NextGen Diaries: Bridget Wilkins

13 Jul 2020

I am currently sitting on the back deck in Brisbane, Australia, looking out at kookaburras among the gum trees (literally!) and enjoying a balmy 31 degree sunset. Like many, the last few weeks have been a whirlwind of change and I definitely have not been immune to the impacts of COVD-19. Pardon the pun, but I was diagnosed with coronavirus within 48 hours of arriving back in Australia in early March turning what was supposed to be a quick trip home into ‘the never ending story’. I subsequently spent two weeks in hospital and am now lucky enough to be out in the free world recovering, working remotely and trying to adjust back to the new norm for all of us. The experience of being one of the first to be diagnosed has been truly humbling, and I have felt very lucky to have access to healthcare and the support of family and friends during this time. Initially, I was in a state of shock and disbelief, but now, with the benefit of time, I truly think everything happens for a reason and this chapter is a lesson from the world telling me to slow down (just a bit!).

Built-ID have been absolutely brilliant. When I was diagnosed in early March, it was unclear whether I had contracted the disease in London or when travelling to Australia, so the whole London team went straight into self isolation. At the time this was no doubt a challenge to continue ‘business as usual’, especially since this was a few weeks before the rest of London went into lockdown, but the teams attitude and willingness to support each other is testament to the very best part of our business and what makes it truly unique.

From a practical point, as a tech firm with a global team, we are used to working across time zones with limited face to face contact and often are only together for a part of each working week in between client meetings and workshops. But regardless, there is still something to be said for the culture & casual mateship that is bred through some of our rituals like Monday Night Popcorn Parties or Friday Night Knock Offs. Whilst we have implemented a few of these practices virtually (but yet to commit to online exercise!), no doubt we are all looking forward to when we can be back together again.

Despite the current climate, 2020 remains a very important year of strategic growth for our business. After almost 12 months of scaling up our community engagement product Give My View, we were in the process of building our team and tech capabilities. Whilst some business priorities & initiatives have had to shift in light of COVID-19, we recognise this is still a unique moment in our history to turn challenges into opportunities and come out stronger and more resilient on the other side. We have therefore adjusted our core offering to be able to deliver online consultation at cost during the COVID-19 lockdown, to ensure we are supporting our existing and prospective clients and their communities as best as possible during this period.

Like many, my work is much more focused given there is no ‘lag’ between travelling to meetings etc, especially as working between different time zones means we have to plan levels of ‘handovers’ between the team. As a business, we are focused on responding to strong levels of inbound enquiries for groups who have physical limitations to their consultations, developing our long-term project pipeline and consolidating business growth by tidying up loose ends that often are put to the tomorrow pile. It’s been a good time to partially reset and re-asses our internal systems and processes to maximise team efficiency and output to our clients after a period of high growth.

Putting these business wins aside, there is something to be said for missing the best part of the property industry – the people. Whether it be prospective business meetings, client workshops, site tours, industry events or even consultations, I find it’s this never-ending level of human connection that is the engine for our team & myself. I believe property has been and even after this crisis should always be, a people business (the real estate, the technology are just the conduits). We need to develop ways to connect to each other, our industry, our networks, our past and present colleagues, our communities that we serve, in ways that make us feel connected, valued and part of the wonderful & evolving organism that is the real estate industry.

I think (& hope) that people will come together like never before. We are already seeing this at a grassroots level with the pace of community activism & support in response to the COVID-19 crisis. We need to hold onto this energy, this intent for the greater good, and channel it into the next societal problem. There are some examples of this happening in the property industry and I hope more members join this collective force for good to drive a more focused social agenda moving forward.

What has been a true silver lining of working from home is that we’ve been given a window into peoples homes/families/pets/hobbies like never before. Instead of ‘bringing yourself to work’ its been a 180 degree shift into ‘bringing work into your home’. No doubt this has created more meaningful and authentic relationships between teams and clients, and I think this will be an important cornerstone for when we return to the world outside. Let’s never forget that first and foremost we are people, with different lives and backgrounds (not just on a zoom screen) and we should celebrate this and the value of this diverse perspective throughout out industry.

I think there will be certain demographics who will struggle to accept reverting back to a working environment that existed pre-Covid. The 9-5 stint is officially over. The organisational hierarchies may soon dissolve. The power has been put back into the individual to contribute rather than be managed / led. Is this a good / bad thing? Lets debate it at our next event. But in the meantime, lets recognise the impact this will have on how we design office space and who for. The need for more flexibility, more design diversity and more user focused technology will be paramount. We also need to recognise how an increasingly transient workforce will impact the viability of some of the most precious parts of the City – its thriving retail & cultural sector. Let’s put industry led mechanisms in place to support all types of operators to ensure that when people return to the square mile, it is as vibrant and dynamic as ever before.

Bridget Wilkins

Director – Community Engagement at Build-ID