Congratulations to Property Week on 25 years of the Annual Property Awards which we celebrated digitally this week. Some of us dressed in silver to mark this landmark anniversary as we concocted cocktails, enjoyed some musical entertainment and exchanged messages with others on our virtual table.

Susan Freeman

Congratulations to all the winners, who sadly were deprived by Covid-19 of the long walk through the usually tightly packed Grosvenor House ballroom to accept their award and have their photo taken on stage for posterity. I was delighted to see Helen Gordon and John Burns inducted into the Hall of Fame. They have both been recent guests on the Propertyshe podcast so please listen to the interviews for some in depth background on their illustrious careers.

As we try to get to grips with how we will work post Covid-19, Harvard Business School professor, Prithwiraj Choudhury, an expert on remote working recently wrote a piece for the Harvard Business Review in which he cautioned that companies risk making mistakes by rushing into new employment models. He references GitLab, an open source software firm that has been “office-less” for nearly a decade and has grown to 1,300 employees in 66 countries.

Gitlab has codified its remote work best practices in a book that can be downloaded and will be useful reading. It has built rigorous processes from day one to make it work. GitLab’s CEO has warned that hybrid work models, which many companies now say they will espousing in the future, can turn out to be ‘horrible’. According to Choudhury, the new employment normal needs to be ‘work from anywhere’ rather than work from home, or it is more likely to end in failure.

Choudhury also advises that the remote working model can only work if senior management adopt it, because if the top managers are all in a physical building, then middle managers will be drawn to that building to get face time. Remote working will not otherwise percolate down effectively throughout an organization. Sid Sijbrandij, co-founder and CEO of GitLab, says, ‘Two ways of working is very, very hard and companies should not do it lightly. It’s ok to say ‘back to the office’ or ‘all remote,’ but hybrid can turn out really bad.’ It sounds as if the Gitlab handbook is a must read.

Turning to sustainability, look out for the next Mishcon Academy digital event entitled, Shaping Cities - Sustainable Solutions for the City of Tomorrow. We have a stellar international panel comprising: Amanda Levete CBE, a RIBA Stirling Prize winning architect and Founder and Principal of architectural practice AL_A; André Gibbs, Partner at Argent and Joint Lead on Argent Related’s development of Brent Cross Town; Brendan Wallace, Co-founder and Managing Partner of VC fund Fifth Wall and Professor Carlos Moreno, Associate Professor at the Sorbonne in Paris, Special Envoy for Smart Cities to the Mayor of Paris and creator of the ‘15 minute city’ concept.

The session will be chaired by Liz Hamson, Editor of Property Week. As part of our discussion we will also hear from the founders of Qualis Flow, VoltStorage and RanMarine Technology, three innovative businesses on the solutions they can provide to the sustainability challenge. Link here to register:

Continuing with the sustainability theme, congratulations to Guy Grainger on his new role as Head of ESG at JLL. As Guy Grainger says, this is very much his calling. I know from our podcast interview a year ago that this is something he is passionate about and he wants to instil a sense of urgency. As he told me, ‘because we’ve got a big reach as JLL, because I’ve got international context of what I see in other nations and organisations I am trying to create a sense of urgency and greater ambition in the UK around this and it shouldn’t be a nice to have, it should be completely central to your business strategy.’ He also said the UK, in real estate terms, is way behind a lot of northern Europe who he sees as probably fifteen years ahead of us.

He recognises that some relatively ambitious targets have been set for getting to net zero by 2050 and is keen to hold the government to account. He spoke about how much needs to be done in the first three years to achieve that target. ‘The longer you leave it the more you have to do and I honestly think the real estate industry should be prepared for significantly more regulation to come their way around buildings and therefore having this as a central part of your strategy also manages risk for the future’.

I know will be in for some star performances from Grainger on the world stage as he admitted to me in our podcast interview that he had in his formative years spent two years at drama school!


Source: Shutterstock/ Casezy idea

At a recent roundtable discussion with some leading lights in real estate, Eric Holding, a place strategist, architect and urban designer caught my attention with his comment that in real estate we lack the people to build a vision. As he put it, we need to involve from the start of a project ‘the alchemists and magicians’, the provocateurs who are able to look at space differently. He pointed to the disrupters, Netflix buying cinemas in the USA and Johnny Ive designing the next generation of AirBnb for examples of what we are up against.

The Outernet adjoining Tottenham Court Road Station in London’s west end is a good example of somebody viewing space differently. This remarkable and ground-breaking project, the brainchild of Consolidated Developments’ Laurence Kirschel, is about to come to life. Next year will see the unveiling of The Outernet with a spectacular art programme involving 2,000 sq metres of 8K resolution, 360-degree screens in what is billed as the world’s largest digital canvas. It is hoped that the planned public art programme will have a similar appeal to the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.

The screens are part of a £1billion redevelopment of the Denmark Street area known as Tin Pan Alley once the heart of London’s music scene. The Outernet includes retail, bars, restaurants, offices, flats and a 2,000-capacity underground music venue – the biggest live music space created in London since 1940. It will also include the Chateau Denmark boutique hotel, recording studios and dedicated busking space.

One of the first art commissions will be work by Belgrade-born Marina Abramović, apparently a superstar of the contemporary art world and a pioneer of performance, who intriguingly has been using her own body, testing the limits of her physical and mental endurance, for more than four decades.

In futuristic news, the USA’s first hub for electric ‘flying cars’ is to be built in Orlando Florida, creating the foundations of a new travel industry that could potentially be worth $1.5 trillion by 2040. The ‘vertiport’ will allow customers to cruise the skies in electric taxis reminiscent of the 1960s cartoon,The Jetsons. Cars will travel up to 185 miles on a one-hour charge and carry four people plus a pilot. In 1940 Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, predicted: ‘mark my words, a combination airplane and motorcar is coming.’ Now some 80 years later it seems he was right. Will we see ‘vertiports’ take off in the UK any time soon?

A recent Centre for London conference session featured a fascinating interview with Audrey Tang, Digital Minister for Taiwan. Tang is known to be a fervent believer in open data, open governance, and civil society-government collaboration. I sat up when she announced that ‘broadband is a human right in Taiwan.’ This provides a sharp contrast to the UK where working from home during lockdown has been a nightmare for those without a reliable network, particularly those in rural locations without adequate broadband.

This is going to need to be fixed soon if those who wish to move out of cities in pursuit of more space and a different life style are able to pursue that dream and work remotely. It seems that Boris Johnson’s election promise last year to connect the entire country to cutting edge broadband speeds by 2025 is now regarded as ‘ludicrously unrealistic’ after parliament’s spending watchdog warned recently that rural internet users risk being left behind by the slow pace of progress. Despite the best of intentions, it seems it is going to be a while before broadband becomes a UK human right.

Finally if you are looking for a Christmas gift for your real estate colleagues, a new book ‘Real Estate Titans: 7 Key Lessons from the World’s Top Real Estate Investors’ by Erez Cohen. Cohen who, according to his LinkedIn profile, is a real estate developer, investor and bestselling author based in Mexico, shares the advice and learnings of the world’s leading real estate experts to create a guide for becoming a savvier real estate player.

According to Amazon, ‘The book’s compelling stories and lessons show why real estate is such a wonderful and important business, and it also offers a roadmap for becoming a world class real estate player’.

Susan Freeman is a partner at Mishcon de Reya

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