Driving operational change from home: people first

The pandemic and the last year working from home has given all of us a new optic on life.  The challenges have been numerous.  I was used to the immediacy of working in an open plan environment, my meetings were joyous uninterrupted affairs, and I could never have imagined the quantity of food needed to keep two growing boys satisfied. Whilst remote working has strengthened my children’s bond with my work colleagues, delivering operational transformation through lockdown has changed my perspective and whilst I will relish the release back to something more normal, the virtual world has surprised and sometimes the distance has helped.

I’ve worked alongside many of the team at FRE UK for years and yet our enforced transition to a virtual environment has brought us closer. Constant open interaction can mean that you halt a way of thinking or you are distracted down an alternative path before you ever get to the answer.  When you’re around your family all day, the “why” to produce a resilient, optimised approach is much stronger.  We’ve been on our change transformation pathway for the last couple of years, but not actually being able to be in an office has firmly put the people back at the centre of our approach.  

In 2020 we wanted to create an agile and digitally based operating model that could adapt and scale as our business grows and which embeds ESG into every aspect of our decision making.  Our digitisation and ESG initiatives accelerated as the pandemic took hold – the digital became fundamental and the ESG relevant to all. Months of lockdown have seen us shift our focus to an open cloud-based API fed architecture, the creation of our own internal data applications and the ability to capture and house data from all of our key processes. As a virtual Ops team, we found a role based on collaboration and influence.  By focusing on our people, we could engage and empower them.

We learnt early on in our digital transformation that design is so much more important than the tech and that simplicity is key. We continue to learn. In a rapidly changing digital world, we recognise that some things truly don’t change – in a REIM habitat where data is opaque and the market is private, our people are still everything.  Data doesn’t make the decisions; our people do. 

Centralising data and process isn’t a trivial thing.  Change requires a cultural shift, but in asking our business to alter its mindset, we put our people first by looking at data in service of our own quarterly reporting to understand the who, what, why and when.  In the coming months we will look to add to that collection of datasets and expand our data collection engine, but it will always be an engine that is designed around the user. Data collection without engagement isn’t sustainable.

Operations has a key role to play in breaking new ground and evolving the business. If you can build centralised, organised data around expandable datasets then you can create opportunistic and proprietary data tools for business-driven analytics, insight and planning. In turn, you get to overhaul legacy processes, improve data quality and deliver transparency to create a model that looks to optimise efficiency and deliver performance.

We have all been part of a year marked by disruption.  Personally, I so look forward to seeing my colleagues in person again. For my kids, being in school will deliver a well-earned break from their parents and on the operational front there is no longer room to remain satisfied with the status quo. Our business is firmly on a collaborative change pathway and our strong foundation for our data and our desire to be responsible, resilient and engaged will direct our future.

Written by Emma Cullen, COO of Fiera Real Estate UK.