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The joy of agile working

14 February 2017

Chris Whetstone
Chris Whetstone
T: 020 7911 2014
Overwork and a poor work-life balance are problems familiar to many. The BBC recently shared the news that UK commuters are willing to travel further and longer to work, with the average commute lasting 57.1 minutes.

Most alarmingly 3.7 million workers travel for two hours or longer every weekday. Long commuting is undoubtedly putting a heavy strain on workers and their families but is it really necessary?

As a husband and father of two young children I have experimented with countless work-life balance techniques and life hacks. Some work a treat, whilst others have lasted less than a week. In this article I share my own experiences of building a balanced working life whilst also enjoying some unusual benefits.

Flirting with the office timesheet

Flexible working policies, including home working, have been common place for many years. A nod from senior management can allow you to work remotely, choose the hours that suit you and embrace a better work life balance. This view is endorsed by an organisation called GoROWE which stands for Results Only Work Environments which believes in promoting working cultures where it doesn’t matter how and where you work as long as you get the job done.

In my case, applying the principles of ROWE begins with choosing the time of day I want to both work and play. Many years ago I reversed engineered my traditional evening activities into my morning routine. After a going to bed very early the night before, I wake each morning at 5 am to learn Spanish, enjoy a healthy breakfast and catch the earliest train into work. As a result I finish work around 4.30pm and see my family for dinner, bath time and bed-time reading. This decision is obviously not the favoured lifestyle for everyone.

Agile work in the community

Today, many people look for something more meaningful than just financial reward from their job. They want the chance to give something back to their communities and to good causes. Applying the principles of ROWE can not only give you more time but it can help you to contribute to society rather than just show up and grind out a day’s work.

In 2016, I decided to test the boundaries of my company home working policy and started to work from my local Church, St Andrews in Enfield (North London) once a week. St Andrews is working towards the Eco Church standard and I have agreed with the local vicar that I will act as a competent expert to guide and manage their project in exchange for a free desk. My commute to the parish office once a week is 15 minutes and the office has most of the amenities I have in my central London office. I now also help run their church youth club on a Monday evening. Using the Office for National Statistics ‘unpaid work calculator’, I estimate the earnings I would have been paid for my volunteering whilst at St Andrews to be in the region of £4,500 a year:

Inspired by the above and asking yourself how you could devote more energy and time to an agile working life? The following quick tips should help get you off to a good start:

  • Work smarter not longer - Allow yourself a certain amount of time per task – and trying not to get caught up in less productive activities.
  • Closure - if you must take work home with you, confine it to a certain area of your home – and be able to close the door on it.
  • Make people wait - Manage colleague’s expectations about how quickly you will reply to emails. Make replying within 24 or 48 hours the new normal.
  • Set your own rules - Where able set your own work pattern. There will be days when you feel guilty for not being in the office or at your desk but give yourself a break, you are the person in control about what work you do and where you choose to do it.

NB. I am writing this article on a train between London and Birmingham, another favourite agile working location of mine.

A team of change makers

31 January 2017

Natasha Lee
Natasha Lee
T: 020 7911 2944
There is only so much formal education in schools, regular global news updates and environmental campaigners can do to influence the day to day decisions of a person. When most of the time spent by office staff is in a 9-5:30 office environment, 5 days a week, you need an internal team of change markers to help make a difference.

I happen to have the privilege of being one of those change makers at GVA as I was hired to be the corporate responsibility assistant. My role is to influence people in the business to care more about their communities, their individual well-being and the environment. This is done through identifying barriers to behaviour change and coming up with innovative ways to encourage the business to support the change that is needed to overall improve productivity. Here are a few things that I would like to share:

Barriers to behaviour change identified

  1. Lack of time – People know the importance of a healthy work environment and want to give back to their communities but they do not make it a priority. Usually an individual will always find time for things that matter such as eating and drinking water. Therefore there is a need to help everyone realise corporate responsibility should be integrated into daily life rather than something you need to book time out in your diary for.
  2. ‘I’ll do it next time’ mentality – People are generally resistant to change so may not dare to ask their managers to take the day off to volunteer, or may not bother separating their food waste from general rubbish. We are creatures of habit so if we do not start today, we will never do it later. If we did make a start, it will only become easier because muscle memory does not just apply to sports.
  3. Lack of incentives – People are competitive and when there doesn’t seem to be a tangible reward, we turn a blind eye. However, the beauty of my role is being able to obtain budget where I can demonstrate a business case for it. This provides room to come up with ideas to incentivise people to make that vital first step to changing.

Recommendations to overcome barriers

  1. Tree-planting– A successful volunteer day where staff from teams across the business can come together to help off-set the carbon emissions of their office by planting trees across the UK and be aware as to why we have the carbon scheme with the Woodland Trust. Conversations can be had in an informal setting about environmental issues and steps that can be taken to protect our planet. Due to positive feedback via word of mouth, more and more staff are keen to try this activity including senior managers and directors.
  2. Smoothie Bike event for Earth Hour – What better way than to engage staff with an interactive activity where they have to pedal a bike to blend their own smoothie. This event tackles the importance of health and well-being as well as raises environmental awareness regarding energy usage. The incentive for people to come along to receive useful information leaflets is the free smoothie they get to enjoy!
  3. Making it a priority – I have been working on a pro-bono, fundraising and volunteering guide for my company which has just been launched. I realized the importance of professionalizing our community and charity service to ensure it becomes part of core business. By having these booklets, it demonstrates to our people that community and charity work is encouraged and a part of GVA culture. This should therefore allow people to feel more comfortable asking their line managers to get involved and at the same time, prompt line managers to encourage their team members to support activities too.

Ultimate lesson for anyone in corporate responsibility

Don’t give up on pushing for change because no one else is going to make that change.

James' top 10 takeaways from 'The Stoddart Review: The Workplace Advantage'

10 January 2017

James Matthews
James Matthews
T: 020 7911 2260
What is the Stoddart Review? “It exists to raise awareness among business leaders of the importance of the workplace and real estate as a key performance lever.” Put simply, the review encourages those making decision to look further into how much their workplace is contributing to the success or otherwise, of their organisation.

In any economy, it is productivity, the ability to get more out from the same labour or capital that drives worker’s wages and corporate profit. In the UK productivity is reportedly 18% below on average when compared to the other G7 economies. Shockingly, stats such as those found in the Leesman Index highlight this issue, ‘only half of employees can say their workplace enables them to work productively.’

What would a 1% productivity increase to the UK economy mean in reality? It could potentially mean up to £20 billion increase in national output! This could add £250 a year to average wages and increase annual profits across the UK by almost £3.5 billion; not a figure you can ignore.

The review explores the idea that the more tailored the infrastructure is to the needs of those using the space, the better the employees will perform. If annual staff performance reviews sit at the heart of talent management within business, why then is the majority of workplace strategy dictated by lease events?

The review looks into current metrics for analysing the performance of office space utilisation. Using this metric has unsurprisingly led to a utilisation rate, not a productivity figure. Space utilisation results in design and occupancy strategies supporting density at the expense of performance and productivity. The review moves to reframe the business case for improving the performance of 90% of typical business costs instead of value engineering what is often on average 7% of business costs in its accommodation spend.

Highlighted within the review is the disconnect between the workplace, the industry serving it and its intended beneficiaries, staff.

My top 10 takeaways from the review:

  1. Workplace Appraisal: Smarter not more. When looking at productivity it has been common up until now to commission utilisation studies, resulting in an occupancy density metric. However, this confuses spatial efficiency with productivity. In trying to save real estate costs, increasing occupation density creates an environment that hinders rather than helps staff. The key to increasing density is mobility. The freedom to choose, combined with a choice of spaces that suit different tasks and different preferences.
  2. After salaries, property is the second largest cost any business will incur. It is therefore surprising that while employee effectiveness is reviewed annually, the infrastructure supporting staff is only reviewed when a lease event arises, approximately every 10 years. It should therefore be in the interest of business to continually observe, test, discuss, measure and be prepared to tweak and change the space when needed.
  3. The office is alive and well: 91% of UK employees still work solely from the office. Workplaces used to be the manifestation of power and hierarchy, now they affirm collaborative culture and a sense of community. In this circumstance, the workplace has become a source of coactive power.
  4. According to CIPD research carried out in 2015, the workplace has become a differentiator in attraction, development and retention of talent. Job candidates consider physical workspace a more important factor than leadership, CSR and technology.
  5. Leveraging the workplace industry: Prioritise effective user experience over economy focused, space saving strategies. Be aware of falling into the common situation whereby projects are cost-planned before any workplace designers have taken a brief and designers are allowed minimal to zero engagement with the end users or the executive board. This inevitably results in lower levels of employee satisfaction. Good workplace design is key to performance, engagement and the bottom line, making it a crucial consideration for all business leaders.
  6. Are we going to see the rise of the Chief Workplace Officer (CWO)? The review calls for the creation of a position who can act as a ‘super-connector’. This individual knows the right people to turn to and is able to match the right people to the right opportunities. The CWO can develop integrated business cases and acts as the interpreter between individual teams or business units’ needs and the infrastructure teams that deliver them.
  7. Agility is essential to success: Business agility is no longer a luxury, it is critical to survival. Speed and cost are now equally important and are now determining the shape of real estate portfolios. Alignment between workplace and purpose is a key tool in managing agility. Fast-growth businesses consistently demonstrate that business agility is contingent on a socially cohesive organisation. Human beings are social animals and work is a social institution.
  8. Long-term relationships are often formed at work. In the best workplaces, employers recognise that their staff want to forge these relationships and that company allegiance can be built or strengthened from such things.
  9. Every business relies on technology in some form or another. The review’s data shows that this need is more focused on the ease of use and the ability to provide choice than it does to the slightly more alternative ‘feature’ meeting rooms, however extraordinary they might look! Looking forward it is predicted that by 2018 at least 13 million workplace wearable devices will be integrated into wellness programs. Technology continues to drive the market and should enable us to provide a more productive space for people to operate in.
  10. In the fierce race to attract and develop staff into productive and loyal team members, it is essential to assess if your current workplace enables and supports your employees. This is the beginning of the workplace strategy. Ask yourself, can you afford not to do this?

A need for a sustainability strategy or a business strategy for a sustainable world?

1 August 2016

Jon Gibson
Jon Gibson
T: 020 7911 2680
Whether you like it or not the real estate sector needs to do more to transition to a sustainable future. At the launch event of our Green to Gold 2016 report it was clear that the industry wants to at least learn how to do more.

Whilst our Green to Gold 2016 report found that 84% of respondents have a sustainability strategy results show there is a clear gap when it comes to implementing and embedding these strategies into core business functions.

Our expert panel of speakers led the way focusing on the 'how', citing innovative approaches relative to their own experiences. The panel provided the packed room of investors perspectives from a commercial lender, an institutional pension fund manager, a listed property company and an investment agent.

A major theme that came out in the panel discussion was the need for a sector wide approach to deliver the systemic change required. This was demonstrated perfectly by Caroline Hill, Head of Sustainability at Land Securities, who explained their soon to be launched long term science-based carbon reduction target based on Land Securities' share of the real estate sectors carbon emissions. Caroline told the audience "since the Paris climate agreement we have responded positively, setting a new and ambitious long term science-based carbon reduction target across our portfolio".

Guy Glover, Fund Manager at BMO Real Estate Partners, responded to the idea that shorter term investment horizons lead to a less sustainable approach. Guy argued that "due to the greater level of risk and need to maximise returns in a shorter time frame there is a greater risk to value in not doing enough, whilst potentially missing out on opportunities to capitalise revenue streams from energy efficiency initiatives".

A real element of surprise for investors in the room came when Jessica Pilz, Environmental and Sustainability Risk Manager at RBS, spoke about the progress being made by banks in the commercial lending market. RBS are now "reviewing existing loan books and ensuring new loan terms are as future proofed as possible against current and planned regulations and market trends". This includes working with borrowers to monitor risk to value and LTV ratios in customer portfolios brought about by the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES), effective in April 2018.

Mark Frampton, Senior Director, Investment at GVA, echoed the panel's views and felt the advisory industry as a whole needed to upskill if they wanted to continue to work with the increasing number of progressive companies. Mark said "the key opportunity for us is to continue to support our clients sustainability needs by working collaboratively across business lines with our sustainability team and embedded experts".

Business Unusual

As chair of the event I was thrilled to see such positive and varied approaches to tackling some of the biggest issues we face as an industry.

With the findings from our report and the views of the expert panel, it feels right to me that now is the time to call for the real estate sector as a collective to set a strategy to prepare for a sustainable future, rather than a sustainability strategy to support core business interests alone. This requires a very big but very necessary change in mind-set.

Green to Gold: A Need to Lead

4 July 2016

Alastair Mant
Alastair Mant
T: 020 7911 2940
The built environment is integral to many of the changes required in order to create a sustainable society. Through our GVA Green to Gold survey we ask property fund and portfolio managers their views on how they and the industry are responding to the challenges.

Our resulting report, the sixth in the series, analyses the responses and compares them to those of previous years. There are sections on strategy and reporting, implementation and market impacts and this year we also asked about the Paris Climate Agreement and the upcoming minimum energy efficiency standards (MEES).

As well as lovely stats and charts, we have provided our own insights as to the direction of travel within the industry and how some of the challenges can be met. We were delighted to also be able to call upon the thoughts of three of our clients: Land Securities, RBS and BMO Real Estate Partners.

The challenge

Our report identifies seven environmental and social megatrends and some of the ways in which governments, investors and businesses are responding. It is clear that the built environment, through choice or otherwise, will be integral to many of the coming changes.

For example, how will property reduce the 30% of greenhouse gas emissions that it is responsible for; how will buildings demonstrate a positive effect on the health of their occupiers and communities; can offices adapt to the greater number of older age workers; how will properties and cities operate in a world of connected technologies?

Property and land accounts for 70% of all global wealth and it is clear that the money is increasingly flowing to assets that can demonstrate they are part of the solution and not just part of the status quo. Therefore, if commercial property is to retain its value and fulfil its role in ensuring a sustainable society it must accelerate its pace of change.

The good, the bad and the disappointing

The 2016 findings provide a signal as to how the commercial property industry is responding to the challenge. Here are some of the headline findings from the survey responses:

  • 55% have sustainability strategies or policies at a fund/portfolio level
  • 50% only have sustainability plans for less than a quarter of their properties
  • Occupier demand is the primary reason for integrating sustainability criteria
  • Half report their sustainability performance via annual corporate responsibility reports
  • 45% report to the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB)
  • 95% give sustainability criteria "some importance" or "equal importance with other factors" at the time of acquisition
  • 63% do not assign specific figures for sustainability issues within their investment appraisal calculations
  • 84% believe that valuers inadequately reflect sustainability issues
  • 57% have assessed their portfolio’s risk profile in regards to the MEES regulation
  • 63% believe the Paris Climate Change Agreement will have “some impact” on the real estate investment market by 2020
  • 70% think that the commercial property sector cannot achieve reduction in carbon emissions of 52% by 2030

Business unusual

Our previous Green to Gold reports illustrated that property owners are operating in an increasingly sustainable manner, with our 2014 report concluding that sustainability was no longer "just a nice to have". Sadly, this year’s Green to Gold findings do not provide the signals of progress that we would expect considering the broader global trends.

Further work is required by businesses to map the environmental and social challenges to their operations and identify how they can be part of the solution. Strategies need to then be reflected in new processes, asset management plans and training to close the skills gap. Collaboration is key; with occupiers, suppliers, partners and other businesses.

Luckily a lot of the technology, best practice case studies and collaborative organisations already exist. Now is the time to make it mainstream. From politicians, industry groups, companies and individuals; there is a need to lead.

For the full story please download the new Green to Gold report "A need to lead" here.

You can also contribute your thoughts on Twitter via #GVAG2G