2020 was a special year for you - and for me. We had to look for the 'join meeting' function on Teams, Skype, Zoom and whatever our companies and business contacts made available to us to keep the communication going. I was surprised by the effectiveness of teleworking: No traffic jams, no confusing company premises and no changes in the railway timetable were between us and the punctual start of every 'meeting'.

Of course, there were drawbacks too. Our study rooms turned out to be less inspiring environments for full-time use; even as virtual visitors, we had seen the bookshelf, the wallpaper and the houseplant after three meetings. And above all: I missed your company. In addition to all the formal questions an advisor gets on his desk.

Get used to it. It will never be the same as before. Medical experts are already predicting the need for continued attention to hygiene and prevention. Working digitally and remotely is already in your and my system.

‘Housing strategy', already a difficult concept to frame and easily subject to inflation, seems to have become an impossible subject with this lack of vision of the future. Where are we going in the new year? Trying to draw up a strategy currently resembles a game of 'chess on a journey' - sitting on a roller coaster.

In order to help you at the start of the new year 2021, I have put together for you my personal Top 10 success factors in formulating a housing and real estate strategy.

Actually, these are two different things. Your housing strategy focuses on optimally facilitating your business processes (teaching, making artificial lawn, making chocolate). Your real estate strategy could also have to do with creating real estate value and securing (rental) income in the longer term. Why, under the current circumstances, the typical housing manager needs to look more through real estate eyeglasses, is made clear in the following overview.

I wish you much health, wisdom and inspiration in the coming year 2021 - a year in which we can hopefully meet again more often!

1. Align with your primary process

External circumstances vary; your organisation, on the other hand, has a mission, which evolves (reasonably) predictably. The mission and primary strategy of your organisation is the starting point for the goals to be set in the field of housing and real estate. These give direction to the process to be gone through in order to arrive at a real estate strategy. Conversely, they form an anchor point: 'Why did we want this'? The latter is a great advantage when new stakeholders stand up during the process and want to influence the result.

2. Involve (and seduce) your board

Boards, Executive Boards and Management Boards usually have a much more positive attitude towards what is on the agenda they are familiar with - than for anything else. Particularly when that other subject appears to be part of the supporting, secondary processes. As a professional, you are becoming increasingly aware of this and no longer bring 'the new building' into the meeting, but 'attracting and retaining new talent', 'the healthy working environment' and 'supporting corporate identity'. In the most successful processes, which I was also able to supervise, guidelines from the primary strategy were immediately used. Familiarise the board with your plans on the basis of regular interim presentations and offer transparency at every stage with regard to choices to be made, expected costs, revenues and risks.

3. Think in steps and make a modular plan

The well-known 'dot on the horizon' is vitally important. Direction is necessary to develop a good strategy for the medium and long term. However, you are not at all sure whether there really will be such a well-planned sequencing and the necessary preconditions for the next 15 years or so. Therefore, define modules as part of the larger 'master plan'. The 'master plan' does not stand or fall by the absence of one or more modules. Parts that must be implemented with high priority, have a favorable business case and/or for which the preconditions are already available (money, land, user, zoning plan) are put at the front of the planning. Modules for which one or more of the aforementioned aspects are missing are shifted backwards in the planning. Continue to communicate the overall picture. However, promise both to the board and to the end user only what you can realise within a time frame of approximately 3 years.

4. Combine information from different sources.

A housing and real estate strategy is based on what I like to compare with that delicious Indonesian spekkoek: different layers of information, which together form the basis for your decision making and approach. This creates an integrated assessment framework, which provides you with all the necessary tools to determine the next step. Certain 'layers' are entirely up to you: your goals in the field of housing and real estate, your functional/spatial wishes expressed in a programme, the spatial development framework or Image Quality Plan that you may already have drawn up, the inventory of available buildings, grounds and infrastructure (functional/spatial and technical, above and below ground) and your own multi-year financial frameworks. Other 'layers' lie wholly or partly outside your own sphere of influence: the development of the city around you, market developments relating to your primary process, the Brexit. You incorporate the uncertainties in these 'layers' into a number of scenarios.

5. Listen to yout asset management & maintenance department

The Asset Management and maintenance department, which in many cases includes facility managers, demand managers and technical support staff, are the eyes and ears of your accommodation and real estate department. They are the first to know when a user is unhappy or experiences functional bottlenecks. The management and maintenance department is also responsible for the current sustainable portfolio within the framework of the Multi-Year Maintenance Plan (MJOP). In doing so, major and costly interventions must be tightly controlled over time ('the integral roadmap') and lead to the set climate targets. See also 'Route naar Parijs'. If this large programme is properly coordinated with the general real estate strategy, it will lead to the right expectations on the part of the end user, to benefits with regard to the continuity of business processes and to major logistical and financial savings.

6. Invest in the right places

Your own business process (teaching, making artificial lawn, making chocolate) benefits from the right location. This is becoming steadily more important. Increasingly, housing and real estate have to meet more criteria than just housing a business process. For example, the location must be easily accessible for employees, chain partners and clients. Preferably multimodal: on foot, by bicycle, by public transport - and forwards, also by car. In more and more cases, the location (the building, the campus) plays an interactive role with the immediate urban environment. Whereas 'brand identity' used to be a matter of substantial façade advertising in neon letters, now a premium employer is expected to contribute to the work/life balance of the employees, add to the experience of the city, supporting the social cohesion of the neighbourhood, enriching the surrounding residential environments, making the urban environment healthier and, of course, dealing carefully with the scarce available urban space.

7. Create forward-looking utility value

The building of the future is polyvalent, generous, flexible, expandable, adaptable. By this I mean that one and the same building can accommodate a multitude of activities without major physical modifications. To this end, the building has the right characteristics: Practical dimensions on the ground floor and on the floors (grid size, bay size, structural height), a good access structure, space for innovative technical installations and a foundation with solid floors, which allows for extra loads and functional adaptations. These ideal buildings are not necessarily new: sometimes they are already on your site, shrouded in gloomy gravel concrete façade elements, ready to be dressed up like Cinderella in a new, dazzling dress. With the best SMART wristwatch available as an elegant accessory. The 'Layers of Brand' (Site, Structure, Skin, Services, Space plan, Stuff) I suppose are familiar to you. As well as the pioneering work of Prof. John Habraken as foreman of the movement 'Open Building' from the 60's, recently revived in the movement OpenBuilding.co.

8. Assess your real estate from multiple angles

An existing (or new) building is much more than a technical structure. Of course, you have a clear picture of the functional, spatial and technical quality of your building or portfolio. But the experience of the end user is also important: 'How does the building function, how does it feel'. If you don't know, ask! Well-known providers of survey methodologies are Work & People Analytics (WPA) and Leesman. In addition, buildings often also have cultural value. Also, a building can directly contribute to the operational goals of your organisation (the neighbourhood police station!). Finally, a building can also contribute to commercial goals (the neighbourhood café or the shop!). An easily manageable standard, which can be used both when assessing available housing ('Building Profile') and when programming new housing ('User Profile'), is the NEN8021: 'Usability of Utility Buildings', developed on behalf of the Rijksvastgoedbedrijf. This NEN is based on the themes Accessibility, Use of space, Representativeness, Comfort, Sustainability, Flexibility, Safety and Amenities.

9. Communicate

Support is indispensable for the implementation of a good housing and real estate strategy. Involve the right groups of stakeholders in the different stages of creating your new housing strategy. Inform the broad group of stakeholders as frequently as possible. Communicate in a compact, clear and simple way. Visualise as much as possible. Connect to existing, familiar information channels. Make communication interactive. Focus on the 'why' question; this is the question that the people involved want to see answered first.

10. Make it beautiful

If you are going to build or renovate: Make it into a good thing. Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012, the designer of, among others, the city of Brasilia) stated that 'beauty' is a function. Beauty is making you healthy. Beauty, you may also call it 'character', or 'image quality', contributes directly to the well-being of the daily passer-by at the metro stop, of the passing shopping public and to the job satisfaction of the user who has a workplace in the building in question. Beautiful buildings are cherished, are loved by the public who adopt them as a favoured piece of furniture in 'their' city, are endlessly renovated, visited by broad groups of users and are therefore sustainable. Beauty is an important tool in the redevelopment of vulnerable environments. Even the economy has words for it: 'merit good' and 'positive external effect'.