During this year’s London Design Festival, BDG hosted an insightful seminar entitiled “How Can Property Underprin a Business Strategy.”
Chaired by Paul Finch, with contributions from Max Holliday, Head of Real Estate EMEA for WPP Group, Jules Hind, Partner, Farebrother and Colin Macgadie, Creative Director at BDG, the subsequent discussion gave an insight to the different perspectives of landlord, occupier and designer.
As business slowly recovers from the Great Recession, there is no doubt that the property market conditions have shifted. Jules Hind explained: “The power is in the hands of the tenant who is now more footloose than ever. Landlords need to listen to what clients want and make sure that their buildings are working harder from a base level which includes the external envelope.”
Max Holliday outlined 3 key points to illustrate why property is vital to business strategy:
Property can be an enabler for change for an organisation, through the introduction of new working practices which in turn shift culture.
Property can be a market differentiator for organisations, assisting with recruitment and retention of the best employees.
Property combined with appropriately designed interiors can make a bold statement about an organisation’s culture and values, embodying its brand values.
Colin Macgadie, further illustrated these points through the importance a fully integrated real estate team, he says: “There are 3 key stages; the building search to determine locations; the signing of a deal which define the architecture; and finally the physical organisation of the space ie – the fit-out. From our perspective the earlier we can be involved the more effective we can be. ”
There is clearly a tipping point for most organisations, when it needs to consider its property as part of the business strategy, whether that is for growth, brand differentiation, culture shifts, recruitment and retention, or perhaps all of the above. However property is a tough business and enlightened organisations know when to pull in the experts to advise, after all property is a huge financial commitment too. Property can be an asset but for dynamic organisations where it is not their core skill it can just as easily be a liability. Large corporations like WPP avoid the temptation of buying property in favour of core buildings with long leases, supplemented as and when necessary by more flexible space. Macgadie pointed out the benefit of the long lease approach from a design perspective: “When companies are committing to a space for 20/25 years, we see far more engagement from the client in terms of how the space will be used in the long term.”
Location Versus Property: This might be a case of how the questions is asked, rather than “Can you afford to be there?” orgnisations might be better off asking themselves “Can you afford not to be there?”
This slightly divided the panel with Hind favouring the building and the nature of stock available – citing the Southbank as a perfect example of an up and coming area where great space can be found. This is in contrast to some of the more prestigious looking buildings in the City that belie a very unexciting interior. Max Holliday, was quick to highlight that London is a very different proposition to most large cities, it is unique with multiple centres. However elsewhere in the world it is vital that a global organisation such as WPP has core centres in major cities around the globe, whether that is Madrid, Hamburg, NewYork or Moscow. The panel was united in its shift away from concentrating too much on the metrics of space, favouring an intelligent approach on the suitability of a building and how the design can support an organisation.
Macgadie also highlighted the spare desks are a myth, he explains: “Agile working will not work if it only introduced to save space. Flexible working is only successful if the working environment supports the business, otherwise the process fails and the business cant thrive.”