With an incredible 50% of the world now in lockdown, we are getting into the routine of working from home.
Space constraints, children’s home learning programmes and other family responsibilities are a key factor for many. Zoom, until recently largely the domain of tech companies and start-ups, has fast become the video platform of choice. As I spend time trying to help colleagues and friends to upskill on Zoom, the expression ‘in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king!’ readily comes to mind.
Zoom has enabled some useful learning over the past weeks and it’s so much more relaxing when you aren’t a panellist! I sat in on an insightful Legalink webinar in which my colleague Adam Rose was participating. Legalink is a global network of independent lawyers so we heard from members from all over the world explaining just how their practices are coping with Covid-19. I’m not sure it’s exactly comforting but clearly everyone is similarly affected. Adam Rose’s point about the importance of reaching out to clients to see how we can help at this difficult time was well received.
However, it has come as something of a shock to the legal world that law firms are not generally regarded by governments as an essential business, even if we think we are! Meanwhile, in New York State, the real estate industry has just been reclassified as an essential business, allowing brokers to resume certain aspects of their jobs. Perhaps we should be lobbying for this reclassification in the UK.
The CREtech Talks webinar that looked at The VC Perspective also provided some useful proptech insights. As Dave Eisenberg of Zigg Capital commented, you need extra conviction to make an entirely remote investment. And if you have no existing relationship with capital providers, it is going to be difficult to build them remotely. So clearly we are all going to have to learn to build relationships by video.
The high point of my week was my podcast interview with the extremely talented Thomas Heatherwick CBE. I was fortunate to have met him, and suggested an interview, at a pre-lockdown London 3.0 Dinner hosted by Patricia Brown and developer Jacob Loftus. While my podcast series can continue digitally pro tem, it remains to be seen if it is possible to successfully create completely new relationships online. I very much hope it is.
The designer extraordinaire, whose studio’s amazing and diverse projects range from the 2020 Olympics Cauldron to Coal Drops Yard at King’s Cross in London and the Zeitz Museum in Cape Town, conducted the interview from his bedroom, which at any other time would seem bizarre, but right now, not so much! There was something symbolic about this as Heatherwick has previously described his King’s Cross studio as being very much like his bedroom when he was nine years old!
It was fascinating to hear about his design philosophy and the team collaboration involved in every project. His many fascinating observations included the comment that the UK government was not leading on the commissioning of public space projects and so it had been left to private developers to work with city planners to fill the void. Listen out for the podcast coming soon.
A cause for celebration last week was the Geospatial Commission’s announcement that unique property identifiers are to be made available as open data from July. This landmark reform to the way addresses and maps are dealt with in the digital world will enable data to be better connected. Open access to this data is a critical step in removing the barriers faced by developers, planning authorities and central government, and should help speed up the delivery of new housing, as developers will be better placed to identify sites to develop. There will hopefully be many other benefits from this welcome boost for UK proptech.
Finally, look out in the coming weeks for the campaign to “save our start-ups” aimed at helping thousands of promising start-up businesses. Its backers include Zoopla founder Alex Chesterman, Net-a-Porter’s Arnaud Massenet and the lastminute.com co-founder Brent Hoberman. More than 20 industry bodies and lobby groups have also signed up. Being in lockdown with two start-ups, I am, more than ever, conscious of the energy and innovation that goes into building their businesses and the many obstacles they face.
Susan Freeman is a partner at Mishcon de Reya