The big questions for landlords as Covid hit were: will tenants reduce space and therefore rent? If so, by how much and how soon? The big questions for tenants were: can we adapt to more flexible working arrangements to save on rent? If so, by how much and by when? Also, how often will our staff really come to the office – and for what?
By necessity, the pandemic pushed landlords and agents to get closer to their customers. Property managers hit the telephones and reached out to their customers. In many instances, this saved relationships and secured rental payments. But as workers return to the office in record numbers, are we at risk of not employing the right balance of relationship management against newfound tech solutions?
Tenants could probably be split into a few camps. Firstly, there are those that are encouraging staff to work from home, so they can measure productivity in the hope of making a shift to reduce space.
Secondly, there are those that are open to staff working however/wherever they like, and are just waiting to see how the chips fall – but the decision is focused on staff engagement, not cost cutting.
And finally, there are those that want all of their staff to return to the office, but also realise that flex work is here to stay and if they don’t offer some level they will lose staff.
So, this leaves the landlord in a position of having less influence on the tenant’s decision than they do on the tenant’s staff’s decisions.
The landlord can directly influence the working environment and the staff’s enjoyment level of coming to work, influencing how often they use the office.
That’s the lever. It is clear that landlords need to prioritise the tenant experience. They need to tap into what each of their building occupiers wants and needs, in order to come to the office more often than they stay home.
I believe that no matter how popular working from home proves to be in the long run, the desire for social connection, a sense of place, community and a desire to be ‘out’ is human nature.
This need for a live human connection is the simplest social evidence that offices and places of work will need to focus on being more relevant, flexible and engaging.
Workers won’t come back to the office because there is new digital access control, but will come back for human connection and to access amenities not available at home.
Covid has shone a light on what’s important: being with people, being safe, being nurtured. Offices can’t fulfil every facet of this, but can play a hugely important role in facilitating the process.
Landlords that learn to tap into what their customers want, at speed, with the right and open communication channels, can be part of reshaping our slow but progressing route to normality.
Bronny Wilson is regional head for the UK and Ireland at Equiem