28 November 2019

The Future of Real Estate

On Thursday 21 November, Louise Irvine attended the EG conference on the Future of Real Estate. In this blog post, Louise shares some of the key points which came out of the event:

Following a panel discussion around sustainability, looking at how the property industry can reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption, there was an extremely moving presentation by Ged King, of the charitable foundation Skullfades. The foundation is helping homeless people by offering apprenticeships with their barbershop to raise their chance of employability. Ged’s passion was inspiring and provided a strong reminder that many people are not fortunate enough to have a roof over their heads. This led into a panel discussion on the importance of social impact, with speakers from The Crown Estate, Canary Wharf Group, Legal & General and Places for People, amongst others, speaking about how their corporate decisions line up with their social impact. Martin Gettings of the Canary Wharf Group spoke about how social value is key to the company, and how the Group sees a focus on the long term as being key to their profitability, looking at issues such as becoming carbon zero, and their buildings being able to provide for the technology of the future. The Crown Estate spoke about their focus on renewable energy, and how this can be factored into their long term plans. What was clear from all the speakers was that an emphasis on social impact and environmental sustainability does not mean a detraction from a company’s profitability – indeed, it plays a key part in making sure that developments appeal to consumers.

The conference then moved on to discuss mental health, and the role that the real estate industry has to play in this area by considering the impact that the built environment has on the mental health of occupiers, particularly in the work place. Aimee Cain of Thames Water shared a number of initiatives which Thames Water have introduced to improve employee mental health, which led to an interesting panel discussion around how the workplace environment can impact upon an employee’s mental wellbeing. This was followed by a workshop with attendees sharing ideas from their workplaces to protect and improve the wellbeing of employees. One point of discussion was whether the continuing trend for hot desking and remote working might have a detrimental effect on the mental health of employees, who find that they no longer have the comfort of knowing where they are sitting or being able to surround themselves with personal items. With an estimated 35-40% of all sick leave being attributable to mental health issues, and the World Health Organisation stating that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, it was clear that this is a very important consideration for businesses, and an area where the design of real estate can play an important role.

The second half of the event looked to what the next generation of office workers want from their workspace, including improved connectivity and opportunities for more flexibility in terms of breakout areas and social facilities. The afternoon’s discussion showed that the future of real estate lies in creating buildings and environments which factor in the importance of mental health and social responsibility, and are able to cater for the rapidly changing requirements of workplaces and communities.

It was interesting to hear from the various speakers from the real estate industry, who were not only discussing sustainability and mental health in terms of their building projects, but also in their roles as employers and how they themselves are looking after their employees and future proofing their businesses. Many thanks to EG and the panellists for such a thought-provoking conference.

Louise is a Knowledge Development Lawyer in our Commercial Real Estate team.

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