Reasons for measured optimism after the challenges of 2020 – Ed Hutchinson

Covid-19 has brought more than its fair share of problems for us all. But could it also be a catalyst for positive change within the property industry? Our Managing Director ED HUTCHINSON answers questions about his recent thought-provoking article in the Yorkshire Post.

We seem to be entering a period of great uncertainty again, when many hoped that we might have turned a corner. Does this concern you?

There’s no doubt that the operating environment is challenging, to say the least. Businesses in a number of areas of the country – particularly the North of England – are facing the prospect of renewed lockdown and impact on their revenue. Then, of course, we also have Brexit just around the corner. Everyone wants to be able to contemplate growth, but inevitably there’s been an emphasis on recovery and stability instead. My view is that Covid has perhaps provided us with an opportunity to reevaluate and reset some of our core objectives.

So, what is the key to coming through these difficult times?

Many businesses will have reviewed how and where they can achieve efficiencies. Careful management of cashflow, challenging pre-pandemic plans for capital expenditure and adapting internal operations and processes will all have been commonplace. Adopting these strategies can certainly make a big difference, but we must be realistic, sadly not every company is going to survive. Those that do will need to move beyond basic ‘survival mode’.  Businesses need to pause, reflect and debate how they can position themselves such that they can ‘hit the ground running’ post-Covid.

What kind of changes should we be considering?

We need to re-set some of our basic behaviors and look at the whole way in which we approach our business activities. An obvious example is the move to more flexible working arrangements. We’ve talked about this endlessly for years, but never really fully embraced it.  Many businesses had concerns around the impact on company culture and productivity. In 2020, we were forced to adopt this alternative model of working practically overnight. It was the push we needed. The technology was already there to make it work and people have got on board.

So why shouldn’t we take this opportunity to accelerate some of the other ideas that many of us had been discussing prior to the emergence of the coronavirus? I’m talking about sustainability, for instance, and social purpose. What about wider working practices? Equality and diversity? The property industry has needed to address these issues in a meaningful way for some time, but if we’re honest, we have been reluctant to accept change.

Is this revolution or evolution?

People are much more likely to get on board if we approach these issues in a methodical step by step way. Here at HBD, we aspire to one day becoming a Net Zero Carbon organisation. The specifics of this need to be carefully mapped out. We’re creating a plan that’s logical and workable and will hopefully bring about improvement year on year in terms of how our business activities impact on the environment. We are also very committed at HBD to helping create a more diverse industry. The Diversity and Inclusion group, which met recently, is a big step in the right direction towards creating a more diverse culture. Again, it’s a question of challenging existing practices, questioning how we can do things differently and creating positive experiences for people in their working lives.

Is the will there to make it happen?

I think it is. I see a lot of determined, enthusiastic people in our business and across the sector. Whilst big changes cannot happen overnight, I believe there is a tangible increase in momentum. If there’s one big positive to come out of the difficulties we’ve been faced with this year, it’s that sense of collective purpose.  Hopefully the industry can continue to move forward with an open mind, recognize the value of long-term partnerships and commit to the idea that profit, although fundamental, is not the only priority. If we can demonstrate new ways of working and show that we’re committed to rebuilding local economies, our businesses – and the industry as a whole – will be stronger for it.

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