When I started work in this great property business in the 1960s, I had the best possible start to my career. I joined Moss & Partners, one of the most active firms in London’s West End at the time, owned by Lewis and Derrick Moss. It specialised in the development and letting of central London offices and had developer clients to die for.
Besides Lewis and Derrick, there was Michael Smith and Harold Melzack in the senior team, who went on to found their own highly successful firm, Smith Melzack. They showed me the ropes, told me where I might be going wrong and implored me to get to know every street in central London as if I was a cab driver.
Most critically, they encouraged me to be in the office, not only when I did the filing before computers came to the fore but to pick up all those invaluable hints as to how to negotiate, how to deal with people respectfully and, very importantly, how to go out and get business. I will always be grateful to them for that initial grounding. Yes, I obtained my qualifications, but I had to know how to use them to best advantage.
Now I hear that a leading firm has closed its central London office and its people will be working remotely.
They might have meeting rooms in flexible offices but what happens to their graduates and other young hopefuls?
Are they to be cast aside? How are new graduates, even if they find a job, going to get that practical training, which I had and which is crucial to their career development?
Why would I want to use a firm that is not promoting the development of its young people?
The answer is that they will not, so the quality of many of our young people in our business will decline through no fault of their own. I have worked with young people through my involvement as a trustee for Variety, the Children’s Charity, for many years and to me this is a sustained attack on their prospects.
Would I want to use a firm that advocates remote not flexible working and only uses offices for meetings? The answer is ‘no’ for a number of reasons.
First, why should I pay fees to a firm that is advocating what is totally against my company’s interests? A leading regional firm of lawyers has picked this up and is advising its people to come back into the office for the majority of the working week.
Second, why would I want to use a firm that is not promoting the career development of its young people?
Third, how will young people working remotely be assessed for promotion if they are not seen in action?
Finally, firms based in London can reduce their occupational costs by relocating all or part of their operations to regional cities such as Leeds, York, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool or Newcastle. If they decide to work purely remotely, it is a false economy and in time they will be the losers.
As we come out of lockdown, I hope those companies advocating a return to the office will not only prosper but will be seen to be encouraging young talent every step of the way.
Finally, I forecast that by 2024 not only will there be a shortage of office space created by the need to satisfy ESG requirements, there will also be a shortage as a result of by companies realising that working entirely remotely is a failure.
Neil Sinclair is chief executive of Palace Capital