Want to get our CBDs pumping again? Fire every bad boss!

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OPINION: IN Melbourne, there was a lot of talk about the fact that 75% of office employees are now allowed to come back into their offices.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the Melbourne CBD will be operating at three-quarters capacity, but it’s a welcome development for long-suffering businesses and landlords offering rent-relief.

COVID-19 is the obvious barrier to a return to normal. However, even if companies encourage it, and they make it more attractive to re-enter the office, there is another, not-so-invisible-but-not-ever-talked-about, enemy that will slow down the recovery: bad bosses.

Funnily enough, bad bosses actually used to be good for the vibrancy of our CBDs. The comradery that team members formed by bad mouthing the boss after work has no doubt fuelled many an evening to power on for hours longer than it would have otherwise – with the successive rounds of drinks keeping the good times rolling for bar owners and cabbies (or Uber drivers) alike.

Nearly everyone in commercial real estate seems to agree that we need to develop strategies to ensure we don’t allow our CBDs to become hollowed out. We want office buildings that are occupied. We want retailers that are bustling. We want the hospitality sector to not just survive, but to thrive.

Pre COVID-19, bad bosses may have motivated people to spend more time hiding out in cafes, to go on a lunch-time shopping spree or to kick-on for drinks after work.

Nowadays, I think bad bosses are actually one of the biggest threats to the recovery of vitality in our CBDs. Let me tell you why.

If you’ve ever worked for a boss you didn’t particularly like, it wouldn’t be hard for you to imagine taking the option to work from home (WFH) if given the choice.

As much fun as bad mouthing the boss with colleagues can be, or as good as some retail therapy can be to take your mind off things, not dealing with that boss in the first place is probably the better choice on many levels.

They say people don’t leave positions or companies; they leave their boss. While a normal economic downturn may make borderline bosses more bearable (when people feel less secure in their employment, an average boss isn’t so intolerable), the 2020 downturn – which was accompanied by the WFH revolution – made leaving a job because of a bad boss that you hardly ever had to be around almost a non-starter.

That brings me to the point of WFH being a threat to the commercial real estate industry – particularly the office sector, but also the CBD-based hospitality and retail sector more broadly.

A lot of the commentary on this topic has been around making offices COVID-safe, to deal with concerns about returning to work due to Coronavirus, or dealing with public transport or curating workplaces more attractive to be in, so people actually prefer the office to WFH.

These are all relevant…and it looks like the outdoor dining that has replaced carparks in Melbourne “little” streets is here to stay (but let’s see how popular it is in winter!).

However, this focus fails to deal with what would be a major consideration to returning to work in the office for anyone with the choice to WFH: how do they feel about their boss?

To encourage more people back into the city, it is in the commercial real estate industry’s best interests to not only curate attractive places for people to work, but for those places to be populated by leaders who are a pleasure to be around.

This presents an opportunity for the industry to serve its best interests by taking a leadership role in the area of great leadership – because the more people who decide to work at central offices when given the choice, the smaller the impact the WFH revolution will be on CBD real estate markets.

In order to start revitalising our CBDs, we need to remove all of the obstacles we can. It appears that many large companies aren’t going to mandate that their employees return to the office on a full-time basis (or for 75% of the time) any time soon.

But, one factor which can be dealt with for the betterment of not only the office market and the retail sector, but also for employee engagement, productivity and retention, is to make better leadership a priority.

If the offices of commercial real estate firms are filled to capacity (or COVID-normal capacity), because all of the employees with the choice to WFH or work in the office choose to work collaboratively with their colleagues in a central location, that will no doubt act as an example for other industries to follow.

Because contactless elevator controls, Perspex partitioning, socially-distant public transport and placemaking principles can’t hold a mantle to having a boss who’s actually a pleasure to be around – wouldn’t you agree?

By Darren Krakowiak.*

Darren is the founder of CRE Success. He exclusively serves the commercial real estate sector with coaching, corporate training and as an invited speaker at industry and company events. He also hosts CRE Success: The Podcast – season 2 starts in April 2021.

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Darren is the founder of CRE Success.
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