Snow days, no problem

A Lens member relates to us that in December 2009 he was working for a recruitment agency in Central London. The job included processing time sheets for temporary staff and sending them onto head office. This was a mundane but critically important job that typically took around half an hour. If it wasn’t completed, people didn’t get paid.

On the Monday before Christmas it began to snow, heavily, and the trains into London were inevitably cancelled. This was time sheet day and the last one before the holidays, failure to make it into the office was not an option. Loading the car with a flask of coffee and a blanket, it took a hazardous five hours of driving to reach the office and a further six terrifying hours to return home.

In 2020 this same process is automated and can be easily completed by a smart phone while building a snowman in the garden.

I’m reminded of this as we enter week 11 of lockdown. At the Lens we have a long tradition of remote working, but it’s been a unique experience to find everyone doing so simultaneously. Nevertheless, it only took around a week to recreate our systems and working practices meaning we have successfully continued with uninterrupted coverage of the institutional market in print and digital formats.

For the companies we work with, some transitioned immediately to remote working and some took a little longer. What is apparent now is that every company we know, now seems to have adjusted and we are engaging in normal business conversations.

Consequently, it now seems clear that one of the long-term effects of the current situation is that the traditional five-day commute to the office is over. People will still need to meet for both internal and external company meetings but not on the scale that we’ve been used to. Culturally this will have a huge impact on how we see colleagues and clients. Certainly, less water-cooler moments but perhaps more time for birthday cakes as being in the office will become more of an event.

For real estate investors in traditional offices, they may feel severely threatened. However, with each threat there is an opportunity. Perhaps now is WeWork’s time. In addition, there may be lessons from the world of retail property investment, which has been challenged by declining footfall for years. Here the solution has been to convert shops to residential dwelling to retain and grow revenue.

Whatever the outcome, there will certainly be no more ten-hour round trips to the office.