Sam joined TowerEight after 18 years at JLL where she worked across a large number of multi-national corporates including Shell, Microsoft, Sky, Deutsche Bank and Nokia Networks. Since joining TowerEight she has developed the consultancy’s office expertise and led its expansion in this key market, with clients such as Whitbread, The Office Group, Centrica, BESA and ECA.
Can you share with us a lesson learned and never repeated?
As the mother of three sons I have learnt over time that it is nearly impossible to keep everybody happy all of the time! The same principle applies to a group of senior clients – you can never reach a point where they are all at the same point of happiness on a project, so you have to work towards consensus through collaboration and taking an empathetic approach.
Name on trend that is referred to by your clients more regularly than any other
It has to be Wellness – I know it has been discussed a lot in recent years, but I cannot overemphasise how important it is to clients. It underpins how we get to the office – cycling or running on the commute – the way we sit or stand at our desk, our nutrition, and factors such as lighting and air quality that promote or inhibit productivity levels. But it is also an obsession in wider society as we look at the factors that can really improve mental and physical wellbeing, so it is right that the workplace is giving wellness such focus as the office is where we spend most of our time.
What was your most challenging or favourite project to date (and why)
I loved our recent work with Whitbread on its HQ in central London. This space brought together two very diverse groups – the senior exec and the (rather youthful) digital marketing team. These two groups both needed an engaging, collaborative space but were so divergent in their approach to using it. However, the final office really works as it actually brings the two groups together and makes them appreciate each other’s area of work and expertise. We’ve also had great feedback from the digital team about the positive impact the workplace has had on productivity.
Have you noticed a shift in the project decisions being made based on subjective gut-feeling as oppose to a quantifiable return on investment?
Quite the opposite – I think we as a sector are getting smarter about using data. We could be better however. When I look at other sectors, and the way in which they use big data sets to automate learning and pool resources. I believe we will move towards a much more successful workplace environment when productivity and utilisation data can be pulled from a wider source base. We need to share our data more to get there and for many in our market that is a real problem.
Why do you think it is rare for a project to follow-up with a post-occupancy evaluation?
Because the market is afraid of the results? I don’t know…..I refer to my answer on big data, we have to get smarter at using data to validate decision-making. My fear is that we will move towards obsolescence if we don’t have a more widespread system of benchmarking and data-based decision-making. When you hear about the data that a WeWork, for example, is sitting on and the senior hires they are making into the data team – they are going to be in a position to do some well-informed decision-making based on very large pools of occupier data soon.
What top tip would you give to a team at the start of a project for success?
See my note about being a mother of three boys! Communicate clearly, make sure everyone understands what is expected of them, and set measurable objectives. Teams will only move successfully towards a common goal once they understand their role within the movement to a greater purpose. What are we trying to achieve, and how does my contribution work towards that. A great project manager sets a clear project vision and leads from the front.
What are the biggest challenges you and your team face
I think it is a very challenging market for everyone at the moment, if I am honest. It is clichéd to say it, but there is so much uncertainty in the market that is it pervading everyone. Having said that I think the office market is more buoyant than most in the property sector. The market is undergoing a real change and after years of being dominated by the landlord, I think it has come full cycle and everyone is really starting to pay heed to the occupier requirements. This is in part because of how competitive the market it is, but also the rise in co-working and more agile business models that have been introduced by TMT firms. Interesting times.
Name one thing that will have gone from the workplace in the next decade
IT infrastructure – the paperless office was supposed to reduce desk size over time as I remember it, but the growth in the number of tech devices and the need for printers and server space has seen them creep back up again. But with the move towards the cloud, and remote working solutions, I think we are going to see desk size disappear to nothing as IT infrastructure becomes irrelevant. The space, in my view, will be given to more engaging spaces, spaces to entertain and enliven as occupiers are going to have to work even harder to get people to turn up to the office! Let’s face it, you are going to need a pretty good reason to show up to the office if all your resources can be accessed remotely and commuting costs continue to go up. So I think we will see workspace become a lot more free of clutter and instead given over to spaces that promote wellness and collaboration space.
What are you doing now regularly in your day to day role, that 5 years ago you weren’t
There are so many more variables added to the mix, and greater awareness of the datasets available to those of us in the sector. Technology has taken huge leaps in recent years, in terms of data capture but also a greater understanding of its power and its ability to lead decision-making. I think we are going to continue to make giant strides in this area over the next two years too.
Is there a new fad, buzzword or trend starting to surface?
Nichification of space. A clumsy phrase, but co-working is really being driven by occupier demand, and from that are small operators who have identified and are catering for really interesting niche interests. And doing so very successfully. The office model has been one-type fits all for so long now, I can really see the growth of a whole variety of different options in the market, as flexible working blossoms.
What is the best thing about working for TowerEight
The experience pool. For an independent consultancy there is a lot of experience right across the property market from student housing to the PRS as well as offices of course. I have loved learning more about the hotels market, for example. It is completely relevant, of course, as office operators are already thinking like the hotels model by introducing strong brand elements, and becoming more hospitality focused. I know that landlords are increasingly moving that way too, as the occupier market is becoming to demand it.