The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted significant upheaval across the vast majority of professional sectors since the UK’s first lockdown was announced in March 2020.
While some industries in Northern Ireland were temporarily forced to shut down entirely, others were only able to operate after a range of major changes – and the challenges only continued as subsequent waves hit and various restrictions were reinstated.
The property and construction sectors scrambled to implement remote solutions, social distancing approaches and a range of proptech that enabled workers within these particular fields to continue to pursue their assignments safely.
As a result, the property development, sales and rental sectors were able to operate effectively throughout the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021. But what can we expect now, over a year since restrictions were first initiated?
With many industries operating with reduced staff throughout lockdown in order to implement social distancing as effectively as possible, one could be forgiven for believing that property companies will need to take on additional staff following the lifting of restrictions.
However, while this may be the case for some companies, the technology that has been applied throughout lockdown – including remote working solutions and AI – is likely to negate the need for additional hires in many situations.
For example, numerous estate agencies have added chatbots to their websites. This means that clients can easily find the answers to their simplest questions without having to email a company employee – freeing up time that would once have been spent responding to queries.
Technology of this kind enables more to be done by fewer individuals, and these solutions are likely to be carried forward way beyond the pandemic.
“Many of the manual, admin-related tasks are now automated, meaning that the need to hire for these jobs has diminished somewhat,” says Ruban Selvanayagam of homebuying company Property Solvers.
On Site and Offsite
Many organisations opted for the implementation of home working throughout lockdown, preventing their employees from having to travel on public transport or to share an office with colleagues from numerous different households.
In-person meetings with co-workers and clients were often replaced by video conferences, enabling industry professionals to work from anywhere with an internet connection.
Even after the lifting of restrictions, it is likely that many companies will continue to utilise a home-working model for at least part of a working week, as it may reduce the amount of office space required, enable greater flexibility and aid in the achievement of a good work-life balance.
The property industry was able to implement remote solutions regarding viewings as well as in-house operations. Many companies created 3D interactive models and video walkthroughs, which let potential buyers explore in detail each and every property they were considering.
This helped to prevent unnecessary journeys and location visits by enabling more effective shortlisting, as visitors to property-related websites were able to make some decisions regarding the suitability of a particular property without having to visit in person.
The government-implemented Coronavirus Job Retention scheme came to the aid of thousands of employers throughout the initial lockdown and beyond. It enabled companies to continue paying furloughed employees up to 80% of their wage.
At the time of writing, the scheme is set to terminate at the end of September 2021 – although an extension has not been ruled out as we continue to battle against new variants.
However, thanks to the innovative approaches utilised by many property-focussed organisations, the property industry has not been among those most reliant on this resource.
This means that workers will most likely be able to continue to pursue their duties despite any remaining restrictions.
What’s more, the number of furloughed workers from all industries in Northern Ireland dropped to fewer than a thousand in May 2021.
It is worth noting that the property sector has not survived the pandemic entirely unscathed. There have been closures and job losses as a result of the challenges presented by COVID-19, and the future of the industry and its ongoing employment levels will rely heavily on the strength of the Northern Irish property market.
The Future of Employment in Property
As a result of the greater flexibility that has been made possible due to the implementation of innovative proptech and remote working options, estate agencies, property management firms and other related companies are generally likely to require smaller teams than they may have previously.
What’s more, if the industry enters a recession – which is certainly possible, considering the rise in unemployment resulting from the pandemic – then the rate at which new staff members are hired within the sector is likely to continue to slow.
However, property is currently booming, as is the construction industry, as home workers seek to improve their current environment. In fact, as of 19th May 2021, house prices have risen by 6% in a year, with the NI housing market racing ahead of all other UK regions.
If this trend continues, it may mean that employment levels within a range of property fields could rise.