1. HOW HAS DEVONO CRESA ADAPTED TO WORKING REMOTELY? WHAT PRACTICES HAVE YOU PUT IN PLACE TO ENSURE THAT YOU STAY PRODUCTIVE?
Charles: DeVono adapted to the new ‘agile working’ agenda by utilising remote working platforms and applications. These have enabled us to stay connected with our colleagues and clients. We have a daily meeting, just as we did back in the office, which allows us to catch-up directly with team members. We also have a weekly ‘All Company’ session, where the various departments discuss current projects and prospective clients, enabling us to share activities and provide an overview of the broader business.
George: Apart from leveraging the tools put in place by DeVono, to ensure that I stay productive, I try to keep to a similar routine as if I were in office – by structuring my day, breaking for lunch and taking reasonable exercise breaks.
2. HOW ARE YOU PROVIDING THE SAME LEVEL OF SUPPORT AND SERVICE TO CLIENTS REMOTELY?
Charles: There is no denying that these are unprecedented times. However, we are adapting to the challenges ahead of us, and utilising the available technology, enabling us to deliver a seamless service.
We are currently offering our clients ‘virtual’ viewing tours, of an exhaustive list of suitable properties. We also walk them through ‘3D Matterport’ scans, which are beneficial in providing a more detailed feel for the space. We serve several international clients, and the tools that we put in place earlier for this offering have only helped us during these times.
George: Our support for our clients has not differed, and we are still available to speak to them and advise them when needed. The obvious differences are that we cannot meet in-person and that viewing tours previously could not be undertaken. However, we connect with clients via video calls to ensure that the relationship is still ongoing and operational.
We have also created in-depth ‘look books’ of properties that are more visual than the standard property particulars and include 3-D Walkthroughs of the spaces on offer.
3. WHAT CHALLENGES DID YOU FACE AFTER SWITCHING TO REMOTE WORKING, AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM?
Charles: One of the challenges of working from home was dealing with the lack of face-to-face communication. However, connecting with colleagues via daily calls, catch-ups, and an online messenger has helped to keep up the camaraderie and team spirit. I have found it incredibly helpful to set myself daily targets and goals, however small or large. These have kept me motivated and focused.
George: For me, one of the key challenges has been to keep motivation and concentration levels high. A usual day
for myself could include pitching to new clients, meetings with current clients, internal meetings or viewing tours – so actual physical time spent at my desk can be few and far between.
This has now been turned on its head, and I find that I have to set myself ‘chunks’ of time to work too. I sometimes find myself not having got up from my workstation for a couple of hours, which is not suitable for concentration levels. As discussed previously, for me, it is about trying to get as ‘normal’ a routine as possible.
4. AT THIS UNPRECEDENTED TIME, WHAT GUIDANCE HAVE YOU BEEN PROVIDING TO CLIENTS?
Charles: In these uncertain times, we are being asked a variety of questions about what might be available in the form of rent, business rates and/or service charge relief. We are opening up an immediate dialogue on behalf of our clients with their landlord and/or their managing agent. We are also offering practical advice regarding business rates for those beyond the six sectors that have received relief from the government.
Our goal is straightforward; we want to support our clients to evaluate their real estate outgoings to come through these difficult times successfully.
George: It is important to give balanced and reasoned advice, as the outcome / fall out of what we are currently going through remains uncertain, but what can be managed is people’s behaviour in these times. Some landlord and tenants’ relationships can be complicated at the best of times. The uncertainty resulting from COVID-19 can test these relationships even further. My advice has been to have constructive discussions, whether it be regarding a rent deferral proposition, or perhaps using some of the tenants rent deposit to cover rental costs. All parts of the real estate market are under pressure – effective communication could make a difference in determining the future.
5. WHAT ELEMENTS OF A PHYSICAL OFFICE SPACE DO YOU MISS THE MOST?
Charles: Quite simply, I miss the daily in-person interaction with colleagues and clients. Though a video call is an efficient tool and one that I believe will be more prolific in the coming years, I do miss the physical aspect of viewing a shiny new office, development, or regeneration area/scheme. The physical and architectural aspect of our role is incredibly important, and an element I have a particular interest in – the direct contact that comes with being a Chartered Surveyor, one of the reasons that I chose this profession. It is this contact that I hope will return soon.
George: I miss my desk and a proper chair – my back is in pieces! I miss the camaraderie of the office – we perhaps take it for granted, but it’s the snippets of information that you can pick up and discuss with colleagues during a coffee break – you don’t get that at home.
6. HOW DO YOU SEE THE MARKETPLACE EVOLVE OVER THE COMING MONTHS FOR YOUR CLIENTS?
Charles: The current lockdown is enabling tenants, to undertake the most extensive work-from-home experiment, focusing on how efficiently and effectively their workforce can adapt. I do envisage that this pandemic will result in an increasing number of businesses committing to a higher degree of remote working for their employees, thus, giving workers greater agility in their daily routine. This could grant organisations the opportunity to reflect on how they occupy space – whether it is providing workstations that are suitable for touch-down staff or giving greater focus to meeting rooms and break out areas. We have already seen the legal sector adapt to more modern ways
of working (as discussed in our Q4 2019 edition of The Occupier). We expect to see office design to have greater importance in the coming months.
George: I believe that rents will more than likely hold up. However, the incentives on offer for tenants will more than likely move out again – similar to the months after the result of the Brexit referendum in 2016.
7. HOW HAVE YOU BENEFITTED BY WORKING REMOTELY?
Charles: Living in Oxfordshire, I must admit that I am not missing the three-hour round-trip daily commute. I did invest in a Brompton bicycle last year, so I look forward to better utilising it in my day-to-day routine – when we finally return to some form of normality.
George: The lack of commute is a significant benefit – getting an extra hour-and-a-half back in the day is appreciated resulting in more time with loved ones. The money saved on travel and meals is also a bonus.