The secret to revitalising our CBDs: getting rid of bad bosses!

Nov 30, 2020
Has a good boss ever had a mug that says

Bad bosses used to be good for the vibrancy of our central business districts (CBDs). The assembly of team members to bad mouth the boss after work has no doubt fuelled many an evening to power on for hours longer than they may 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). 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 current recession – which has been accompanied by the WFH revolution – makes leaving a job because of a bad boss that you hardly ever have to be around almost a non-starter.

There are some bosses that are ok from afar, but are far from ok. But this is not a story about giving a small round of applause to leaders who have been better managers in the current circumstances.

It’s not to say that leading from afar is not an important skill. However, the vast majority that excel at remote management are probably also good bosses when in close proximity – because they understand the importance of leadership. They likely have the perspective to think what it would be like to work for them.

Conversely, a boss who seems better when you don’t see them in person for months was probably not a great boss to begin with.

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 curating workplaces more attractive to be in (so people actually prefer the office to WFH). There is a lot of talk about outdoor dining and government subsidies to encourage people to frequent restaurants.

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?

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.

What makes a quality leader? Well, that’s another article entirely…and possibly a longer one too. One perception which seems to exist widely in our industry is that commercial real estate (like many other sectors) has a tendency to promote leaders based on strong individual contributions rather than demonstrated capacity or desire for leadership responsibility. Sometimes, that works out great. Sometimes, not so much. But let’s not get into that now…

This post has been written to establish the point that, in order to start revitalising our CBDs, we need to remove all of the obstacles we can, and one which can be dealt 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 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 and placemaking principles can’t hold a mantle to having a boss who’s actually a pleasure to be around – wouldn’t you agree?


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