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The CBI conference wrap: Four trends in the spotlight

For business leaders at the CBI annual conference, politics, climate change and workplace wellbeing were all high on the agenda.

November 20, 2019

Amid the spectre of Brexit and the looming general election, politics was always going to dominate this year’s CBI annual conference.

But as Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson made their election pitches to senior business leaders, it wasn’t all about how to ensure the UK remains a go-to destination for investors; tackling climate change, addressing social inequality and promoting diversity were big talking points in their own right.

Johnson told the conference - which took place during a general election campaign for the first time in its history - investing in infrastructure, education and technology were key to unlocking the UK’s future potential. Meanwhile, all three leaders addressed climate change head on, with Corbyn telling delegates: “Quite honestly, we have to address the climate emergency.”

Equally, it’s not just the external environment that’s rapidly changing - and becoming more uncertain as it does. Workplaces are also undergoing a structural shift amid widespread digital transformation with topics like boosting productivity and encouraging wellbeing in the workplace now top of mind for today’s business leaders.

Here’s more on four key trends that dominated discussions. 

1: A net Zero carbon future:

There’s growing acceptance the climate emergency is the pressing issue of our time. The UK Government has committed to be a net zero carbon economy by 2050 and business leaders are formulating and implementing plans to join the march to reach this milestone.

“Globally, buildings account for around 40 percent of emissions,” says Chris Ireland, JLL UK CEO. “We will not make a difference as a society unless real estate comes along on the journey as well.”

For real estate, the focus will need to shift to ensure sustainability is incorporated into the earliest stages of how buildings are designed and constructed, not to mention optimising their ongoing performance through energy efficiency measures to meet the standards demanded by regulators and society.

2: Brexit, investment and the London office market:

A post-Brexit world will usher in a new chapter for the UK – and business leaders will need to adapt. 

Ireland says what business craves most is stability. Investment volumes this year into the UK are down by around 30 percent, but he believes this is because of the current uncertainty around Brexit.

“I think when we have got clarity around a sensible trade agreement with the EU and a transition, I think there is a lot of money that is poised to come back into London,” he adds.

One area that’s nevertheless holding its own is the London occupational office market. Ireland says that by the year end, demand is currently on course to be the strongest for the last five or six years.

3: Putting the focus on wellbeing:

Every year, one in four people will experience mental health issues. Increasingly, employers are realising the importance of prioritising the wellbeing of their workers.

As JLL research shows, creating different types of spaces where employees can concentrate on meeting deadlines, socialise in informal areas or collaborate on projects can help to boost engagement and improve employee wellbeing. The Mental Health Foundation estimates that addressing mental wellbeing boosts productivity by as much as 12 percent.

Sue Asprey Price, head of corporate solutions in the UK says: “Increasingly, employers understand if they want to attract and retain the brightest talent, they need to provide the workplaces they want, whether that’s space for downtime, offering a range of high-quality amenities or collaboration space to create a healthy and productive work environment.” 

4: Doing business differently:

Traditional business values such as a focus on pure profit no longer sit well with many of today’s consumers or clients. Instead business must be a force for good and make progress in addressing society’s concerns; whether that’s tackling social inequality, creating inclusive workplaces or taking positive steps to reduce not only their environmental footprint but also help others to cut theirs too.

“The message was business can and should make a difference. All businesses, regardless of their sector or size, should be focusing on how to build a better tomorrow - for their employees, for their local communities and for the wider planet. In doing this they can add value for all their stakeholders and create a more sustainable future,” Ireland adds.

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