Matthew Cumber is managing director of Countrywide Surveying Services
The work of valuers and surveyors is hardly headline grabbing news at the best of times. In the simplest of terms, this has long been an army of people equipped with a clipboard who diligently travel the length and breadth of the UK to ensure that the wheels of the housing and mortgage market keep turning. I realise automated valuation models (AVMs), desktop valuations and a variety of handheld devices also play an increasingly integral role in this process, but cut me some artistic slack, I’m trying to paint a picture here.
Talking of technology, there are other parallels to be drawn. Surveyors act much like your server or email hosting service, their importance can easily go unnoticed as they quietly go about their business, day after day. It’s only when the power goes down that you wonder how on earth you can operate without them.
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We know our place and thankfully our customers and lending partners realise our value. Having said this, the lockdown and effective closing of the housing market in many areas really did shine a light on the importance of the surveying process throughout the mortgage market. While it’s good to be acknowledged, it’s also fair to say that we would much rather remain under the radar if it meant that ‘business as usual’ could be maintained. However, we continue to operate in unusual times.
Every business has faced its own set of challenges, and surveying firms of all shapes and sizes have also had to adapt accordingly. As well as changing practices and procedures for our people out in the field, inevitably, our national operations centre in Derby has also been impacted. Anyone operating in an office environment will realise just how much of a challenge it has been to ensure everyone could return to a COVID secure working environment.
As part of our risk assessment, all colleagues now have their temperature taken before entering the building, we have implemented a one-way system and there are sneeze screens between each desk, along with several other safety measures. We have doubled up on cleaning visits to ensure all main touch points are cleaned and sanitised throughout each day, and if any member of our team starts displaying any symptoms, then we immediately complete a deep clean of the offices. We actually now do a deep clean (as defined under H&S England) every day, further mitigating against any potential spread
Initial social distancing requirements meant that we had to source additional office space to accommodate our people within a safe environment. Like many firms, contingency planning means that we’ve had to invest in additional measures and IT to be able to work securely from remote locations if necessary. The shift to working from home naturally proved easier for some people than others and we continue to closely monitor the health and wellbeing of our people and our customers.
Clear communication with furloughed staff was also vital and we are now in the0 fortunate position to be back at full capacity and experiencing unprecedented work volumes that we could have only dreamt about six, or even three, months ago.
The desire to return to an office environment has been strong within the business, but we also have to be aware of the need for flexibility and the ability to shift back to remote working practices if necessary.
Adaptability will remain the key word for firms moving forward, from both a technical and personnel perspective. And our aim is to continue improving how we support our people, our clients and their customers as the pressure mounts in the lead-up to the stamp duty deadline.