Today marks the anniversary of Britain going into the first lockdown in 2020. It will also be our second National Day of Reflection.
This profound day makes us think of all those who we have sadly lost. This was the moment when profound changes took place, having its own unique impact on the world of property and the built environment. Not only did house prices unexpectedly rise by up to 20% in the last two years, but our need for connection, friendship and kindness in a world of isolation increased too.
What have we learned?
Ecommerce is vital for our economy
Consumers were forced to shop online when shops closed, and face-to-face contact prohibited. This hit local retailers hard, but those with a strong ecommerce platform unexpectedly thrived. In fact, many of us who ordered our groceries online, for example, have no plans of returning to the old supermarket ways.
For shops, connecting customers to products in an online platform has never been more important. From app development to e-marketing, online shopping will continue to accelerate at break-neck speed.
Virtual working is here to stay
There are many behavioural changes that have outlived the crisis, from connecting with friends online more often than ever before to random acts of kindness. But by far the lasting trend is flexible working. The ‘race for space’ has been partly fuelled by this new need for a dedicated working-from-home environment, changing what people want from their homes forever.
In January, 36% of working adults reported having worked from home at least once a week, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). A similar survey also found that in February this year, 38% of those aged between 30 and 49 said that they were now working from home permanently as their ‘new normal’.
This is an important fixture to note for operators and developers, where technology can be harnessed to connect people within communities, filling the social void they are missing from a traditional office environment.
… and so is supporting local
With more time spent at home, there is also an opportunity here for local businesses to offer residents bespoke offers and incentives, to encourage localisation and micro-communities to thrive. Residents are asking for this, and operators are responding.
Many of our clients use our resident engagement portal, Spike Living, to point out the best spots to visit in their neighbourhood, from bars and restaurants to the nearest grocery store, as well as partnering up with local shops and restaurants to provide residents with exclusive discounts and incentives, all accessed via their residents’ app.
‘Shop local’ is the message that became the foundation to save our high streets, but it’s now evolved into something much more powerful for placemakers; in an uncertain future, active community living redefines togetherness. It gives residents a pride of place like never before. Seeing an independent café flourish is a truly great thing, quickly becoming the focal point for all immediate residents and businesses.
For example, we’ve seen residents use our residents’ app to connect local bakeries to their communities, arrange delivery of local produce boxes and even organise for a local brewery to drop off beer for a virtual tasting session. We saw one resident who owns a wine company, and another who has a pizza business, see their orders increase dramatically within a few days as a result of being promoted on their residents’ portal.
It is likely in the future we’ll see an increase in smaller shops being built around developments, with local businesses prioritised over chains, and technology as the glue binding them together.
We embrace trying new things
The Covid pandemic was a situation so unfamiliar in the modern western world that many economists looked to the lessons of the past to know what to expect for the future. Records suggest that, after periods of massive non-financial disruption such as wars and pandemics, GDP does bounce back, albeit eventually.
While people are keen to go out and spend, crises encourage people and businesses to try new ways of doing things. We’ve seen that in the rapid uptake of technology in housing, where virtual viewings, digital property management and e-contracts are now increasingly ordinary.
Digitalisation means everything must happen faster
Technology has not only made the moving-in process far easier, but a 24/7 approach as we step away from the face-to-face model has removed many time barriers we previously encountered. Property management can happen within the touch of a button, streamlined within software under one easy access portal. Subsequently, residents expect to be able to contact property managers at all times of the day or night, where the right technology facilitates this with ease.
We’re finding operators increasingly wanting to give their residents a fully integrated experience without the need to find someone to speak to in person or waiting for a response to an email, allowing them to self-serve more and more.
We all want to save the planet
Lockdown led to huge reductions in traffic, shipping and aviation, resulting in a notable improvement in air quality and pollution levels. The concentration of nitrogen dioxide in some cities declined by nearly 60% compared with the same period in 2019 (EEA, 2020c). It was an extraordinary feat to witness, and one of the few positives that came out of the pandemic itself. Watching everyone around the world mobilise under a common threat showed us just what the global community can achieve when it really wants to make something happen.
The green agenda is something housebuilders can’t escape from, and certainly something that the next generation care about immensely. Using technology to underline green initiatives is one way to tap into this. While many new housing developments promote sustainable transport methods, resident portals can connect the dots one step further. Cycle maps can be shared, as well as transport updates, infrastructure improvements, on-site car sharing schemes, new walking routes and details of parks and beautiful green space to discover on residents’ doorsteps.
Technology can also be harnessed to provide greater transparency of a building or an individual’s environmental impact, with resident portals being used to provide unique and personalised actionable advice on how to practically reduce a resident’s own impact, while at the same time providing a comparison to others in the building.
Technology is evolving
Operators are also beginning to recognise that they do not have to sign up to an ‘all-in-one’ property management system. Over the past few years, we have increasingly seen a number of operators deploy a best-in-breed solution to cover each area specifically, for example HubSpot for customer relationship management, Microsoft Dynamics 365 for finance and Spike Living for resident engagement.
This best-in-breed technology stack is quicker to deploy and can be more effective than a larger, more cumbersome system, where functionality might have to be compromised in favour of usability and front-end experience.
Bespoke and highly developed customer-facing solutions like Spike Living will bring everything together under a single interface for residents to manage their daily lives without the need to use multiple portals, apps or logins. App performance is not compromised, and each software provider can be compartmentalised against business goals.
Jeremy Heath-Smith is chief executive of Spike Global