In 2016 we released our first Future Gazing, Future Shaping report setting a vision for the sector. That report predicted an influx of new entrants, relaxations in the regulatory framework, more commercial business models and greater use of digital technology. It did not predict a global pandemic.
We may be coming to the end of the initial phase, but challenges still lie ahead for the sector – in the short, medium and long term. We’ve been considering what business changes and new ways of working housing providers should be planning, to ready themselves for the challenges to come.
Housing providers have responded radically to the coronavirus lock-down. Business continuity task forces have been rallied, emergency budgets drawn-up, and fundamental ways of delivering core services changed to work within the limitations of social distancing.
Shifting to working from home, with days filled with video-calls, has shown the resilience and adaptability of many in our sector. Some are using the lockdown as a catalyst for organisational change. To achieve in weeks, what they had been considering for years. But what can’t be escaped, is that we are in a period of crisis that is yet to present some of its greatest challenges.
Whilst the clients we have spoken to in the last few weeks are through their initial response phase, we are only approaching the end of the beginning. The sector now faces a significant backlog of repairs and health and safety inspections, increased demand for support services, and possible extended social distancing for vulnerable tenants. It’s still unclear whether or when a second or even third wave may hit, further destabilising existing plans.
As this crisis continues, colleagues and I have been considering what housing providers should be doing to ready themselves for the post-pandemic operating environment, and plans for the future. Our 2019 Future Gazing Future Shaping survey (which followed the 2016 version) asked what technologies housing providers expected to adopt by 2025. The results showed better use of customer data, smart devices, and digitalisation of customer services, as the most popular. All three of these are likely to remain key priorities, albeit with renewed purpose in a post-pandemic environment:
- Smart devices and diagnostic tools: Reading meters, diagnosing repairs issues, and monitoring tenant safety remotely will be increasingly important as we likely enter a period with continued shielding of vulnerable individuals.
- Digitised and remote customer services: Technology and a culture that enables and embraces home / remote working can open huge opportunities for service change. Greater flexibility (enabled by home working) can enable extended opening hours that match customer demand, positively impacting both staff satisfaction and your customer offer.
- Customer insight data: Serving customers digitally also makes it easier to measure and predict demand for services. Knowing which residents are likely to require what kind of support post-pandemic, will enable organisations to more readily match demand.
Beside these, many have plans to reduce office footprints (and costs) by continuing to provide services from home, and use video calls in all parts of the organisation, from customer consultation to the boardroom, long after the lockdown is lifted.
Our previous Future Gazing Future Shaping reports have both highlighted that the housing sector has been slower in adopting new technology and implementing modern ways of working, than other sectors. Post-pandemic, we expect the sector to be more responsive to disruption in the operating environment, and more embracing of organisational and technological change. Over the course of the coming weeks we will be launching the third iteration of our Future Gazing Future Shaping series. This will include views on how we see the sector changing over the coming years, as well as engagement with colleagues across the sector to understand what they are experiencing, and how they expect things to change in the future.