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Leadership Resilience

Andrew Phipps • 07/04/2020

The resilience of our leadership is brought into sharp relief during times of crisis. The nature of the crisis is moot, it’s how people in positions of responsibility respond and the messages they send to their teams, clients, and in the cases of governments around the world, their electorate and the voracious 24-hour news cycle. 

The disturbance to the equilibrium resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak has caused change on a scale experienced by few people during their lifetime. We’ve seen Dyson designing a new ventilator in 10 days, Mercedes Formula One team developing a new breathing aid and UK manufacturing giants including Airbus, Rolls Royce, BAE Systems and Siemens coming together to deliver the NHS much needed ventilators. 

Change has become the new status quo and people, business and politicians have seen a dramatic shift in their priorities. The UK Chancellor’s announcements of a business rate discount in the recent Budget seems light years ago.

The wholesale changes to this announced on the 17 March took the form of a tax holiday starting on 1 April for the majority of businesses in the leisure, retail or hospitality sectors. The issues that seemed so important a few weeks ago are now perhaps forgotten or have certainly declined in importance.

Personal experience has shown me that some people absolutely thrive in a time of uncertainty and have an inbuilt compass to navigate through the most directionless scenarios. For others, change is unsettling and can quickly overwhelm.

Mental health worries are a consideration for all, and the property industry has made great strides in this area over the past 24 months. The advent of mental health first aiders, access to support lines, deeper understanding where perhaps a ‘just get on with it’ approach was more commonplace are to be welcomed by all leaders as a key element of helping people cope. Working in new environments, alongside partners, children, and indeed pets, is a very different consideration than operating out of a traditional office.

Leaders in the real estate industry have had to address and understand Government intervention and the protection of tenant’s leases. Interpreting what the landlord, tenant relationship looks like in the current landscape requires the wisdom of Solomon. Having an eye to the future once we escape from the tyranny of the COVID-19 virus is critical. The thoughts of many have already turned to addressing what happens next, when will we be back in our buildings?

The soundings I have taken is that we are likely 8 weeks and more from starting the progression back to office life. As we move away from the oak panelled offices of some and the kitchen table of others, resilient leadership will be crucial. There will be a natural hesitancy felt by many. Having adapted to reach a state of equilibrium to be thrown back into a maelstrom of change will be a challenge.

We will not see everyone moving back on one day. Occupiers will retain many of the lighter touch social distancing measures for the remainder of 2020. Creating teams, A, B and C for example coming into the office on sequential days will be one answer. Extending the working day to allow for ‘shifts’ will be another.

The future for teams will be about remaining connected. Having meetings with teams from across the globe has been as commonplace for me over the past 10 days as meeting with someone that I sit 10 metres from in ‘normal’ life. Life will not go back to how it was before and nor should it. 

The ability of people to make change has been astounding. Anecdotes abound of 5,000 call centre staff all effectively working from home within 72 hours. Virtual teams being set up within hours of ‘lockdown’, cloud usage increasing by 775%, Microsoft Teams seeing a growth of 500% usage in China since the end of January according to a spokesperson. 

The collective move to technology to create connections and drive a more human experience is perhaps unexpected. The simple fact is that the cost of technology to support home working, to enable business to operate seamlessly from wherever suddenly seems like a very worthwhile investment.

The ability of leaders to remain resilient no matter what the situation is fundamental to business success. The change we are experiencing is ongoing, it’s not something that ‘has’ happened, it ‘is’ happening. Plans evolve and need to adapt; objectives and expectations aren’t always achieved. People are of course unsure what their future holds. 

A resilient leader is one who sees the current challenge as a setback but one that will be overcome. The wealth of insight now available as a result of this enforced homeworking experiment is going to be key to determining what the future of work becomes. The power to interpret what this means for occupiers and landlords alike is where true value is to be realised. 

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