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What now? Overcoming uncertainty as we move forward in 2021

This is a crucial time for businesses – the challenges and decisions that have been caused or sped up by the extraordinary events of 2020 have shone a spotlight on the possibilities and decisions that lie ahead.

As we settle into the spring of 2021, we have an air of ‘cautious optimism’ being touted by business leaders, politicians and the general public. With COVID vaccinations rolling out, both personal safety and a possible return to the workplace seem to be much more assured than they were just a few months ago.

But despite this careful move towards (whisper it) normality, there is still a huge amount of trepidation about what workplaces will look and feel like and what adjustments need to be made to accommodate a safe and productive return.

What a difference three months makes

For the majority of the people we interviewed for our recent study into attitudes around corporate real estate, making transformational change in the midst of a turbulent, rapidly evolving period of change was too risky an option.

The respondents of our Way Forward report, issued in November 2020, fell into three key groups when asked the question of whether they would be transforming their workspaces: ‘Not now’, ‘soon’ and ‘no need’. Although in many ways far apart in their views, one single fact united these groups when it came to the question of changing up their real estate strategy: they weren’t willing to take the leap.

The not now group made up the largest proportion of the people we spoke to. Whilst aware of the need to make changes to their real estate strategy and the benefits it would bring, they didn’t feel that they were in a position to make a change when we interviewed them. Reasons given ranged from ‘we need to see what happens with the virus’ to ‘the board doesn’t want to commit to changes just yet’. In short, these companies were unconvinced that real estate changes were necessary and unwilling to take what they saw as a gamble during a time of heightened uncertainty.

Overcoming uncertainty

The over-riding conclusion to be drawn from the research was that uncertainty and a lack of clarity were the only certainties uniting all of our respondents. Whether they were holding back to see what happens, pushing ahead with some plans but not fully committing, or (perhaps stubbornly) convinced no changes needed to be made, the one thing that rules them all is a lack of conviction that real estate transformation would benefit their business.

So what now? Three months on, and there is more clarity around what happens next. With the return to the workplace now (almost) guaranteed by this summer, businesses will need to mobilise quickly to assess their options, take their employees’ temperature (both literally and in terms of their appetite to return to the office) and put measures in place to make it all happen.

From remote working functions to access control features eliminating the need for building occupants to open doors and touch buttons, we are bound to see more businesses implementing technology to make their buildings safer, smarter and more connected.

Getting help

The question is, how will they go about making these changes, and whether their cautious approach will remain now that the world is starting to move on. Our November research showed that three fifths (60%) of people who were considering making changes to their real estate would do so using in-house teams rather than enlisting external support from consultants or IT experts.

So it will be interesting if these opinions change and people start reaching out for advice and assistance now times are beginning to change. Uncertainty breeds a thirst for familiarity, so it’s unsurprising that our respondents leaned towards relying on internal expertise. Spending money on outside expertise could be seen as risky at best and foolish at worst, when faced with difficult and unprecedented circumstances.

However, our study also showed that cost wasn’t a factor in firms’ unwillingness to make changes, so it was slightly surprising that businesses were not willing to make the investment in expert advice and skills. Perhaps now the uncertainty is beginning to dissipate, firms will start to see the value of partnering with experts when addressing any form of building transformation or enhancement. As with everything we are facing at the moment, it seems only time will tell.

The full The Way Forward report is available to download here. You can also take our self-assessment test and access your own bespoke advice sheet.

If you’d like to talk to our team about The Way Forward for your business, why not give us a call?