Working in Westminster: Thinking to the future

30 Mar 2020

This WPA members’ blog by WPA NextGen committee member, Robyn Prince (Director at Boyer Planning),  gives an overview of the WPA NextGen organised ‘Working in Westminster – Thinking to the Future’ roundtable discussion. The discussion will focus on how businesses and employees can work together and better benefit from putting practices in place to focus on the needs and demands facing the next generation of industry leaders. In light of recent events relating to COVID-19 and the practices businesses are implementing to cope with it, the discussion will address how more companies will embrace remote working going forward; what does this mean for staff well-being and company-wide productivity; and what could be the longer-term impacts on the design of workspaces of the future.

Last week Emily Stephenson (Colliers) and I were meant to be chairing a roundtable discussion on behalf of the WPA NextGen.

We were due to engage with leading voices from the real estate sector, other industries and the City Council about the future of working in Westminster, with a focus on flexible working and sharing best practice. Instead, I am at home like millions of others across the country – not only juggling the day job but also adapting to home-schooling/entertaining two young children!

Who would have thought in just one week the majority of the property industry (almost overnight) would have to adapt their whole businesses to remote working? Some companies were already set up to do this, so the transition would have been pretty seamless. But for others, who are either not set up to work remotely due to lack of technology, culture or technical practicalities of their job or service, have had to adapt quickly to ensure business continuity in these unprecedented times.

Lack of productivity has always been a general concern by businesses about home working. In my personal experience I have always been more productive at home: less tired from the commute and more focused. Having two children at home is an obvious distraction but as a family we are sticking to a daily timetable each day, creating a routine that allows for work, learning and play.

As well as combining fun activities with home-schooling, I find that putting a film on every day (thank goodness for the new Disney+ platform) gives my husband and I a focused and quiet time for work. It is not perfect but we are getting by and I find the routine makes me more efficient.

Given the current situation, businesses have to find ways to manage their teams and productivity. In my opinion, video conferencing is a vital tool – seeing people’s faces helps boost morale. My team at Boyer Planning are also picking up the phone and talking  to people – wherever possible – rather than just emailing.

However, the reliance on my phone or computer is tiring so I find that a regular digital detox is essential. To help, I have embraced exercise not only to get fitter but for my mental health and concentration. I don’t have much spare time but I am managing to find 30 mins each day to do some exercise, combining running (which I have a love/hate relationship with) and HIIT workouts, including PE with Joe Wicks and the kids.

I have found cooking/preparing three healthy meals a day for a whole family on limited supplies difficult. I am used to popping to Pret to grab my lunch so this has been a challenge, which I am yet to overcome – so any suggestions are welcome!

I have been impressed by the speed at which the planning sector is embracing new technology and innovation. To keep the system running, many of the local authorities we are working with are offering pre-app meetings with officers via video call (such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams); planning committees are due to start taking place virtually; and public consultation events are continuing with digital engagement tools.

These changes will make a huge difference in ensuring that the planning process does not stall and, if successful, could change some of the archaic processes we are accustomed to working with.

Last week was probably one of the most stressful most of us have experienced for some time. The forthcoming weeks and months are likely to remain challenging, but at least we can all be in it together and hope that there will be some positive changes as a result.

I, like the rest of the WPA NextGen committee, was excited about the roundtable scheduled for last week. We have decided to progress this as a virtual discussion – and would love to hear people’s personal experiences, as well as the practices businesses are implementing to cope with COVID-19. We’d love to hear whether more companies will embrace remote working going forward; what does this mean for staff well-being and company-wide productivity; and what could be the longer-term impacts on the design of workspaces of the future.

Now more than ever, we want to use the NextGen network to talk about the future of Westminster’s property industry. To submit questions or ideas for our ‘future of work’ discussion, please get in touch:

Robyn Prince

Director, Boyer Planning

WPA NextGen Committee member