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As the country looks to recover following the impact of COVID-19, the Queen's Speech earlier this month had a lot for the construction industry to consider. In total, 31 bills were presented to parliament which covered infrastructure and planning as well as ongoing building reforms and how to combat the skills shortage in our industry. There were also a number of bills required following our departure from the European Union.

We are particularly interested in rumoured and proposed changes to the planning system in England and would welcome positive reform in this area.

Planning Reforms:

The White Paper Planning for the Future (first launched in August 2020) accurately argues that the planning system in England is “outdated and ineffective” so proposes major reforms to this area.

Santhosh Gowda, Chairman of Strawberry Star, commented on this, saying: “modernising the UK's time-honoured planning laws was never going to be easy, but the idea of a dynamic, flexible and digitalised system is an exciting prospect.”

He continued to say: "it will be a balancing act that seeks to boost housing supply without compromising on design, community, and ecology.”

The Bill will be a step towards a more Americanised zonal system that places greater emphasis on community engagement in the plan-making stage and provides a national and local design code that sets the parameters for what can be built in certain areas.

Chief Executive Officer of Powered Now, Ben Dyer is hoping to see a simpler approach based on pre-set rules rather than the decision of a committee for a faster decision making and appeals process. "All county councils should have a clear housing and development policy with greater transparency on what can, and can't be…this policy should focus on protecting green spaces by relaxing planning rules on brownfield land and should include simpler planning for renovations to existing buildings.” He added that “the rules should be relaxed for homeowners who simply wish to improve their own houses.”

Others are calling for the Government to make a concerted effort on the aesthetic of homebuilding in the UK. A ‘carrot and stick’ approach could be created to reward housing developers who build beautiful, outstanding and unique buildings within well thought-out communities with plenty of parking, green space and communal facilities such as schools. A penalty system could equally be created to discourage the building of generic, ugly or out of character developments.

After the collapse of the Green Homes Grant, surely all plans going forward should ensure that new buildings are developed with energy production and efficiency at the heart of the design process. If the UK is to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2050, this is crucial.

Other areas included:

  • Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill to extend 5G mobile coverage

  • A bill covering ground rents on future lease agreements which looks to set future ground rents to zero in the 2021-22 session

  • A Subsidy Control Bill to support private companies, as the UK has now left the "state aid" regime run by the European Union

  • The Procurement Bill will replace EU rules on how the British government buys services from the private sector

  • New powers to build and operate the next stage of the HS2 high-speed rail line are contained in the High Speed Rail (Crewe-Manchester) Bill

  • A tenants reform bill which looks at issues such as lifetime deposits and landlord redress

According to a quarterly survey conducted by the RICS, the construction sector in Britain is currently experiencing the biggest increase in workload for five years. The survey took place between March 12th and April 11th 2021 and makes the following conclusions:

  • The reported increase in workload is led by strong demand for housing alongside the resumption of projects which had been slowed or stalled by the pandemic

  • RICS members surveyed expected their profit margins to increase for the first time since 2019

  • Recruitment and volumes of work are expected to rise over the coming months as the vaccine rollout continues and the pandemic eases

  • The most noticeable increase has been in private residential construction followed by infrastructure, social housing and public-sector works. Increases in demand for industrial and commercial projects has also been recorded

  • The biggest constraints on construction now are a shortage of building materials and skilled workers rather than financing difficulties as faced in previous quarters

  • Productivity in UK construction fell by around 5% due to social distancing requirements but this appears to have had a smaller impact than surveyors first expected when rules were introduced in 2020

Commenting on the findings of the survey, RICS Chief Economist Simon Rubinsohn noted that: "the UK construction industry has adjusted relatively well to COVID-19 related work practices with most respondents to the survey suggesting only a small hit to productivity."

The report also mentioned the impact of the stamp duty cut on Britain's property market, which has performed much more strongly than the wider economy in the last 12 months.

Official data for February 2021 still showed that output was 4.3% lower than the same time last year and many businesses within the construction industry are still experiencing difficulties.

The findings of the RICS survey are backed up by other private-sector surveys, including IHS Markit’s Purchasing Managers’ Index for the construction sector, which points to fast growth in the UK construction industry. However, it's worth remembering that this is a time of great turbulence and change for the construction industry in Britain.

The impact of the pandemic, our exit from the EU, limited supply of materials and the many changes to stamp duty and housing demands have had a huge and wide-ranging impact on the construction sector in the UK. These changes have also created a number of exciting opportunities too. If you’re looking for a project manager or construction firm to help you capitalise on these opportunities, get in touch with The Logic Group today. Click here to contact us.

COVID-19 has dramatically changed the way we work across all industries. Many workplaces have become unrecognisable compared to just over a year ago. But perhaps none more so than offices. With social distancing, remote working, video conferencing and flexible hours just some of the measures introduced since March 2020 to control the spread of the virus in the UK, many offices and even entire buildings and business districts have become ghost towns.

With the lockdown restrictions gradually easing, what will office workspaces look like in a post-pandemic world? Which of the new ways of working will stick? How can you prepare for these changes and how can businesses best adapt?

The New Normal – Is Video Conferencing Here to Stay?

Inevitably, there will be some things that have now become so intrinsically part of our ‘new normal’ that they will become a mainstay in our working lives. Zoom and Teams meetings immediately spring to mind here. These programs have revolutionised the way we conduct business, reducing the need for business travel, reducing business expenses and allowing people to work from home while also staying connected and involved.

Despite being widely available before the pandemic, these programs were not extensively used by businesses. Perhaps caused by a reluctance to embrace new technology or a belief that people needed to be in the same room to do business. Sometimes drastic change comes as a result of forced necessity rather than gradual evolution.

On their own blog, Zoom describes this move towards video communications technology at the start of the pandemic: “baby steps toward digital transformation suddenly had to become leaps and bounds, with people reimagining their entire day-to-day practically overnight.” This video conferencing platform alone jumped from less than 10 million daily users in December 2019 to over 300 million participants per day in April 2020.

Research suggests that around 80% of those working from home enjoy doing so and wish to continue working from home, to some extent, when lockdown is lifted. Businesses and employees have adapted and video conferencing may be the way to ensure that remote working can be a mainstay for the long-term.

Hot-Desking and Office Layouts

If remote working is to continue in some way, how will this affect office layout? There seems little sense in allocating an office or even just a desk to someone who will only be physically present a couple of days a week, especially in expensive central-city office buildings.

Hot-desking was an idea that had started to become popular a few years ago but had maybe hit a stumbling block – not enough employees were working remotely to allow this trend to really take flight. Post-lockdown, this could be a great way for businesses to use their office space more effectively. Having a pool of desks available for use as needed would be more economical than providing an individual desk for each employee, regardless of how much time they spend in the office.

Let’s say a business has 100 employees: on any given day

- 40 are in the office

- 30 are working from home

- 20 are in external or internal meetings

- 10 are on leave or off sick

Rather than buying or leasing an office space with the square footage for 100 fixed desks as well as the necessary individual offices and meeting rooms, this business could have a flexible hot desking area with seating for 40-50, video conferencing room, meeting and break-out rooms and individual offices as required. This would potentially reduce their floorspace needs by around 50% and their costs would fall in line with that.

A hot-desking area with moveable furniture would also allow team members to sit with the best people for their tasklist on that day whereas a fixed desk scenario does not offer this flexibility or facilitate a more collaborative way of working.

The Highs and Lows of Remote Working

According to research by McKinsey & Co, 68% of employees claim they are at least as productive, if not more productive working from home than they had been in an office environment. Many employees have been freed the burden of long commutes and hefty travel expenses and have gained a greater balance between their personal and professional lives. With less time spent travelling, people have been able to spend more time with their families and dedicated more time to their own personal interests.

Many companies now offer positions which are fully based on remote working from home. Some organisations think that fewer locational constraints will allow them to access new talent and recognise that a certain amount of remote working may actually create a stronger company culture.

However, there is a real concern that job satisfaction and productivity may suffer from an extended lack of lunch break chats, face-to-face meetings and social engagements. Can unplanned moments of collaboration and sparks of genius truly thrive online forever? How can younger employees be mentored and their talents developed without in-person exposure to the company and the wider team? Has remote working succeeded to this point only because it has been necessary? Is home working being viewed as temporary rather than permanent?

Health & Safety in the Office

The guidance is not yet clear on exactly what health and safety measures will be standard as the country returns to work and how this will change when the vaccine rollout is complete. To begin with, it’s likely that all employees will be required to wear a face mask in shared office spaces and sanitise their hands upon entry as well as on a regular basis throughout the day. Office spaces should be regularly cleaned, especially touchpoints such as door handles, desks should be positioned so that employees are seated at least 2m apart and screens used if needed.

Consideration may also need to given to which employees should return to the office, when and where they should enter and exit the building, when visitors should be allowed, whether there is sufficient airflow and if social distancing can be maintained as staff and visitors move through the space

As the vaccine programme continues, it’s likely that all these measures will gradually ease but individuals will likely have their own ideas of what they’re comfortable with. The chances are, the nation will be more cautious than before and employees may insist on a greater level of protection against exposure to viruses in the workplace.

What’s Right for Your Business?

The best businesses have always been the ones that can adapt. Leading organizations will question their long-held assumptions about how they should conduct their day-to-day operations and will examine the role of the office in a post-pandemic world. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer since every business is different. Question everything. Involve your employees, ask questions, invite feedback and ideas.

Whatever decisions you make, ensure there is a level of flexibility built in. Make adjustments to your business and your office layout to best reflect the current circumstances and keep checking to see how this is working for you. Change-management is likely to be required, regardless of whether you go back to the way things were before the pandemic or implement a whole host of changes. Monitor, measure, predict and adapt.

Redesign the Workplace to Support your Priorities

Regardless of the industry or business location, a typical office has a certain look and feel: it is often composed of a number of personal offices, desks or cubicles, small meeting rooms, a larger boardroom and a range of shared facilities. Statistically, very few offices have been deliberately designed to support the specific priorities of the individual business. Perhaps now is a good time to rethink office space entirely…

For example, if the primary purpose of your company’s office space is to facilitate moments of collaboration between team members rather than individual work, should more of the office be devoted to collaboration rooms? How should these areas look and feel? Where should they be located? How can the design, layout and furniture of these rooms best stimulate the necessary outcomes such as teamworking, creativity and innovation? Should all these rooms be the same or should they all be different? Can you use plants, textures, colour, temperature and even scents to better the performance of your employees?

One thing looks certain, in the office of the future, technology will be key. Organisations will need to consider how to manage the boundaries between being physically present in the office and those remote working. According to a recent survey by Zoom, 84% of businesses agreed that “video conferencing will continue to be essential for their business operations beyond the pandemic.”

In-office videoconferencing may no longer involve those in the office sitting around a table while others watch from a screen at the side. All participants should be able to participate effectively. Always-on videoconferencing, virtual whiteboards and collaborative online team projects may quickly become the new normal – bridging the gap between office working and remote working.

To discuss how to implement positive changes to your office space in a post-COVID19 environment, contact us for a free 30 minute consultation. We will be happy to discuss your business goals, concerns, ideas and challenges and are confident we can help you maximise the potential of your office to achieve your potential.

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