Holt Commercial Director reflects on Lockdown in University Magazine


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Holt Commercial Director, David Allen, has described the ‘sheer frustration’ of the lockdown period in an article for the Cambridge University Land Society magazine.
In the article, which can be read in full below, Allen reflected on the commercial property market but also on the day-to-day personal challenges over recent months.
Frustration mixed with Optimism
My overwhelming personal reflection of the lockdown period was sheer frustration at not being able to achieve very much, but with an inbuilt optimistic view that we would return to normal as in the end we need an economy. 
Working from home in the shorter term was no problem at all as the facilities I had were perfectly adequate albeit the I.T was an occasional impediment. It did have its problems with structuring the day which travelling to and from work did put light and shade into a routine.
The most frustrating aspect was the continual conversations with clients owning investment properties that were potentially available for sale, and advising them on the won’t pay or can’t pay conversations regarding rent collection. Government seemed content to cave into lots and lots of undue lobbying from occupiers but seemingly turned a deaf ear to owners.
We did complete a sale of a closed coffee bar during the lockdown period but there are a lot of splinters around from fence sitting which, combined with actually getting hold of people at home, has made some deals go on forever. Development was always difficult - despite being needed – and it is that difficulty of no meetings in person that led to time wasting which may now be needed to focus minds. A Teams call on a regular basis is now part of the structure, however.
At a personal level, no sport to watch, such as rugby, or tennis to play again gave the week a lack of structure and healthy walks did not get me much lighter or fitter! Sadly, I missed a couple of funerals (cancer not Covid) that meant paying proper respects was difficult.
On a positive note I attended more CULS meetings on Zoom than I would manage in person and the content was excellent and CPD compliant for the RICS.
I came back into the office fairly quickly mainly because by having my daughter and son-in-law moving in and taking over my study, and the joy of a 10 minute rather than 30-minute commute by car was delightful. Certainly, this is not easily replicated coming into London on public transport. However, Birmingham was eerily quiet and the important element of an agent`s life – the hospitality industry – is only just struggling back to life.
Longer term implications
Much has been written about the death of the office but I do see a repurposing of the office combined with working from home rather than an abandonment, and certainly whilst some indications are that productivity has increased, I wonder how much new work was actually generated. Quite a lot of processing was probably done efficiently but not everyone can actually work from home successfully.
Birmingham is still eerily quiet and there is little doubt that, until office workers are back, the hospitality industry will be hit financially and undermine the very basis of being a surveyor! Until the larger businesses are back then this position will persist. This article was written in August so the position may have changed by the time it is read but if the Government are encouraging workers back to the office in September when schools resume then stipulate that their funded departments such as Homes England and HMRC return in 2020 not 2021. The urban economy will change but it also needs to survive.
Out of adversity does spring innovation with the Park in the Street around the corner from our offices (use picture) while Covid has also led to the abandonment of the Commonwealth Games Village with university facilities now being used. The long-term housing legacy is, however, secured.
It has certainly led to a much greater focus in all businesses about resilience planning which is a good thing, debtor collection is even more heavily in focus and upgrading of I.T is far more of a concern. 
As far as our practice is concerned, the effectiveness of remote meetings was in no small measure related as to whether the participants knew each other prior to those meetings and in my view, as an older member of the property community, there is absolutely no substitute for in-person meetings, albeit I accept that at the present time that is just not possible. 
The office does, of course, perform a very useful function for meeting other team members and for the interchange of ideas and I think it may be to the detriment of younger personnel who have not received any real mentoring if they are absent too long. I am sure battery hen densities will be a thing of the past for a long while and quite how the taller buildings will cope with lift densities will need to be worked out very quickly.
Finally, internet delivery and disposing of the copious packaging has become a major item in our household. Roll on 2021.

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