In the UK, we are hopefully moving into the post-Covid-19 era, and it feels like businesses across all sectors are racing to implement the lessons learned from the pandemic.
As I’ve written here before, I worry parts of our industry are too pedestrian and slow to embrace change. Now, I fear the opposite: that there is a danger of reacting – or overreacting – too quickly.
Taking a step back, I find it amazing how many bad decisions humans make due to recency bias and over-confidence in our ability to interpret apparent trends. All of us have a tendency to overreact to recent events or assume that current trends will become long-term outcomes.
We do this on a personal level when we drown out a lifetime of experience with the effects of recent life events. But in business we are paid – or should be – to avoid knee-jerk reactions and to filter fashion from fact. However, businesses and business leaders continue to make terrible decisions in their eagerness to demonstrate that they are reacting to customer feedback.
The latest example can be found in the casual dining restaurants close to my Soho office that are putting in ‘smart’ ordering screens, presumably as a response to the pandemic and to address inefficiencies in the buying process. But what the likes of Leon and Itsu are missing in this rush to technology is that by taking out human interaction, you neuter the experience. If you rely solely on the contents of your lunch, then it makes no difference where you buy it, or if you receive it in an unbranded package straight to your desk. Eventually customers will walk.
Housing needs to cater as much to residents’ values as putting a roof over their head
We saw similar knee-jerk reactions in the early stages of the pandemic, with business leaders predicting the end of the office and the efficiency of homeworking. They all missed the point that we in the privileged, advanced economies don’t strive for efficiency; we strive for experience. Remove the experience from any transaction and all you are left with is the commodity, and global competition and efficiencies mean a race to the bottom usually follows.
The lesson for real estate is obvious – experience is key and will remain so. Offices should be brand embassies for businesses. Housing needs to cater as much to residents’ values as putting a roof over their head. Restaurants must realise the experience is as important as the consumption. The good ones already do.
Businesses are already reversing ill-thought-out reactions to office requirements and many realise that high-quality office options are few and far between. Employees expect not only a great working experience, but also a rich social one. They also insist their employer shares their values and principles; this is one of the reasons Socius became certified as a B Corporation.
Our residential scheme in Milton Keynes has added in ‘vertical villages’, incorporating communal space and amenities that we hope will break up the building into smaller bite-size communities in an effort to address the issues of urban loneliness, which can often arise in high-density residential.
Experience is everything and we should never forget that.
Barry Jessup is managing director of Socius