workers on their return to the office. He joined us wearing a mask, as is required in China, and told us about thermal testing before entry to work places, two hourly sanitization and moving work-stations further apart. He also mentioned the health tracker app they have on their mobile phones. It will be interesting to see if we adopt these measures in the UK. We were then joined by panelists Larkin co-founder of Fora, John Duckworth, UK MD for UK & EMEA at The Instant Group and Tom Dugarin UK General Manager at Knotel. We discussed how they are collaborating with their members and other stakeholders during lockdown and in preparation for the post lockdown period. The use of apps and other technology and the need to communicate closely were key. But as Duckworth succinctly put it, ‘uncertainty is the new certainty.’  

Covid lab

Source: Shutterstock/1644424099

In another highlight this week, I was privileged to be able to interview Peter Pereira Gray, Managing Partner & CEO of Wellcome Trust’s investment division who gave a real masterclass on global investment with particular insights into the issues for investors during the current Covid-19 crisis. Pereira Gray’s role puts him in control of Wellcome’s $35 billion global investment portfolio. Since this portfolio funds Wellcome Trust’s vital work with academics, philanthropy, businesses and governments in taking on health challenges in the world of medical research, including spearheading the global drive to raise funds to find a Covid-19 vaccine, his role is absolutely key. Wellcome spends more than £800 million a year on biomedical research and this is funded from the investment portfolio. Pereira Gray’s role includes leading the initiative to expand their state of the art research facilities in South Cambridgeshire where critical genome sequencing and analysis is being undertaken on the Covid-19 virus. He plans in time to extend the facility to 2.4 million sq ft for 4,000 workers and with 1500 homes on site.

Interestingly, Pereira Gray reports that the current crisis has prompted greater global collaboration around the Covid-19 virus than he has ever seen in his career. Also, on the topic of collaboration, in his role as co-chairman of the Institutional Investors Roundtable (which speaks for a mere $1.3 trillion of assets amongst its 45 global asset owners), Pereira Gray is able to harness connectivity between governments and long term global investors as generally ‘they don’t talk to each other’. It sounds to me like the ultimate public/private sector collaboration!

When we set up the interview, which was just a couple of weeks pre lockdown, I assumed that the climate emergency would be our key topic. I knew it was something Pereira Gray is passionate about since on a recent Movers and Shakers real estate panel, he produced Greta Thunberg’s book and waved it at the audience, feigning surprise that only a handful, if any, had read it. Pereira Gray is determined that climate change won’t go on the back burner. It is something in which Wellcome is hugely interested and a key metric when they evaluate investments. We covered a lot of other ground in the podcast, including the acceleration in the use of technology and robotics so I hope you get a chance to listen to it.

Insurance policies are being pored over as never before as businesses examine the small print with their lawyers. At Mishcon de Reya we announced this week that we are acting for the newly launched Hospitality Insurance Group Action which enables hospitality sector policyholders to register their details if they would like a review of their business interruption policies. The review will be free of charge, so worth a look if you are in the hospitality business.

Finally, mental wellbeing is a concern for all of us particularly as we enter our fifth week of lockdown. I was super-impressed by the Heights digital webinar with the legendary Stephen Fry. I have to declare an interest as my son is a co-founder of Heights, which produces a plant based brain health supplement that I take religiously every day. More importantly, Stephen Fry likes it too! As you would expect he was a joy to listen to as he spoke extensively on the topic of mental health and intelligence.

As Fry wisely pointed out, problem-solving intelligence will not help us with your emotional problems. ‘It’s like trying to tune a piano with a lawn mower’, he said. His openness in talking about his own mental health was inspirational. As he said, one in every four people have mental health issues so the other three people need to know how to help. He also touched on the planet. The human race he said has ‘sucked all the juice out of the planet’ and will be handing over a husk to the next generation. We need to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions and when we exit lockdown let’s get it right this time, he said. The big question of course is whether we will address the way we organise the way we live and work post Covid-19 or go back to our old ways.

Fry quoted a definition of wisdom as being ‘the ability to cope’. So here’s hoping that we are all displaying a lot of wisdom at this very challenging time!

Susan Freeman is a partner at Mishcon de Reya