Space UK – how can our industry lead through change

Space UK – how can our industry lead through change 27 January 2023

The past few years have seen the sector experience a series of external shocks. At every level, from businesses to individuals, the instinctive approach to adopt in these situations has often been to look inwards.

This inward-looking approach is less about the type of decisions that are made, but how they are taken. Whose voices were listened to both before and after acting (or not, in many cases), and who is considered to be part of a collaborative solution.

Co-hosting last week’s SPACE UK event at 22 Bishopsgate in London, represented an important opportunity for us to look outwards, to widen the circle of voices we hear, and to realise, that in many instances, stakeholders across the built environment are facing shared problems. As Judith Everitt, Executive Director of Purpose, Sustainability & Stakeholder at the Crown Estate highlighted, leadership is about realising when you do not have all the answers and having to the confidence to say so out loud.

A more rounded understanding of the challenges facing the sector leads to a greater understanding of where opportunities may exist, or the barriers that need addressing to unlock them. This means making room for nuance and avoiding getting stuck in the increasingly polarised debates that often dominate discussions, whether its remote ‘vs’ hybrid or retrofit ‘vs’ purpose-built sustainable buildings.

Some further takeaways:

1. The real estate sector is struggling to get to grips with social value – not through lack of will or prioritisation, but a lack of clear and consistent definitions, especially in the context of real estate, and a range of approaches to measurement. There is an ever-increasing expectation and appetite across investor groups, planning authorities and occupiers that schemes deliver more than just financial value. Many also recognised that integrating ESG considerations into operating models, commercial appraisals, design, and management can generate strong demand and financial returns. Now we need to find alignment on how to help them, recognising that social impact is particularly important in our sector because unlike many other sectors, the value of the products we design, deliver and manage is inherently linked to people and place.

2. Adopting Change – walking the walk: It may not always be apparent to outsiders, but a number of major real estate businesses are adopting or accelerating a process of change to respond to both internal and external pressures. This is not a perfect process, as highlighted by both Morwenna Hall, COO of Argent, and David Walker, COO of British Land, and mistakes will be made, but trial and error is preferable to stasis. I’m a firm believer that for change to be meaningful, and sustainable, it needs to involve the reallocation of resources, be this time, money, people – anything else is just words. Industry COOs in particular are at the forefront of translating words into actions, in deciding how resources are allocated, and how performance is measured.

3. Efficiency isn’t everything: A common theme emerging from discussions on issues, ranging from workspace design to the use of data for investment management, is that doing things quicker or cheaper does not necessarily mean better. Returning to the opening theme of purpose, we should focus on what it means for our people, our processes and our places to be effective. For example, automation of a process that was previously carried out by individuals may save time and/or money, but it’s how that additional time and money is then spent and distributed that drives real change.

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