In today’s world, customer experience is a huge differentiator across almost all sectors of business you can care to think about; not just hospitality, but also FMCG, luxury, automotive, plus many more. In the property sector, after somewhat of a slow start, the most successful businesses now tend to be well versed in the importance of customer experience and its quantifiable value, even though the industry perhaps still isn’t moving quickly enough to adopt and invest in new experience-enhancing initiatives.
Unfortunately, the way we approach the development project lifecycle has struggled to keep pace with the need for experience-first thinking. When it comes to experience, there is often a void between the design stages of a project and the mobilisation phase where customer experience can easily be lost from sight in favour of factors perhaps perceived as more directly commercial.
This is exactly where the all-important but much-overlooked design for management stage can really come into its own for both owners, managers and eventual end-users of the building or estate. This is ultimately because the design for management phase governs how the development will be activated, and therefore how end-users will interact with the asset and its management team physically, now importantly also digitally.
Good design for management should be holistic and consider all dimensions of the development. These include commercial and service charge calculations, input on amenity type and quantum, operating and communications platform advice (both ‘back end’ for the managers and ‘front end’ for the end-users and the community), development meanwhile uses, building mobilisation, energy considerations, lease reviews, community engagement and outreach, and even brand and sales.
The very best design for management practitioners have access to all of this diverse expertise in-house and can coherently integrate this advice it in order to help it make sense for clients, providing one comprehensive end-to-end plan for owners to collaborate on, agree and implement.
Put simply, if the building or estate is not concepted with a clear vision for how a unique and distinct experience is delivered through the way the asset is managed, then its’ long-term success as an investment is being left to chance.
Proper investment in design for management plans also allows managing agents to work smarter, meaning landlords, residents, occupiers and end-users get more bang for their buck. This is because when the scheme comes online, the managing agents will have access to the right management, engagement and communications systems to do their job effectively and efficiently, as well as having access to the correct facilities and front of house/back of house space. Another added benefit is that it allows more time for agents and the on-site team to be truly proactive, meaning less time is spent dealing with design defects, ill-conceived management strategies and unhappy end-users. As the old saying goes ‘get it right the first time’ so that the time of managing agents can be better utilised to enhance the value to the places where people live, work, play & visit.
Design for management has traditionally been an endeavour which is more concerned with the practical aspects of mobilising the development. At Navana, we believe design for management is inherently strategic, and developers should seek out the counsel of design for management experts as early in the planning phase as possible to support their endeavours to ensure that the asset delivers compelling customer experience.
Why is design for management so important today?
The conventional classification of property assets is quickly becoming outdated due the deep and sustained changes occurring in almost of all of the sectors that property is exposed to; retailers are now using their bricks and mortar stores as showrooms and are seeking more flexible terms, maybe with revenue related rents, shorter break periods and lease lengths. The purpose of commercial space is changing due to flexible working practices, and looking to the residential landscape we are currently in the midst of somewhat of a well-publicised build-to-rent revolution as many younger people are delaying getting on the property ladder in favour of renting, driven by increasing house prices and shorter supply.
With the London Plan setting out the need for more mixed-use communities, the emphasis of development must naturally change to fulfil policy objectives. Even outside of London, the savviest developers are hedging their bets and creating spaces with a more balanced mix of uses, protecting them against any concentrated headwinds associated with the single property classes.
An example of this will soon play out in regional town centres across the UK, as developers with vision transform retail space into residential units and other community purposes. This, in turn, means there is a consistent, complementary daytime and night-time footfall of local residents to shop in stores and enjoy local food, beverage and leisure offerings, creating more sustainably successful local economies.
In conjunction with the shifting sands of property design and development, the evolution of PropTech continues to be important in the context of design for management. There are now thousands of innovative asset, property, end-user and community management platforms, devices and solutions available to owners, asset managers and managing agents. Despite this, in property, we continue to see a rate of take-up and active use of new technologies which sadly lags behind other industries.
Design for management can help to bridge this gap by providing owners with an understanding of the management technologies available, and then by defining the most complimentary suite of tools for their individual assets. This makes buildings and estates work better for their end-users and ensures that the right flexible, open technologies from the right providers are embedded within the asset from day one, mitigating costly adaptions and adjustments to operating platforms years down the road.
For these reasons, developers should have a clear picture of how mixed uses blend together to offer a seamless customer experience. Managing a combination of these spaces on a single estate is a significant challenge for managing agents, whom often concentrate on one particular class and are frequently too linear in their view of the resident, occupier, retailer or visitor.
The landscape is changing, and property management needs to move with it by becoming a more integrated, people and community-focused specialism, whilst keeping a laser focus on offering all the technical expertise needed to run effective and efficient building operations. At Navana, as a direct response to the evolving property picture, we have developed an end-to-end approach to property management which we call Asset Activation.
The design for management phase, if approached correctly, is crucial to unlock great customer experience across asset classes and mixed-use schemes. The return on investment on initial consultancy, and regular review and evaluation of how schemes are being managed and activated will speak for itself over the life of the development.