It has now been over two years since the world changed forever. The pandemic, which will undoubtedly be the defining event of the generation, has left a legacy of profound changes behind it – changes that extend to retail, property and the built environment, as well as to our human society, where perhaps isolation finally taught us the true value of connection, friendship and kindness.
By Jeremy Heath-Smith, CEO, Spike Global
Some of the changes were possibly predictable – an acceleration of what was already occurring, while others were frankly astonishing, like house prices rising unexpectedly by up to 20% in the last two years. Few areas of society remained untouched by the whirlwind of change that Covid-19 brought with it, but there are some common themes that link the outcomes.
When the world shut down overnight due to lockdown, e-commerce was transformed from an optional extra to a true necessity – and it was the businesses that were ready, or at least were resilient enough to get ready in a hurry, that survived and thrived. Consumers who may not have considered shopping online prior to the pandemic found themselves forced to give it a try when there were few other options – and many will not be going back. The convenience of ordering groceries online has meant that many of us have no plans to ever return to pushing a trolley, meanwhile, smaller retailers who had a good online platform suddenly found themselves able to compete as never before. From app development to e-marketing, online shopping will continue to accelerate at break-neck speed.
Yet at the same time as it became easier than ever to order goods from all over the country, we also began to value what was close at hand. The small local shops and independent high street businesses that sustained people through the pandemic have become a much-loved part of people’s lives. ‘Shop local’ may have begun as a safety message and a way to help struggling high streets, but it has evolved into something much more powerful for placemakers; in an uncertain future, active community living redefines togetherness. It gives residents a pride of place like never before. Seeing an independent café flourish is a truly great thing, as it quickly becomes a focal point for the community.
With petrol prices skyrocketing and green concerns increasing, being able to buy what you need locally is more important than ever, so local businesses need to find new, more personal ways to reach out to customers. For example, many of our clients use our resident engagement portal, Spike Living, to find the best spots to visit in their neighbourhood, from bars and restaurants to the nearest grocery store, while local shops and restaurants are able to offer bespoke offers and incentives accessed via the residents’ app.
For example, we’ve seen residents use our Spike Living app to connect local bakeries to their communities, arrange delivery of local produce boxes, even organise for a local brewery to drop off beer for a virtual tasting session. We saw one resident who owns a wine company, and another who has a pizza business, see their orders increase dramatically within a few days as a result of being promoted on their residents’ portal. As building a sense of community becomes more of an integral part of the planning process, we expect to see an increase in smaller shops being built around developments, with local businesses prioritised over chains, and technology as the glue binding them together.
The move to a more local economy seems obvious if we care about the planet. Lockdown led to huge reductions in traffic, shipping and aviation, resulting in a notable improvement in air quality and pollution levels. The concentration of nitrogen dioxide in some cities declined by nearly 60% compared with the same period in 2019 (EEA, 2020c). It was an extraordinary feat to witness, and one of the few positives which came out of the pandemic itself. Watching everyone around the world mobilise under a common threat showed us just what the global community can achieve when it really wants to make something happen.
The younger generation in particular care immensely about the threat to the environment, but using technology to underline green initiatives can make them easier for everybody to adopt. While many new housing developments promote sustainable transport methods, resident portals can connect the dots one step further. Cycle maps can be shared, as well as transport updates, infrastructure improvements, onsite car sharing schemes, new walking routes, and details of parks and beautiful green space to discover on residents’ doorsteps. Technology can also be harnessed to provide greater transparency of a building or even an individual’s environmental impact, providing unique and personalised actionable advice on how to practically reduce a resident’s own impact, and a comparison to others in the building.
Just as many people never wish to return to pushing a trolley, it’s clear that many don’t want to return to the rat race either. There are many behavioural changes that have outlived the crisis and lockdowns, from connecting with friends online more often to random acts of kindness. But by far the most lasting trend is flexible working, which has even changed what people want from their homes, as the ‘race for space’ has been fuelled by the need for a dedicated home-working space. In January, 36% of working adults reported having worked from home at least once a week according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). A similar survey also found that in February this year, 38% of those aged between 30 and 49 said that they are now working from home permanently as their ‘new normal’. Building developers and operators need to be aware of this, so that technology can be harnessed to connect people within communities, filling the social void they are missing from a traditional office environment.
While Covid-19 was a terrifyingly new situation, economists who have studied what has happened after massive non-financial disruptions such as wars and pandemics in the past, are confident that GDP does bounce back, albeit eventually. While people are keen to go out and spend following lockdown, crisis encourages people and businesses to try new ways of doing things, which we’ve seen particularly in the housing market, where the rapid uptake of technology has meant that virtual viewings, digital property management and e-contracts are now increasingly ordinary.
Technology has not only made the moving-in process far easier, but a 24/7 approach as we step away from the face-to-face model has removed many of the previous time barriers. Property management can happen within the touch of a button, streamlined within software under one easy-access portal. Subsequently, residents expect to be able to contact property managers at all times of the day or night, where the right technology facilitates this with ease. We’re finding operators increasingly wanting to give their residents a fully integrated experience without the need to find someone to speak to in-person or waiting for a response to an email, allowing them to self-serve more and more.
Operators are also beginning to recognise that they do not have to sign up to an ‘all-in-one’ property management system. In the past few years, we have increasingly seen a number of operators deploy a best-in-breed solution to cover each area specifically, for example HubSpot for customer relationship management, Microsoft Dynamics 365 for finance, and Spike Living for resident engagement. This best-in-breed technology stack is quicker to deploy and can be more effective than a larger, more cumbersome system, where functionality might have to be compromised in favour of usability and front-end experience.
Bespoke and highly developed customer-facing solutions like Spike Living will bring everything together under a single interface for residents to manage their daily lives without the need to use multiple portals, apps or logins. App performance is not compromised, and each software provider can be compartmentalised against business goals.