Most of my Zoom calls open with the cliché question… “So… how are you surviving the lockdown?” Then follows a competitive exchange where each party attempts to out-do the other on how hard it’s been… and certainly, there has been much suffering. But one thing that few have missed is the daily travel. Pre-lockdown, I would spend much of my time going to meet customers or investors in person. A one-hour coffee chat across town involves a couple of 40 min journeys. A meeting with a client in Manchester is a whole day out. I worked hard to keep my daily commute to a minimum but this meant a major compromise on living space and London house prices.
The last few months have seen the most rapid social change since the second world war. Over a short period, people’s habits and travel behaviours have been shaken up. Travel is a form of waste. It is a necessary evil, required for us to be close to the people and places important to us. Lockdown has forced us to think harder before travelling. Every crisis creates space for creativity and we have quickly developed strategies for coping with the lack of travel. Something that has taken many by surprise is how easy it now is to build meaningful and effective relationships with colleagues who you’ve never physically met. Switchee have recently recruited and on-boarded several new colleagues who I have never physically met – and it has worked well. My preference for face to face would have ruled this out pre-lockdown. Our company is now consulting with our team members on getting rid of our office environment in favour of remote working combined with regular away days. I’ll pre-empt all of the people who tell me that nothing beats an interaction in person. I agree with you - but the lockdown has highlighted the insanely high opportunity cost and waste associated with a face to face interaction.
Now our affordable housing industry is waking up to this form of waste. Pre-lockdown, if a resident called their landlord to report a damp and mould issue, the default response was to dispatch a surveyor to diagnose the issue in person. Lockdown has meant surveyors now check the Switchee data first. Many surveyors can now diagnose (and often fix) the damp and mould issue remotely. Dispatching personnel to visit properties is full of hidden waste. The travel cost in fuel and time is perhaps obvious, but then you have the cost of no-access (approximately 50% of visits made fail to gain access and have to come back for a second time) and the admin cost of re-booking. In the specific case of damp and mould, there are also often confounding issues that cannot be spotted on a single surveyor visit. For example, the resident may change their behaviour just before a visit, such as removing clothes from drying on radiators, turning the heating up or opening windows. This can be spotted in the Switchee recorded data but not in person. Our mission at Switchee is to improve the quality of life for people living in rented homes. The reduction of waste (time, money & CO2) is the biggest quick win that social housing providers can make. I’m hopeful that this is the silver lining of lockdown.