A lot has been written on the unquestionably troubling negative impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. As well as the individual human cost, there can be no doubt as to the long-term impact on real estate, alongside the far-reaching economic effects we are beginning to feel.
It’s safe to say that Covid-19 has affected us all in a variety of ways and it’s easy to lose one’s spirit and perhaps focus on the more negative aspects, especially when as a community we’re battling an unprecedented and highly unpredictable global crisis.
One thing is clear; the way we live and work has changed forever and some of our deeply rooted dependencies and certainties have been challenged. While this has sometimes been uncomfortable and disruptive, it has provided a unique window through which to view some unanticipated benefits arising through major changes in human behaviour.
The natural world in particular has had some respite. Wildlife is prospering, waterways in Venice are clearer, and there are blue skies over Delhi as NASA satellites show a substantial decrease in air pollution - 20-30% in many cases - in major cities around the world. Whilst applauding this environmental paradigm shift, it’s also important to acknowledge how people have adapted, and in some cases flourished, during these testing times.
The Howard Group team has shown quite remarkable resilience, flexibility and kindness, rising to the challenges presented. Momentum has been maintained, we have continued to drive the business forward and I have been hugely impressed by the way in which the team has embraced the challenges we have faced with enormous drive, determination and passion.
I recently invited members of our team to share their reactions and reflections on the lockdown while still fresh in the mind. There has been a wonderful spirit and some of this comes through their viewpoints which I’d like to share with you.
Very few could have predicted, or been able to plan for, the extraordinary times we’re currently living in. Virtually overnight, across our industry and the geographies in which we operate, certain ways of working dissolved. Working hours, travel, the use of technology, and relationship building will all look very different for as long as I can foresee. Some of these changes will be welcome and others will be imposed upon us.
For a relatively traditional industry, the property world, in many quarters, has been quick to embrace the required changes and to adapt the way we do business to maintain busines-as-unusual!
Across the Howard Group, the day-to-day decisions we make all contribute to a business which is resilient enough to withstand world-changing events. The feeling from the team is that wise and thoughtful decision-making, rigour and interrogation in the past has led to a strong and stable business in the present, citing the ability to secure new occupiers, lease renewals and re-gears agreed in lockdown as being testament to the resilience of our business and an underlying confidence amongst our customers and partners.
How we assess opportunities; seizing those that are aligned with our values, vision and purpose, is seen as a sound approach which is helping us to future-proof the business.
Exploring new HR systems, taking part in online social media training, learning other new skills and recruiting during this turbulence are just a few more examples of how the forward-thinking and inquisitive nature of the team has continued while working from home.
There was an overwhelming sense of positivity and dedication throughout the team. Their ability to deal with fast-changing and unusual circumstances was mainly attributed to their experience, but it was also directly linked to their relationships with one another.
The ‘all in it together’ sentiment was felt by all, with some even noting they had created deeper bonds with each other, nurturing these relationships with support, encouragement and an acknowledgment that while we are in the same storm, we may not be in the same boat. One team member said they were hugely thankful for the ‘work family’ and another recalled the team’s humour and togetherness as having been moving and uplifting.
The JLL Property Weekend Challenge was a great illustration of this. We collectively took part in the virtual duathlon along with 800 others from across the property industry which raised a total of £17,500 for two charities, Crisis and LandAid. This was a fantastic industry achievement at a time when these charities are seeing an increased demand for their services in the midst of a global pandemic, and a great example of the team coming together for the greater good.
It was notable from the team’s reflections that although our business is largely focused upon property and investment, it’s so very much about people. The team’s care of others, both their own family and friends as well as our suppliers, customers and partners, shines though.
Whether we were home-schooling children, struggling with internet connections or trying to stop the dog from barking on video-calls, these interruptions and competing demands were understood, and goodwill and camaraderie were expanded. We’ve all become better colleagues and partners because of that.
Our ‘Buddy’ system was also well received as a way of providing one-to-one additional support but equally, breathing room has been given and appreciated as staff made space during the day for exercise, relaxation and family time.
Setting the course
I think that it will be only too easy for us to return to a ‘new normal’, get back into the swing of things and, to some extent, forget about the quite extraordinary events of the past few months.
We have been provided an opportunity to reassess priorities and rediscover what matters most, what drives us and how we can maintain a sustained commitment to reducing social, economic and environmental imbalances in the longer term.
I’m a great believer that adversity fosters creativity, resilience and identity. As a family-owned company, our name and long-standing values run through everything we do, especially so during times such as these. These values; honesty, integrity, loyalty, stewardship, sacrificial service, dignity and respect, are at the heart of how we approach our work, relationships and the environment and have been something solid to lean on as we’ve navigated these choppy waters. This means that everything we do, whether it be developing a forgotten place, backing a technology entrepreneur, or an emphasis on employee wellness, will have positive cultural and community impact at its core.
Given the constantly shifting landscape, setting a steady course focused on creating, nurturing and valuing lasting relationships, will create a meaningful impact now and well into the post-COVID future.
Our world is inevitably changed through this experience and I wholeheartedly believe that it is an experience to learn from, rather than brush off once it is over. How we adapt and evolve remains a question for us all to consider; as an industry, as work colleagues, and as human beings.
I would like to thank the Howard Group team for openly sharing their thoughts and experiences with me for this piece. It’s a great privilege to be part of this team.
This article was first published in the Cambridge University Land Society’s (CULS) annual magazine in October 2020.