The future: it offers all of us a real opportunity

A message from our Chief Executive Fiona Underwood.

We live in strange times.

The last month has seen the biggest ever shift in the way that we all live, work, play and socialise. During the New Year celebrations, no-one could have predicted how the first few months of 2020 would have played out. And the impact of these few months will be felt for generations to come.
 The impact on the housing sector has been equally significant. Within weeks all organisations have had to radically shift ways of working and working patterns,  crisis manage, re-group, stress test, and re-calibrate – at little more than a moments’ notice. It’s been remarkable how agile and able the sector has been in response to the crisis, and when this period ends, the sector will be in a stronger place to tackle the ongoing challenges that will continue.

At Altair we have been through the same process. The type of work and way we work with clients has shifted immeasurably in the last few weeks. Most of our consultants were already agile workers, but we’ve used the period as a real catalyst to embed better use of our own technology and virtual working. By and large, because of the agility of our clients and our consultants, we have adapted quickly and the impact on the work we are delivering has been minimal. Board meetings, recruitment interviews, project management meetings and process mapping workshops are all now completed digitally as second nature.

We have though had to make changes and quickly evolve as a business, putting in place measures to deal with the current environment to ensure we emerge from this period a strong and successful organisation. We remain a consistent force within the sector, with a talented team of consultants to support our clients with the challenges ahead.

Entering the 2020 / 21 financial year we have an ambitious and aspirational business plan in place, which includes the implementation of several new exciting initiatives, as well as the continued investment and development of core service areas. Although delayed slightly, our plans remain in place and we are progressing them now. They include:

Sustainability 

Post-Covid-19 the biggest risk facing us all remains climate change. This year we will be developing and implementing a new offer for clients in the sector, cutting across our consultancy, property and international streams, that will provide the advice and support required to implement de-carbonisation plans, retrofit homes, develop energy efficient modern properties and embed an approach to green thinking in all areas of governance and employee activities (including retaining the majority or at least some of the new good habits we have all developed over the last few weeks!).

Alt:Shift 

The purpose of Alt:Shift will be to provide the sector with access to an advisory board of out of sector experts, to challenge thinking and drive thought leadership. It will be run as a membership body, enabling organisations from across the sector to participate and contribute to shaping the future and accessing the key experts. With the paradigm shift we have all been through we have decided that we will explore launching this in an alternative way in the near future to assist in planning for the return to some sort of new normality, rather than delay until the Autumn. I will keep you informed as our thinking develops.

International 

Our International work on affordable housing has been growing, working with aid and funding agencies, international partners and governments in Africa and Asia. We are currently working on projects in Rwanda, Kyrgyz Rep and Mozambique, with other opportunities being progressed across Africa and Asia. Our International work focuses on developing interventions in emerging economies to build more affordable housing, and our expertise and knowledge of the UK affordable sector is seen as a real strength in the international market.

Future Gazing Future Shaping 

Since 2016 we have published two Future Gazing Future Shaping reports – both documenting how the sector is adopting new technology and approaches to improve ways of working, whilst also predicting where the sector is heading in the future. Covid-19 has dramatically changed the operating environment and challenged the status quo, driving many organisations to change more in the last couple of months than the last few years. Over the next few months, we will be launching ‘Future Gazing Future Shaping III’ to assess what the lasting impact on the sector will be – and determine whether anyone will choose to hold meetings in person again!   

Ensuring that housing organisations remain resilient and able to grow and change 

Although it might not feel it right now (!) ‘business as usual’ will return. The challenges facing the sector pre-Covid-19 will still be in place – whether that be dealing with health and safety issues, re-starting the development programmes to ensure the continued delivery of much needed housing, developing modern customer services, transforming services, driving strong governance or improving the ways all areas of the organisation operate. Our team of consultants are able to help.

Green Group and graduates

Internally we are also progressing new initiatives. As part of our commitment to become a carbon neutral and climate conscious organisation, along with other members of Aquila we recently launched an employee led ‘Green Group’ to drive our activities forward. In 2019 we also launched our first formal graduate trainee scheme, which has been a huge success and provides a firm foundation for us to grow our own talent internally. We are continuing to develop this group of graduates and support them in the development of their careers.

Leadership 2025 and Future of London Emerging Talent programme

And finally, we remain committed to driving forward key diversity and talent development activities in the sector. We will continue to champion the Leadership 2025 programme and support other projects such as working with the Future of London in implementing an Emerging Talent Programme. These activities demonstrate our commitment to supporting the sector in investing in the future.

Being part of a wider group of consultancies enables us to provide a more diverse range of services and access different skillsets to support our clients. We’re already working closely with Oaks on providing support to the housing sector in income generation and fundraising activities, and the opportunities for closer working with ATFS (having recently expanded through the acquisition of Finalysis) to provide treasury and funding advice to the sector are significant.

All these activities are key parts of the work we will be delivering over the next year with clients. And within Altair we have a strong Leadership Team and group of consultants at all levels to take this work forward.

Over the coming weeks we’ll be in touch with clients through a mix of channels to progress the discussion about the topics which are most important to you all. This will include articles later this week from each of our Leadership Team Directors with their thoughts on what the future holds for the sector. And next week we’ll be launching a series of webinars and ebulletins on topics to help support organisations through this current period and provide an opportunity to engage with other individuals across the sector.

The future brings challenges, but also opportunities and we are excited about working closely with you to make the very best of what comes next.