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Tech Enabled WFH/WFO with Phillip Oliver and Joff Sharpe

31.3.21

In this episode the Propcast talks to Phillip Oliver and Joff Sharpe from Excell Group about tech enabled working from home and working from office.

Click here to listen to this episode, and here is a preview of our chat below!

The Propcast is by Louisa Dickins, co-founder of LMRE, the leading Global PropTech recruiter brought to you in partnership with CREtech and ReimTech. This show will focus on connecting the PropTechs, real estate funds and VC’s globally…and get everyone talking about innovation of the build to rent environment.

About Our Guests

Joff Sharpe

https://uk.linkedin.com/in/joffsharpe

Josh is a senior advisor to PropTech company Excell and Inventure, an LA based executive search company. Prior to this, he was CEO of British Land PLC, a FTSE real estate investment trust. He founded their flexible workspace start-up Storey. He also chaired property management company PropTech company Vincinity. He’s a member of the New York real estate council, and is a published author of business topics, and has freelanced for Newsweek, Huffington Post and Hong Kong South China Morning Post amongst others. His second edition of “Who Dares Wins in Business” is coming out soon.

Phill Oliver

https://uk.linkedin.com/in/Phill-oliver-6300508

Phill is the Chief Business Development Officer of Excell Group. Excell Group is an award winning provider of bespoke managed communication services. They deliver support, connectivity, cloud, and communication solutions for the business, Phill has over 15 years experience in the PropTech industry, having previously led teams at O2, World Pay and Fluid One. Phill joined Excell Group to drive Excell’s aggressive growth into the property sector. Already Phill has played a crucial role in driving digital transformation for some of the industries leading property companies and including British Land, CBRE, Land Sec and Workspace Group. Phill was passionate about innovation leads with a focus on coaching and personal development, to create company cultures where employees are passionate about the positive impact and benefits of technology.

Resources mentioned

LMRE website www.lmre.co.uk

UKPA website www.ukpa.com

Excell website www.excellgroup.com

Joff’s book “Who Dares Wins in Business”:

 

Key Insights In this Episode

– The tech is going to enable efficiencies and customer service and growth moving forward – Phill Oliver

– The office could even become more valuable in the sense that people make sure it’s value added – Joff Sharpe

– Customers are going to have to potentially need to think about taking a ‘remote worker first’ thought process or strategy – Phill Oliver

– There is a red thread (between organisations) and a number of themes that tend to repeat themselves that make organisations successful, that make leaders successful, and the sources of innovation – Joff Sharpe

– The flexible space Proptech market is changing – Phill Oliver

– So HR is having to be again, a lot more planful and involved in property and technology and how those two things come together – Joff Sharpe

Episode transcript

Louisa

Hi everyone and welcome to the Propcast, my name is Louisa Dickins, co-founder of LMRE and board director of the UKPA, and I shall be your weekly host. Each week for 30 minutes, we will be connecting the VC, PropTech startups and real estate professionals globally, and assist in bridging that famous communication gap we all love talking about. So, sit back, relax and enjoy the show. Hi everyone and welcome to the podcast, today we’re speaking with Phill Oliver and Joff Sharp from Excell Group, and we’ll be discussing how we create a business of end to end collaboration for everyone. everywhere, anytime, any place. So welcome to the show, Phill and Joff.

But first time for introductions. So we’ll start off with Phill, who is the Chief Business Development Officer of Excell Group. For those who don’t know Excell Group. it’s an award winning provider of bespoke managed communication services. They deliver support, connectivity, cloud, and communication solutions for the business, and Phill will be telling us more about it when we start the questions. Now, Phill has over 15 years experience in the PropTech industry which is a lot more than most of us, having previously led teams at O2, World Pay and Fluid One, Phill joined Excell Group to drive Excell’s aggressive growth into the property sector. Already Phill has played a crucial role in driving digital transformation for some of the industries leading property companies and including British Land, CBRE, Land Sec and Workspace Group. Phill was passionate about innovation leads with a focus on coaching and personal development, to create company cultures where employees are passionate about the positive impact and benefits of technology. So thank you for joining us today Phill.

Now, time for Joff’s introduction, who is also joining us. And is a senior advisor to PropTech company Excell and Aventure, an LA based executive search company. Prior to this, he was CEO of British Land PLC, a FTSE real estate investment trust. He founded their flexible workspace startup story. He also chaired property management company Morga Estates and PropTech company Vincinity. He’s a member of the New York real estate council, and is a published author of business topics, and has freelanced for Newsweek, Huffington Post and Hong Kong South China Morning Post amongst others.

And also for everyone listening, his second edition of “Who Dares Wins in Business” is coming out, and whoever writes the best review of this episode will get a signed copy from Joff himself. But now let’s start with the questions and yet again, thank you both for joining me. So we briefly summed up very briefly will Excell does Phill, and online it describes the business as end to end collaboration for everyone everywhere, anytime, any place, as we mentioned the introduction, but I would love to hear a bit more about what the business does, how it has been developed, and a bit more about your clients from you Phill.

Phill

Thanks very much for having us Louisa, a hell of an intro on me so I’m glad that we don’t have the cameras on to be honest! So I have grown up in the telecoms and tech industry and have moved through into the Proptech arena, I’m not sure it’s been 15 years in PropTech, but certainly that long in technology so I’ll let that one go. But in terms of Excell, well we were coming up to our 30th year actually, or in our 30th year, we were founded by two brothers and we really have moved with the time. So we started very much, I believe they did on fax machines and telephone boxes and all sorts of good stuff like that. And that move through to a PBX world where we made a real change in a difference in strategy and move through to connectivity and cloud. We currently have two very different types of business. We have the traditional direct cloud services provider in terms of moving that PBX business into cloud telephony, but also through to multi-site MPLS, much more deeper tech and we have a real focus now on the Proptech market, because obviously we’ve just seen how much that has expanded and grown over the last 10 years I’d suggest, but really very much so over the last five years with the introduction of the flexible working market. And really what we do is we deliver a cloud based services. 4.31 So everything that goes into the ground and into that building comes out and allows the cloud proposition, whether that be, as you mentioned, the connectivity, cloud services, cloud wifi, and all the collaborational tools on top of that, for that building, the landlord, the customers within that to really thrive and grow and use technology simply in order to make their businesses grow, essentially. 4.49

Louisa

And who are your clients? I mean, they must vary in size and type.

Phill

On the traditional side of the business we have what we call our direct side. We have everything through Smita large enterprise, but the customers, you might know Veolia, H&M, Contact Center, which is a big call center. And then on our Proptech side, as Joff alluded to, we’ve got British Land Story, Land Sec, MYO, CBRE, FlexSpace and we have a very large partnership with Workspace Group and they’re our large customers. But what we also do is really focus on the smaller agents, landlords and owners, buildings and the entrepreneurs that are driving out that property market at the moment.

Louisa

Now Joff, you’re adviser of Excell. How did you first get involved in the business? I presume that was a previous relationship between your time at British Land and your time of founding Story.

Joff

Yes well we were a customer and I was responsible for technology and operations at British Land, and Excell was a supplier. And then when we set up Story, the flexible workspace,  the Excell service was extended into Story, so I became a double customer.

Louisa

Tell me a bit more about being a double customer. What was your experience of working with Excell before that?

Joff

Well, they were basically providing communications, connectivity and cloud initially into the mainstream British Land business, which is a real estate investment trust with large properties, basically in and around London. And then Story was an innovation that was a flexible workspace business. And obviously Excell were in a good position to tender for that business and they secured it and are now in a dozen buildings all over London. So that was the start of my relationship with Excell. And then I left British Land to do other things, principally involved in private equity and the two things came together. Excell were talking to some investors about different things and they wanted somebody who could advise on the real estate sector in general and particularly flexible workspace. And they already knew me as a customer and invited me to become involved with the company. And I have done for about nine months now.

Louisa

And the rest is history. Now Phill tell us a bit more, how does Excell exactly slot into the whole working from home, flex workspace, everything like that, how can you make it more tech enabled?

Phill

Well, we’ve always been in the space of being able to make customers be more flexible, let’s say, in terms of moving employees from their office to their home. Obviously through the COVID era, that’s just had to be accelerated much more. I think businesses are always flirting with the idea of people working flexibly weren’t they, but really it was more ”Can I work up from home on this day?” and not necessarily flexible as I’d suggest. Whereas now what we’re seeing is customers are going to have to potentially need to think about taking a ‘remote worker first’ thought process or strategy. The reason why I say that is we’ve all had to move and work from home, whether that be the laundry room or the spare room, or nice home offices or whatever it may be. That’s just a space that you’re sitting in while you’re working, really the interesting part and an important part for that employee, that company, and obviously their customers is, that they can communicate and collaborate properly. So how do you do that when you’re spending a lot of you or the company is spending a lot of money on their infrastructure in the company premises, which could be an a workspace building or a Story office or wherever it may be. To then giving that employee the same seamless work, seamless transaction transition to their home office. 8.59 That being said, I think we’ve all fallen over bad connectivity in the past.

Louisa

Those who are listening today, we actually were recording this earlier and my internet completely cut out. So I know first hand as of two minutes ago what bad connectivity is like!

Phill

Good to see you mentioned it! So I have a solution for that problem, and what that is really is we can give dedicated internet access to the home or to your office and make sure you’re not interrupted in layman speak for that user. Now that uninterrupted is changing a lot now, so whether or not it’s HD 4K cameras that are trying to stream every last good looking face through the camera two on their teams school or it’s their children are playing on their X-Box or they’re watching Netflix on that same internet line, which has taken the bandwidth away from that person working. So we can dedicate and secure that service. And what’s really important for that user then is the security on the end of it. So cybersecurity is on the rise, I know our COO talks about this. I can’t remember his percentages, but he does talk about it a lot so I should do over like over 300% something 300 billion of risk is now in phishing and cyber security, and that is much more home-based. Obviously if you’re working in your office, you don’t have that challenge as much as you do on a consumer type proposition. So we can secure that and give a business grade connectivity, telefony collaboration  tools, and security. So that remote worker first strategy, so they’re set up to work at home or from a coffee shop or wherever it may be as a priority. 10.43

Louisa

Yes, well I guess that leads us quite nicely into a question which is definitely for Joff. I guess with the unknown date we’re getting back to the office, what does the flexible workspace look like post COVID and post WeWork era?

Joff

Yes well it’s funny actually, Adam Neumann who founded WeWork, he was discredited or lampooned for saying that he’s raising the world’s consciousness. That was one of his many claims to fame, in a weird way he’s right. 11.23 I think firstly, everybody’s now going to be more considered in the way that they get things done. So, whereas typically, if you have something complicated to achieve, most people will think, well what I need to do is get on a train and go to work, call a meeting, get six people in a room. Also pay and provide them with donuts, maybe not, and that’s the way we’ll work. And I think now people are just more thoughtful about is that necessary or desirable? There’s an opportunity cost of the travel and everything else, is that really the best way of getting things done? And that’s not to say that the office will be dead. And in fact, the office could even become more valuable in the sense that people make sure it’s value added. And when they do go there, they make maximum use of the meeting amenity, the technology, the opportunity to pick the brains of their colleagues. 12.14 You know, if somebody’s newly joining the company, they’ll want to make the best of the opportunity to socialise and get orientated to the culture. So I think it can actually be an era of added value, and my own kids are coming into the world of work now, and I’ve been optimistic rather than having a automatic default position of going into an office and sitting at the same desk with the same screen ad infiitem, just to having an altogether more intelligent perspective on how to get stuff done.

Louisa

I think there’s one thing which I found about our team is I know we’re all looking to get back to the office. Everyone loves having the autonomy, but also it’s when you all work at home, even when your connectivity and your work station are fairly set up, it’s when do you switch off. I know our team they’re permanently online, Microsoft Teams, as long as you’ve got your green light on you’re getting hunted down by your seniors.

Joff

It also depends a little bit on your circumstances. So if you’re like the three of us, we probably have quite a nice working environment. And so when you think of home working, you think of some level of focus and concentration, but of course a lot of people don’t have that privilege. They’re in a cramped place competing for space and privacy. You might have parents or a single mother with children who also at home, competing for attention and so on. So it’s not necessarily as blissful as and it can’t even be divisive, as I say, it can even be socially divisive, which is perhaps something people hadn’t really thought enough about yet.

Louisa

Yes. And I guess it’s also what budget is your company giving you for maybe your work station, desks, chairs, everything like that, it all adds up, doesn’t it. We mentioned collaboration earlier and Phill, I’d love to hear a little bit more about you if we delve into it, how can we increase collaboration and this new era, or even beginning of 2021?

Phill

You mentioned it briefly there, but I think it’s interesting to think about what collaboration is and how we work together. I was talking to someone the other day and going back to the office might be a little bit strange in terms of meetings and walking to meeting rooms or booking meeting rooms, because literally all I do now is push that team’s button and if they’re not picking up, I think they’re ignoring me! But there’s lots of different collaboration tools that we can use out on the market. And there’s loads of SaaS disruptors that are coming over the top. So you’ve got if you like your magic quadrant, your Microsoft teams, but there’s also the telephony plays. Obviously there’s zoom that everyone knows about, but the Avaya collaboration tools that are out there and what they do is they bring everything together. So that can be not just necessarily using zoom for your video conferencing, but actually the whole tool or the platform brings together your social media, your messaging, your instant messenger, telephony, your video calls, video messages, everything. It becomes its own little environment and people can post whatever they want on there, or questions or feedback or recognition. It’s just essentially a place where work can be done and collaborated to.

Also of course, the social element is now changing so much more. So are you going to go out after work and play some sports together, or go to the gym or go to the bar or have some dinner or whatever it may be. Actually now collaboration means people thinking about forced to fun almost, but these things are all moving forward. And then of course there’s collaboration, what does that look like back in the workspace? Because as we’ve just mentioned, the flexible space proptech market is changing. And I think it’s fair to say that we don’t know what that looks like yet because we’re pushing an agenda that it would change and hybrid is the future. But actually we’re in quite a good position for that, but the flexible space at the end, whether that’s offices, meeting rooms, co-spaces, what does that look like? I’m not sure most people know yet, but I do know that there’s solutions and agile tech to help people collaborate around that and feel safe.

Louisa

And where does the role of corporate HR slot into this then? I don’t know if there’s this one for Phill or for Joff.

Joff

Wel I spent quite a bit of my career in HR actually. So it’s possibly me, but just reflecting and linking those two questions together, reflecting on some of those comments about collaboration. I mean, I think one of the things that’s changed as a result of a lockdown is with people who were reluctant to use certain technologies and particularly video based technologies, who probably previously wouldn’t have gone onto a zoom or a teams unless they really had to now basically being forced to adopt. And in doing so certain things have started to reveal themselves. So for example in the recruitment business, I’m an NDP for an LA and New York recruitment company. And I know that’s an interest of yours too, but for example, most recruiters place phone calls as part of screening interviews, rather than videos. Probably now a video is a better option, but in particular, if you’re recording and I know you’re recording this, you can also then have the scripts of the conversation being recorded. And I think from a recruiter’s perspective, rather than having to rely on impressions or your own note-taking the ability, you can actually go back through the transcript and you can say, well, hang on, you know, what did that person say? And you can scrutinize it over a cup of coffee half an hour later, rather than having to rely upon a spontaneous and instantaneous assessment. So I suppose there’s a mixed blessing, but there’s a depth and an interactivity that’s now possible, that probably felt a little bit alien only a few months ago.

And to answer your question about HR specifically, I mean, one of the fundamental things is the provisioning of offices was something that we typically took for granted, we’d all just go into the office that was, somebody had they taken on, on our behalf probably years ago and you accepted as a good or a bad thing. And now the HR directors of the world are having to sit down with our landlords and talk about their core office space requirements, their flexible requirements, their pay on demand requirements, perhaps for event space or boardrooms that they only need once a month. So HR is having to be again, a lot more planful and involved in property and technology and how those two things come together.

Louisa

So surely that means some fairly goos prospects for the PropTech industry. SO HR’s are probably looking at other technologies they can involve in the workplace as well to increase not just a tenant experience, but your employees experience as well to make sure they’re happy whenever we get back to the office.

Joff

Yes, how they’re happy and how they get work done and it’ll vary by company and by situation. And I mean, I think, presentism has always been a disadvantage of office life on the top of watching all these other horrible things that go with it. But yes, it’s easy to say all that stuff’s gone away, but if you think about ambition, conventionally ambitious people, are we all buying into a vision that says, if you want to get on, you’ll be just as successful in your company dressed every day in your pyjamas as if you were going into the office? And right now the answer might be yes, but actually if the most ambitious people start going back into the office and being seen to be knocking in together, will that become detrimental, will that become detrimental to people who prefer not to? I’m not advocating it. I’m just saying, that there’s a an anthropological aspect and it’s going to take a couple of years to play out before we really know what it looks like.

Louisa

Yes, well, I’ll be interested to see what happens. Phill we’ll probably go into it in the final four questions, which is the LMRE part. What’s next for out for the next 30 years to come, have you got any big plans in terms of growth or more collaboration?

Phill

Yes, so we are on a growth trajectory, it is a priority of us to grow as a business and be part of the ever-growing PropTech market really, thats’s key to our strategy while enhancing our proposition for the company as a whole. What I would say is, I think we’re in a really interesting position at the moment where the smart tech is starting to really accelerate through the market and the IOT or the smart tech. We’ve got to ensure that we’re agile well enough to take that part of the market and deliver the great experience our customers require. So I think we’re being fairly careful at the moment with where we look to invest. We certainly do have investments in scope. But it’s where at the moment, because there is just so much going on, whether that be that the green agenda, whether that be the census, whether that’d be IOT workflows, all that good stuff that compliment what we do at the moment.

So Joff, why don’t you go first, we’ll start off with the L. What are the lessons you’ve learned in your career? You can choose a bit more of the HR side, or from the British Land or when he first founded Story.

Joff

Well I should send you to the local Amazon store to get my books to get the full answer. Well the thrust of the book really is there is a red thread, and I guess if I had to try and condense everything down into one thing, it is probably that there are a number of themes that tend to repeat themselves, and things that make organizations successful that make leaders successful, and the sources of innovation. And I’m sure you don’t want me to elaborate as it’ll take too long. But I mean, there is a consistency and as I say, I’ve written about them. You can go on Amazon and you can get my worldview if you’re that interested.

Louisa

And if you write a really good review, you’ll get the signed book. And Phill, you get the M part. So is that a certain product or service or anyone you’d like to give a shout out to? You can’t talk about an Excell product!

Phill

I suppose, with lockdown, it’s making you reevaluate how you do things isn’t it. And I was always big into sport, tennis, golf, and what have you more latterly, I kept fit. I always hated just running. So I I’ve looked at Peloton recently. Someone very bright told me once they said, what about the phygital market now, which is the physical and the digital world. And I quite like that. And that’s what Peloton gives you really. It’s giving you that fitness at home while using really cool tech while moving through lockdowns as such, I think it’s kept me relatively sane. Although I do like to get out on the road and have a little cycle while there’s no real sport going on.

Louisa

And Joff, any regrets in your career?

Joff

I mean many, many regrets. I’m getting towards the latter stages of my career and I think one of the things that you learn is that if you keep pushing yourself, you’ve failed quite a bit. And at the time it doesn’t feel great, but it’s symptomatic of extending your limits with each new thing. I’ve been involved in a couple of startups. The first one wasn’t very successful. That was back at the time of the dotcom bubble and news international, we created what is basically The Times and Sunday Times online recruitment websites at that time, as I say, the bubble burst and all our hopes of being billionaires evaporated with it.

But I learned some lessons from that. And then many years later found myself in British Land, creating another startup inside a big company, which was Story. And I took some of those lessons that I’ve learned in all those years ago and tried to make those useful. So, I mean, lots of regrets, but the important thing is to learn from and try and use them in some practical way.

Louisa

I completely echo that. And I guess the final par, I would like to like to hear from both of you this. What are you most excited about in the future of Proptech?

Phill

Just how the technology is moving. There’s just so much cool stuff coming out now from IOT worlds and the smart centres and what they can do and how they can help monetize and revenue generate for customers and landlords or owners and entrepreneurs. Also the AI piece that’s coming in over the top of that and how it can have helped with the green agenda CO2 and where we put eating or what type of eating we use the workflows around cleaning or anything like that, but really how the tech is going to enable efficiencies and customer service and growth moving forward.I think it’s a really cool place to be at the moment and lots of will converge, but the technology is exciting.  26.23

Louisa

And Joff, what about you, what are you most excited about?

Joff

I think real estate has been very late to really adapt and adopt. It’s almost the last unchanged industry the very concept of a landlord dates back to feudal times and building technologies, it still takes an eternity to erect a building and the city of London and so on. But there are some technologies which are really questioning that. I mean, in the same way that Elon Musk is, you can now order a Tesla through an online configurator. There is I can’t be called Urban Splash where you can now configurate a house. And it’s a modular, flexible construction, and you can do that same configuration. And there are lots of other technologies, you can transact, you can do all the conveyance activities now through various different types of websites. In terms of physical construction, Dubai have said that the majority of their buildings from now on what’s going to be 3D printed which is pretty amazing. I mean, the Chinese put up tower blocks in a couple of weeks anyway, but I think you put all these things together and it tells you that you’ve got this industry that hasn’t moved much for a long time. And finally from multiple different directions, you’ve got technology, in some ways challenging, but in many ways, amenitising and facilitating and enriching, but it’s an exciting moment.

Louisa

Well, we’ll have to see what comes in the next 5, 10, 20 years, but sure it will be quite fast, but thankful we are in this space and on hopefully an exciting journey. Sadly we’re coming to the end of the podcast and thank you both for joining me. It was great to hear about Excell and also the future of the workplace, whether it’s going to be in the home or in the office. But before we go, what is the best way for our audience to connect with you?

Phill

Yes, I’m all over LinkedIn. And now through at Excell’s pages, my name is Phill Oliver, drop me a message and get collaborating.

Louisa

Awesome. Thank you for that

Joff

LinkedIn I would say is the best way to get hold of me.

Louisa

Thank you both for joining me on the podcast and I’m looking forward to catching up with you after the show. Thank you for joining us this week on the podcast and a big thanks to our special guests. Make sure you visit our website, www.lmre.co.uk where you can subscribe to our show or you’ll find us on iTunes and Spotify where all good content is found. Whilst you’re at it, if you found value with the show we’d appreciate people rate and review us on iTunes or if you could simply spread the word, be sure to tune in next Tuesday and I’ll catch you later.

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