Why it’s time for renewal for RICS professionals

In her first column as RICS president, Kath Fontana looks back with pride at the resilience shown by chartered surveyors in the past year, and looks forward to a year of building back better


  • Kath Fontana FRICS

28 December 2020

Illustration: Danilo Agutoli

COVID-19 has been a massive challenge for us all, with seismic economic shocks still likely to come. It has broken routines, forcing us to change our ways of working.

The need to physically isolate ourselves has put into question the use of public transport and public spaces and has kept us close to home for work and play. As the immediate risk starts to clear, we need to renew our focus, and I am excited to be RICS President as together we “build back better” in 2021.

I have not yet had the chance to travel around the world and meet as many of you face-to-face as previous presidents have done, but I have really enjoyed meeting so many people digitally, especially our younger surveyors. These conversations have reinforced my belief that there is opportunity despite all the hardship we faced in 2020. I’m excited to see what we make of this once-in-a-generation prospect.

RICS professionals around the world continue to deliver highly resilient responses and I am so proud of the way you have supported your communities, colleagues and customers. We have shown our ability to innovate and adapt. Chartered surveyors all over the world have enabled society to function.

Key to this has been our ability to stay digitally connected. And, while we may prefer to meet in person, we know we can have productive meetings, make social connections and even do assessments online. These digital solutions have enabled us to do more and reach further, making RICS a truly global organisation. Online webinars and insight communities have bridged distances between RICS professionals, making for a rich tapestry of experience to explore.

"I have enjoyed meeting so many people digitally, especially our younger surveyors. These conversations have reinforced my belief that there is opportunity”

They have also allowed some of us to shift seamlessly from working in urban centres to working from home. The jury is still out on the future of the office, but it seems clear that offering workplace choice and flexibility will be differentiators for many organisations.

Digitalisation of assets generates vast amounts of data and now we have a chance to harness its full potential. Finding effective use for the data we generate is critical to how we best meet society’s changing needs. As trends shift, technology can identify opportunities to build sustainable solutions.

The need for more sustainable development is clear. Our Futures report, published early in 2020, highlights the fact that cities already consume 75% of the world’s natural resources. Investments in infrastructure to minimize environmental impact, such as reducing carbon emissions, require innovative thinking and many RICS professionals are actively engaged in finding sustainable solutions.

The drop in smog levels in urban centres around the world is one of the pandemic’s small silver linings – one that is at risk of fading once old routines resume. With fewer cars on the road, streets have been put to new uses. In place of long commutes, we need an urban transformation that puts people first, with access to flexible working spaces and essential services close to home.

Our Global Commercial Property Monitor indicates these trends will have a lasting impact and RICS professionals have a key role in adapting our infrastructure to meet new demands.

Over the past year we have proven that we are an innovative, adaptable and people-focused profession. All the issues we were grappling with pre-pandemic are still here and some are going backwards – I note with concern the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on already disadvantaged groups. There are still some tough decisions ahead of us, but now we must switch from short-cycle thinking and refocus our minds on more strategic challenges.

At this critical moment it is more important than ever to make decisions with the public advantage in mind, in order to preserve long-term value creation in the recovery process. So, for my term as President, I am keen to lead a renewed focus on sustainability, social impact, digital transformation and on inspiring our next generation of professionals.

The role of trusted leaders and professionals has never been more vital to give clients the right advice and be torchbearers for a better future. We have a tremendous opportunity to put people at the centre of our renewal strategy so the assets in the natural and built environment promote a better future for all. 

“There are still tough decisions ahead of us, but we must now switch from short-cycle thinking and focus on strategic challenges”